domenica 8 settembre 2013

Second year project, we start!

The project's second year has started. I am now in Addis Ababa to prepare my next four-week fieldwork. The OK for the continuation of the project has been given by the VolkswagenStiftung, the sponsor or the project in the context of the DoBeS programme for the endangered languages, on the basis of a certain amount of material that we have promised to archive in the DoBeS archive. See and look for the Bayso and Haro project.
The corpus mainly comprises of speech performances recorded in audio and video. All the recordings are transcribed and translated, a part of it is annotated by morphemic segmentation and morpheme by morpheme glossing. There also video files without speech transcription, ethnographic explanations of text dealing with certain topics such as religion and boat building, a first wordlist of Bayso and Haro translated in English, a first draft of the grammatical sketch and of a sociolinguistic profile of the two languages. Each archived file is accompanied by metadata information filled in using Arbil.
This is already rich material, but it must be revised and adjusted. The transcription is not homogenised because each team member used a different one. Now we have an unique system that came ouf from the phonological analysis contained in the first draft of the sketches. The morphological annotation should be revised and improved, but it is based on the existing description of the two languages, that are not bad at all. The translation is also a bit rough. Someone made both a literary/imitating translation and a free translation, some file have only one of the two. The Bayso lexicon, about 700 words, is based on the collected texts and is being compared with the one by Hayward (1978 and 1979) that I have digitalised. I have also converted the Bayso and English columns to get the English index. Also our lexicon has two indexes. Mechthild Reh has collected all the Haro words, about 850 words, of the grammar by Hirut (2004) and made comparisons with the words found in Brenzinger (1999). An additional lexicon of about 150 cultural terms has been created by Fabienne Braukmann. Also Endashaw Woldemichael created a 300-item wordlist. However, the transcription must be revised before archiving. The draft of the grammatical sketch of Bayso is mostly based on our material, while the one of Haro is based on Hirut (2004).

I think we are on a good track. There is a clear and elastic data workflow based on the creation of material in a first rough version and gradually checked and revised more precisely. And in next week new fieldwork and a new start towards and new target to get the OK for the third and final year!

giovedì 14 marzo 2013

After the second fieldwork

Last week I was back from the second two-month fieldwork of the Bayso Haro documentation project. Before leaving to the Bayso area I spent about one week in Addis, where I organised a workshop with all the members of the team and prepared the trip. It was the last fieldwork of the first year of project. Therefore, I have made sure that the material we are supposed to archive for the first year was there. Everyone did his and her job. Only Endashaw is still in the field because teaching commitment kept him in Addis Ababa. But I am sure he will not fail.
With the help of Abdissa Ballamo I checked past recordings, transcribed and translated a 22-minute narration on the origins of the Bayso people with some information on neighbouring populations and digitalised three texts with the ELAN software. After I finished with the audio recordings I did the videos. I was lucky to happen into a wedding feast, were I recorded the groom telling the story of his wedding, some women giving blessing, the couple receiving the gifts and thanking for that and women singing. I did the translation of the video speech with Doctor and Getahun, that I had met in the previous fieldwork on the island. This time I was not able to sail because the boat we used last time was not there anymore. I had planned to go with Doctor, but he always delayed the trip because he was busy with building his new house in the Alge village. It is in this village that I did the recording and worked with Doctor and Getahun. I conducted the part of research with Abdissa in a hotel in Mirab Abbaya, the nearest town. This does not sound so exotic and adventurous, but I needed some comfort to deal with the language.
Now it is time to move everything into ELAN and upload the material on the central server of DoBeS. By May we have to produce a report to prove that we reached our target. And get the second year of financing.....

martedì 30 ottobre 2012

A (relatively long) report of my first fieldwork

It is so nice to be able to collect new data from an understudied language and share with the world. As Paul Newman (a Professor in Hausa) stated once, one of the most exciting feeling of a fieldworker is that he/she becomes suddenly the world's expert on something and anyone has to refer to him/her to know more on the topic. This is how I feel know. In my files and notebooks there are new thinks, that I am eager to share for the advancement of cultural, linguistics and cognitive research.

The first data come from our first two-month fieldwork of the Bayso and Haro project. It has been a success first of all because I used all my experience in doing research in Ethiopia. This implies the ease in making contacts with people, which is so much facilitate by using Amharic. 

I did not expect to spend one month in Addis, but eventually it was needed. All the other members of the team had a reason to start later, but once we were ready we went. I was first one once I got my research permit and the necessary equipment arrived from Germany. I aimed Arba Minch and made my base there, ready to go and introduce myself to authorities and the people of the near-by Alge village. Eventually the people I looked and came to me. The following description comes from an article that I wrote in the field and that will be published in the Rassegna di Studi Etiopici.

"I had the chance to attend a symposium on the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Zone. In particular, the topic was the celebration of the Mesqal feast among the five recognised ethnic groups. Even though this is a Christian Ortodox celebration, remembering the finding of the True Cross, it has been adopted by several groups, where it basically corresponds to the pre-christian festivity of the new year. In the symposium I approached the Head of the Gamo Gofa Zone and the Office for Tourism, Culture and Governmental Communication and made an appointment with the head of the Mirab Abbaya district (Woreda) where the Bayso and the Haro belong to. Some Bayso were also present among the groups' delegations invited to the symposium. Thanks to the help of my contact in Arba Minch, my ex student at Addis Ababa University Samuel Gondore, I first approached a Bayso person living in Arba Minch and working at the local multilingual radio station, which also broadcasts in Bayso. He helped me to introduced myself to the Bayso group and to their leader, Baallamo Worba. I explained what my research intentions and he invited me in Alge where he and the other members of the group present in Arba Minch were living. He would welcome me and, first of all, guide me to do video recordings of the slaughtering of cows for the Mesqal celebration, that in Bayso is called Baala.
Alge is the only real Bayso village in the coast of the Abbaya Lake. Ballamo is the carismatic leader of the people living in Alge and the representative of the whole people in the Alge Qabale. He is a very knowledgeable and clever person. A great source of information for the study of Bayso language and culture. Indeed, in the five following days I spent in Alge I recorded more that half an hour of text from him and one week later Susanne Epple did all her anthropological research with his assistance. In Alge I also translated and transcribed a 4 minute text with the help of Baallamo's son Abdissa and Baallamo himself. It was a very basic transcription with association of rough meaning without eliciting and exploring the grammar. In that stage it is only needed to distinguish words and their meanings with a transcription made on paper. More understanding of the morphological and syntactic structures will come with re-listening to the speech and processing of the text with a computer transcription tool. This is a kind of methodology applied by the other member of the project. The first in turn is Lemmi, who worked with Ballamo in Alge.
While working with Abdissa, I noticed how good he was in understanding and doing transcription an translation. He could do it in English directly from Bayso, while with Baallamo I had Amharic as intermediate language. So, I proposed Abdissa to come to Gidiccho with me and do the research together.
For the trip to the island I have organised a boat, which was not an easy task. Two months before I had already established contacts with Arba Minch University, that provides researchers a boat on the lake and a boat engine. Everything seem to go smoothly, but once I was in Arba Minch I came to know that the boat needed maintenance. The University in principle could provide only the engine and introduce as to a fishers' association that could rent a boat on the Abbaya. I took me a week to talk to the right person and conclude the process. In the meantime people of the University were busy with teaching training and the person responsible for the boat changed his administrative position. The new responsible made some problems to give the engine without the boat, since there was no legal procedure for that, but eventually he understood our vital need for our research and appointed someone from the University staff to be responsible for the engine. The promise is that next time the boat will be maintained and we can use it with the engine under the payment of a rent.
The trip was costly. We had to hire two drivers and pay a lot for fuel because we had to leave from Arba Minch, which is six-seven hours away form Gidiccho. We wished to find a boat in Alge, which is only one and a half hour away from the island. In fact, there were no other options since there are no other motor boat operating in the lake. This is different from the Chamo lakes where one can rent boats from the tourist guides' and fishers' associations.
Few homesteads are left on the Gidiccho island. Considering the low population density we had decided that no more than two researchers could work in the same village. The problems of getting the boat and the individual plans of the research member created a situation in which Lemmi Kebebew and Susanne Epple did their work in Alge, I worked in Bayso with the assistance of Abdissa Baallamo and Endashaw Woldemichael and Fabienne Braukmann collaborated in the research in the Haro village. This was an appropriate distribution to avoid the impression of a research “invasion”. Once in a while I was visiting the Haro village, which is thirty minutes walking distance, and once the three of us met in Shigima.
I was spontaneously hosted by Anteneh Wogga, nicknamed “Doctor”. The nickname came from the fact that he was born in Arba Minch from the hands of a real doctor in the hospital. I stayed with him, his wife Silt'anu, and their four children. They took care of me, letting me pitch a tend in their compound, giving me a bed in the house to rest in the afternoon when in the tent it was too hot and feeding me. There is no food problem in Gidiccho. People easily find fish, they eat moringa leaves and other vegetables, they have chickens and large herds of cattle for meat and milk. They also have some honey and maize, that mostly come from the plantations on the coast since the salty soil of the island is not suitable for agriculture. The fertile land of the coast is nowadays occupied by the water raised from the lake. I was invited as least three times a day to have coffee. This is always accompanied by the “kursi”, that is some maize of bread to eat before and during drinking.
The meetings for drinking coffee were the main events in which I got exposed to the language. I simply stayed there listening and trying to understand according from what I remembered of the grammatical sketch of Hayward and catching some Amharic words or sentences from code-switching, toponyms and personal names. I rarely understood anything, but I patiently listened and eventually I memorised basic sentences and expressions that I will not forget and that I started using.
As for data collection, I started with recording the speech of Silt'anu. I thought important to collect texts from a woman since in Alge Lemmi and Susanne were mostly working with men. She gave me four short texts, three on cooking (on of which is found in the appendix) and one on her life. Then I also asked “Doctor” to provide some speech. He talked about his life and the work of a fisherman. His texts were longer, one reached four minutes. The third and last speaker who provided a text is Littu Sherberi. He is a Bayso elder who has always been living in the island. I asked him to tell a story of crocodiles attacking people and to reconstruct an event relating to the building of a boat in Melka during Hayle Sellase's time. I took advantage to train Abdissa to make the recording.
Abdissa is also the one who made most of the transcriptions and translations. After working on the first two texts together, I supervised him for the following two and he did alone the last ones. I limited myself to check them after he finished. My aim to to train him in all the phases of the documentation work, up to the final transcription and glossing on a computer. He will profit a lot from this in the perspective of advancing with his studies.
The first session of Bayso recording, therefore, is not rich in quantity but very accurate in quality. Moreover, it is important that 80% of the recoding material is already transcribed and translated. In this kind of documentation projects it is easy to keep on recording anything that looks interesting forgetting that the material should be made available to other people for further study and for the community itself. A mass of recordings with no transcription and indication of the meaning is useless. It is better to record less, with clear and technically high standard sound quality and accompany the texts with the necessary annotation. On these basis the corpus will be easily expanded in the following field research. periods.
The selection of the speech topics were done quite randomly. I expect that on the basis of her research Susanne Epple will indicated those important cultural areas from with rich, meaningful and anthropologically interesting speech samples can be collected.
Backup of all the material has been done in two places. Besides the recoding memory cards (we use only solid-state digital recorders), we transferred the files to an external hard disk and memory cards. Once in Europe, I will transfer the material on the centralised server of the general DoBeS archive. This will keep it safe while we work on editing and annotation.
Each file has been named in a standard way. The model we follow is LanguageCode_Date_CodeOfCollector_CodeOfSpeaker_KindOfSpeech_SerialNumber_Topic. Therefore, the first narrative on fishing recording by me (code 01) from the Bayso speaker "Doctor" (code DOCT) on the 12th of October will be contained in the file named BSW_20121012_01_DOCT_Narr_01_fishing (BSW is the code given by Ethnologue. We had to create one for Haro). Since it is a an uncompressed audio file, the final part of the name is the format code .wav. Other files containing annotations will keep the same name, but change the format. A written document with comments, for example, will end with .doc. Following the same file naming standard for all the researchers is crucial. Otherwise, the risk is to get lost into to dozen of recordings forgetting the kind of speech recorded, the topics and the overall quantity".

lunedì 22 ottobre 2012

Fieldwork is over: success!

Hi everyone,
writing from Addis, after the end of the fieldwork. It was one of the more exciting and fruitful field research experience because of many positive factors. The people, the environment, the weather, the food, the assistance, the team work, many things collaborated to this success. I will share more with you...

sabato 6 ottobre 2012

Team ready, waiting for the boat.

First data collection! It took place in Alge, a Bayso village between the main road to Arba Minch and the Abbaya Lake. I made videos of the slaugtering of cows for the Baala festivity, corresponding to the Ethiopian Mesqel (the day of the finding of the True Cross), and, first of all, recorded the first stories and transcribed and translated the first text.
I visited the Abbaya Lake. It is amasingly beautiful. I entered the water, took pitcures standing on a boat, bought some fish (delicious!). The people welcomed me in a wondeful way. They adopted me and provided me whatever I needed. Water, food, bed, no problem. They are very curious about technonology even though they use mobiles and know very well what computers and internet are. I felt like we were exchanging our cultures, even if mine is dependent on machines.
I left Alge and headed Arba Minch to organise the boat that would take us to the Bayso's homeland, the island of Gidiccho in the Abbaya Lake. The other members of the team arrived after one week, but I stil did not succeed to provide the boat. In order to save money I tried to get the engine from the University for free and rent only the boat from a fishers' association. This is taken lot's of time because the responsible was not able to sign the authorisation. I just found out that it is because he was changed of position a couple of days ago and to keep the right to auhorise the use of the boat he needs a direct OK from the University President. He cannot get this OK tomorrow, Sunday. The appoitnment is for monday. Iwill go and collect the engine with our boat driver and together we sail to Alge from Arba Minch. We'll pass several small islands where nobody lives. I am ready with the video camera. The others will still go to Alge tomorrow. They have to work and there is too little time. I wish I could work too and I am so anxious to start and finish. Hope I can do that from tuesday.

lunedì 24 settembre 2012

Making budget calculation is good!

This blog was written two days ago

Third day in Arba Minch. There are several naturalistic attractions to visit here such as the Nech Sar national park with its zebras, gazelles and, if you are lucky, elephants and ostriches, the near-by highland Dorze villages, the highest lying at more that 3000 meters, famous for their tall houses and cotton weaving, and, of course, the two lakes Abbaya and Chamo. The second is visited by tourists because is its rich population of crocodiles, some of which really big and 'prehistoric', and hyppos. There is also the so called 'crododile farm', where they breed crocodiles and sell the skin to the international market. There is no tourism in the Abbaya as far as I know.
I could have organised some visit. Instead, I spend the whole day, 12 hours, in doing budget calculation and accountancy for the project. It is something I hate and postponed as much as possible. At a certain point the other members of the project asked me to do that otherwise we where stuck. In Addis I was attracted by other organisational things that put the calculations at the background of my priorities. It is only here that I found the peace of mind to do it.
I have to admit that, however, having a clear picture of the money that you have in proportion with the things you want to do is very useful. It helps to plan and be realistic. It is still very difficult because the project is complex, involving four researchers who do intensive fieldwork and another one coming to the field for shorter stays and aiming to the documentation of two languages. And I have to repair to budget mistakes I made at the moment of the application. The biggest one it the underestimation of the costs for the boat to go to the Gidiccho island. I did not have any complete information and I misunderstood how to elaborate the proper budget. Now, for the first fieldwork we are already going to spend almost half of the whole budget for internal transport. It is a problem because I cannot increase the budget of this voice more that 30% taking the money from the other voices. This is possible because we are going to spend less for personal contracts. 30% will not be enough. I really do not know for the moment how to find a solution. Better thinking about the research. For the first year we are fine.


venerdì 21 settembre 2012

From Addis to Arba Minch, at last!

After one month in Addis Ababa, today, at last, I flew to Arba Micnh. Our 50-place Fokker departed on time form Addis Ababa Bole Airport at 13.50. A first passengers' stop in Jimma after thirty minute and than, at 15.35, we safely landed in Arba Minch.
It was nice and sunny, nothing to do with Addis Ababa, where the rainy season in hitting heavily and it is cold and humid (for those who do not know Addis Ababa lies at an altitude between 2300 and 3000 asl. This can make it quite chilly in the evening).
At the airport I was waiting for the luggage while sending sms and emails. Time passed, the luggage of all the passengers were waiting outside and nobody was there to put them on the rolling band. I do not know who started, when and how, everyone went to collect its own piece of luggage outside. I did the same. Airport people around there were not happy, but they did not stop us. May be someone paid for this.
Outside I expected many minibus-like taxis proposing me to go to the center. Instead, there were only the cars of the hotels, private cars and so-called Bajaj, a Ape Piaggio-style tricycle motorbike used as taxi. I had no choice than taking one of those, but I did not want with all the luggage I had. Moreover, they asked me 100 birr. I activated my circle of people I know in Arba Minch. I called Samuel, an ex-student of mine, who said would come with a taxi. In the meantime a guy I knew, Mamo, came to me. He works for the Catholic Mission and was there with a car collecting two dutch visitors. I went with him.
I knew that car very well. I drew it during the fieldwork period among the Ongota in which Robert Weijs and I made some shootings for the documentary we plan to finish on the death of this language. The trailer is on youtube (search for Graziano Ongota). This is one of the many examples of help that I received from the Irish priests of this mission. They are special. No priests devoted primarily to evangelisation. Their main aim it to help concretely and help everyone, also researchers like me.
I am staying at the Forty Spring Hotel, opened two months ago by Oliver Ryan, an ex-priest of the mission. Wonderful guy. I had some good time chatting with him. Samuel joined us. He came to visit me. We talked about my stay and I could help him with his corpus of a variety of the Gamo language spoken in the area. The documentation of this language is the topic of his PhD thesis. We'll meet tomorrow afternoon to talk about that. The main problem he wants to solve is the synchronisation of audio and video recordings. Using a video and an audio device together is crucial to guarantee good and uncompressed audio quality. So far I have used ELAN to do that, but not always I was successful. Working on the problem with Samuel will help me understand better how it works.
Samuel also gave me a good news. The local authorities, including those of Mirab Abaya, the small town hosting the municipality to which the Bayso and the Haro belong to, will be coming to an open meeting on Sunday in Arba Minch. They will talk about language and culture diversity in the area. It is a good occasion to let myself known both as a specialist in the issue and as the responsible for the project. I got letters of introduction from the Institute of Ethiopian Studies that I look forward to show to get support and assistance.

This is already getting very exciting! But the best is still to come....Follow me!