Dan Everett on the ethics of linguistic fieldwork

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One evening, Linea Flansmose Mikkelsen and Liv Moeslund Ahlgren met up in Lingoland at Aarhus University and set up a zoom-connection across the Atlantic Ocean to talk to Dan Everett. He is an American linguist, best known for his work on the Pirahã language, and is currently a professor at Bentley University. This is the second part of the interview, where we talk about the ethics of fieldwork, building relationships and the importance of seeing yourself as a student.

In the first part of the interview, we discussed Dan Everett’s career, motivations and his dream project.

You started your career as a missionary and ended up as a scientist. Can you tell us about some of the ethical

Revolution in Yiddish teaching: The New Yiddish Textbook In eynem

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It was nothing less than a revolution that hit the world of Yiddish teaching this summer, when the multimedia Yiddish textbook In eynem (White Goat Press, 2020) was published. For many years, Yiddish students have been studying the language with Uriel Weinreich’s College Yiddish from 1949, or with Selva Zucker’s Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture from 1995.

Now, Yiddish students and teachers have a more up-to-date alternative. In eynem is a monumental textbook, counting 800 pages (split up in two volumes), with beautifully illustrated dialogues, word explanations, exercises and texts about Jewish culture. It features a goldmine of material for the first two years of Yiddish studies. A dedicated website offers even more teaching material, e.g. …

Your brain can learn languages your whole life…

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– but it cannot learn languages attending language classes once a week

Back when I was a cheeky 14-or-so-year-old, I taught my mom how to say this English sentence: I am an old and ugly witch! She didn’t have a higher education, but at the age of almost 50, when most of the childbearing and caregiving was over and done with, she had decided that she wanted to learn English at a Danish evening school. Apparently, I wanted to help her out a little, and so I taught her the abovementioned phrase. Of course, I told her that it meant something completely different than what it actually does, and I succeeded in my deception, despite the fact that she had …