Saturday, October 18, 2008


Languagehat’s recent posting (link) on an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (link) got me wandering down memory lane. Why? Because I took an earlier incarnation of this self-same Introduction to Field Methods class at Cal almost thirty years ago. Jesse O. Sawyer taught it then. Our informant was a grad student in the math depart, and the language he spoke (his fourth) was Kiswahili. We used old reel-to-reel analog tape recorders. But, there was one high tech innovation: our class had a joint UNIX account. I was the only one who ever logged in or used it, including Jesse. I used it to write papers (marked up in troff and edited with vi). (Bill Joy wrote vi while he was at Berkeley, and years later I would work at a company he co-founded, Sun.) I could log in in the linguistics department office (in Dwinelle) using a huge terminal with an acoustic-coupled 100-baud modem, or I could trudge off to the basement of Evans and sit at one of the faster and smaller terminals there. I really had no concept of an operating system at the time, and I thought the computer itself was called Eunuchs, which I thought was a pretty cool name for a computer. I just printed those papers off at the printing-terminals located the ends of the tables on which the CRT terminals sat. Two things stand out in that article: (1) that they still teach a field methods class in my old linguistics department and (2) that there are still “unknown” languages to be recorded.



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