Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From Regensburg to Passau to Regensburg to Prague to Brno

If you’re confused by my heading, well so am I. Or at least I’m in a bit of a whirlwind from all this train & bus travel in the last few days.

First of all, on Sunday I went to Passau (also in Bavaria, about an hour by train from Regensburg) to see a summer school friend who studies there (a German who also studies Czech). Then I went back to Regensburg for the night. Then the next morning I left for Prague. I was actually supposed to make one more stop (in Plzen, Czech Republic) to meet with some other summer school friends, but it didn’t pan out (probably for the best, judging by my schedule!). I stayed in Prague last night, then I arrived in Brno around noon today. I am in Brno for a few days, thankfully!

The only place I’ve managed to take pictures in the last few days is Passau. Here are some of my favorites:

I realized that at some point I have to explain to those of you reading my blog what exactly it is that I’m doing here in the Czech Republic (besides drinking beer).

Well, I wrote a proposal back in February to undertake some pilot research on Czech dialects related to my dissertation topic. At that time, the topic of my dissertation was still rather cursory, thus so was my proposal for this research trip. As a matter of fact, I wrote the proposal the night before it was due with absolutely no expectation of getting the grant. Well, I got it, and so I am here now, doing some research that is rather peripherally related to my dissertation.

What I proposed to do was come to the Czech Republic to get recordings of speakers of different Czech dialects. I’m not just recording random speech, but rather I’m having them describe some children’s pictures to get them to speak using certain grammatical constructions. This is all with the ultimate goal of testing the frequency and range of usage of these constructions in Czech across different dialects and different demographic groups.

It turns out that it’s really hard to do field research. It’s difficult on two levels, actually. First, it’s time consuming to recruit participants. It rarely takes just ten minutes to do a ten-minute interview. First there’s some small talk. Then you try to get to know one another, even if just a little bit. Then there are the questions about why I speak (some) Czech, and why I am studying Slavic languages in general. And usually after doing the recording you end up going out to get a beer or lunch or dinner with the person. A ten-minute interview really requires making a new friend. I’m not saying that any of this is bad, it’s just not exactly what I expected and takes a lot of time.

The second level of difficulty is in the research itself. The original hypothesis of what I could investigate was rather sketchy to begin with, and this makes it difficult to carry out the research because I’m not quite getting the information I expected to get, even though I’m finding out other things that are equally as interesting. I guess this is why there is such a thing as pilot research – because as experimental researchers we need to figure out how exactly to investigate different topics, including what does and doesn’t work for obtaining the desired information. In my previous research I’ve worked almost exclusively with historical data or non-verbal written communication, so this kind of experimental work is a real eye-opening experience for me.

Having written all of this, I must say that this “pilot research” has been interesting and fun in unexpected ways. I am speaking A LOT of Czech with "real" Czechs, as opposed to other students of the language (as was the case over the summer). At the conference in Regensburg I met a graduate student who studies here in Brno. We met today and he showed me around the department a bit, and also the library. Tomorrow I am going to listen to him give a lecture on phonology in Czech (I’ve never been to a lecture for real Czech university students).

Overall, I’m quite impressed with how helpful and friendly he and other Czechs I’ve met have been. On that note, I think I’ll end this long blog entry! ☺


cg said...

Jules...awesome work on getting your grant! I am not shocked that you got it, even though we all know procrastinating has always been your strong suit! ;) I recruit patients for all of my studies, and the consenting process is always quite involved. Sadly nobody has ever asked me to lunch or a beer...

iwanagain said...

Sounds like you'd make a good "man on the street" reporter. Frankly, that's always been my least favorite type of reporting because of the time issue, but also because it's hard for me to feel as though I get a complete picture by talking to a few random people, who have never asked me to lunch. You're just special. But that you're finding results other than what you expected is terrific, in my view. And it's also great that it's helping you with the language.


Julia M. said...

Well, I must say that doing linguistics research is different - and more conducive beer invitations - than medical research... and probably also journalistic work. Though I've occasionally felt like a journalist.

You're right, Chris, about the sample size. I'd have to be here for a LONG time to get a big enough sample to make any real conclusions. Hence my emphasis on this being "pilot" research ;)

iwanagain said...

I'm also wondering how many subjects you've found at the bar! That would also make beer invitations a little easier to come by ;)

Julia M. said...

You caught me. I've found a handful of subjects at bars. It's an easy place to start up a conversation, thus also easier to ask for a recording!

A said...

...and how many of these "subjects" happen to be cute boys???