The type of linguistic fieldwork that I'll be doing falls under the category of language documentation. The purpose of language documentation is to create a 'documentation' of a language that in theory covers all aspects of the language, can be used for a variety of purposes later on, and can be accessible indefinitely in the future. That is a pretty lofty goal and one that requires a lot of time and work over many years. How do we make a documentation of a language? The simple answer is through audio and video recordings of people using the language in many different contexts. These recordings are the documentation and from them, linguists can eventually create grammars, dictionaries, and journal articles, but these are secondary to the recordings. To make the documentation long lasting and accessible, all the recordings are deposited in a language archive, which guarantees that they will be available online in perpetuity.
The primary goal of my time in Pohnpei is to collect as many audio recordings as possible. I hope to record (with the speakers' permission) conversations, stories, and other 'natural' speech events, as well as ellicited speech, where I ask the speaker questions such as how do you say this word in your language or what does this grammatical construction mean. I will also have some videos and drawings that I will show some speakers and then ask them what happened in each to elicit different grammatical constructions in a more naturalistic way.
After I have some recordings I will work with a speaker to start transcribing the recordings so I can start analyzing them. Transcribing recordings is a VERY time consuming process. 1 minute of a recording can take several hours to transcribe properly. I will only get a very small amount of the transcription done while I'm there.
In addition to making recordings, my secondary goal is to gather information about the number of speakers of Ngatik Men's Creole (NMC) and where they live in Pohnpei State. There is no good data about speaker numbers and their demographic and all that we have are rough estimates from the early 1980s. I will try to get more detailed data on this by conducting oral interviews about language use. If someone self-reports being a NMC I will mark down the GPS coordinates of where they live. Eventually I will be able to map where the language is used.
So why is this research important? On a large scale, some linguists say that perhaps 50% of the world's languages will be extinct by the end of this century! Language documentation strives to curb the reduction of the world's languages and to provide a good record of them if they do go extinct so future generations will be able to access them. Luckily, most Micronesian languages are pretty health and do not seem to be endangered. However, these languages have small speaker populations, all under 100,000 and some under 1,000 and with climate change and current large scale immigration to the United States, these language could become endangered in the coming decades. Ngatikese and NMC are the two least documented languages in Pohnpei State. Both of these languages have a very small speaker population (Sapwuahfik had a population of about 430 people as of the 2010 census) and with NMC purportedly used only by men, it could have even fewer speakers. To make things worse, there has been very little written about NMC and there are no details on the number of speakers since the early 1980s. As far as anyone knows, NMC could be critically endangered! It is my job to set this all straight and figure out what is going on with the language.