[Joint post by Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS and Jane Simpson]
There has been a flare up on the LINGTYP list again (cf. PKA’s post last week) – this time from Gideon Goldenberg who suggested there is a distinction between research (good) and data collection (bad). He was writing about typological databases but it looks like the same opinion applies to documentary linguistic corpora – here’s what he said:
“The clear and sharp distinction between research and materials is essential. The latter will be needed to illustrate scholarly discussion, but data themselves are not research even though they require thoughtful preparation. When electronic means became available there was the hope that from then on the mere accumulation of data would no longer be able to give credit of scientific work; it unfortunately turns to go the other way about. To share databases with others is OK and can be beneficial, but do not mistake it for research.”
Ouch! All those digitised sound and video recordings with time-aligned multi-tier annotated corpora with linked metadata that we’ve been creating are fine and dandy, but it ain’t research folks!
The real worry comes in the response from Nigel Vincent. He recently participated in a review of Dutch humanities research and it became clear to him that in the Netherlands basically the same position is taken by the NWO research council – only paper publications count. The UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) that will be on in earnest next year does recognise databases and electronic corpora as research outputs but exactly how that will play out when panels get down to bean counting for the RAE remains unclear.
Why should we worry? Because these reviews determine what money goes to research. If they decide our laboriously collected and analysed materials are not research, then we will not be funded to collect and prepare more of them, i.e. you’ll get funded to do an analysis of some linguistic property of UgaBuga which will disappear with your theoretical framework, but you won’t get funded to produce the material on UgaBuga which will allow future speakers and future linguists to hear the language and watch speech events with all the associated information about them.
As for how the Research Quality Framework newly introduced in Australia by DEST will treat what Goldberg calls “mere accumulation of data”, well, linguists have made representations for acknowledging as research output documented and catalogued collection of field recordings of endangered speech varieties archived in public archives. But have they been accepted? Perhaps readers gearing up for the RQF would care to comment?
It’s all a bit of a worry for those of us documenting endangered languages who need to get recognition and support from our academic colleagues, institutions and funding agencies. Especially for young researchers.