My fieldwork philosophy

When doing fieldwork, I apply the same philosophy as when doing theoretical linguistics work: fieldwork should be formally precise and descriptively adequate. What does it mean, you may ask, for fieldwork to be "descriptively adequate"--isn't it descriptive already, by definition? For me, descriptive adequacy in fieldwork means answering key questions that are important people trying to teach or learn the language, such as "where do the tones go?" and "which words have double vowels in them?" and "how do I know when to put the dots over the vowels?" If we can address these key questions, it becomes possible to produce products that are useful to indigenous language communities, such as transcriptions of elders' stories, documentation of Dene history and culture, and language teaching materials for young people. At the same time, fieldwork is "formally precise" when it is backed up by appropriate evidence--for example, phonetic evidence to show exactly how many vowels the language has.

In other words, we should always ask ourselves, "what questions would someone wanting to learn to speak the language, or learning to read and write the language, want to know?" This way, even if our linguistic analyses can seem abstract at times, they are always grounded in some useful or practical end-goal or application.

Verb Grammar

Together with my co-author Emerence Cardinal, I have produced a verb grammar of Tetsǫ́t'ıné Yatıé, the dialect of Dëne Sųłıné that I work on, recently published by ANLC Publications. Click (here) for sample.

Intermediate Reader

I have transcribed a collection of elders' stories about animals, in both languages, for language learners. They include running glossary at the bottom of each page, grammatical explanations, vocabulary review, and comprehension questions. Click (here) for sample.

Yellowknives Dene History

Yellowknives Dene were declared "extinct" by anthropologists in a series of publications from the 1960s through the 1980s, but I am working on transcribing a collection of Yellowknives Dene traditional stories, which tell their own history, from their perspective.


Based on work by Emerence Cardinal, the late Dora Cardinal, and other elders, we have compiled a Tetsǫ́t'ıné dictionary of about 7,300 entries, which will include an electronic version with clickable sound files.

Interdisciplinary Work

I have participated in a number of interdisciplinary projects, including helping with a museum display on Yellowknives Dene (see here), and project on Dene astronomy (see here). I have also worked with YKDFN Land & Environment Office to transcribe stories about the impacts of mining.

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