Monday, February 13, 2012

Interviewing thoughts

I'm having trouble finding a thought that's both focused and fully developed for today's journal, so I just want to bring up a few thoughts/questions that came up for me from the assigned readings instead. Hopefully thinking and writing about the readings will help me retain the information better as well; I have been reading so much lately that I am very frustrated at the idea of all the information that I know just isn't sticking in my brain and assimilating with the rest of my knowledge.

For class today we were assigned to read “Interviewing: Unstructured and Semistructured” by Bernard and “Asking Descriptive Questions” by Spradley. I'm so glad that we're reading about interviewing now, because I keep thinking about how my interviewing methods held me back in such a big way last summer when I was trying to conduct linguistic research. Most of the advice from these readings is geared toward ethnographic research, but they seem largely applicable to linguistic questions as well. I also like that Bernard makes reference to Spradley's “grand tour” question type at one point, and was glad to be able to read more about it after the abbreviated mention in Bernard's article (chapter).

Last summer, I interviewed many people that I spent more than just 15 minutes with, but the interviews themselves were fairly structured (which fell apart more than I wanted it to), very focused, and only took a few minutes each time to conduct. I think the longest interview was about half an hour, and that was when Dr. Nuckolls was first helping me to put together the survey and we asked a speaker of Napo Kichwa to help us word things to make sense in Napo since they were written with the Pastaza dialect in mind.

At first when I read about the hours and hours necessary to build rapport and get good ethnographic interviews, my reaction was to think that I should focus on working faster than that so that I can talk to more people fewer times and get more quantitative information. Now that I think of it though, trying so hard to quantify the information I gathered may have been exactly my mistake last time. I was asking forced-choice questions in an attempt to elicit manageable numerical data, but this didn't actually provide me with very much information at all. And the problem wasn't only that my sample was so small, it was that the Kichwa speakers weren't used to thinking in the dichotomy of grammatically “correct” vs “incorrect,” or in this case what would be a “better” way to say something. They all wanted to give an answer like “it depends,” which of course made more sense even though I didn't know what to do with that information. Some speakers gave me a good explanation of ideophone usage as a way to make a sentence more descriptive, yet still were hesitant to say they preferred to speak this way. This kind of reminds me of when I was taught to write in school using no “be” verbs and as many descriptive adjectives as possible. If I hadn't been taught about this descriptive difference and why it was “better” though, would I really think consciously about trying to be more descriptive in order to be more accurate? I don't think that the amount of formal education was the only factor influencing the speakers' answers, but it seemed to play a role in how they interpreted my questions and whether they could tell what I was asking about.

Ah, so much more to be said here. Hopefully I can flesh out my planned interviewing methods for the coming summer soon. And hopefully I can find a way to practice interviewing people in Spanish for practice, as that seemed like some of the best advice from these readings that I can implement right away!

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