Why I write

avatar

Some time ago I read that out of the more than 5000 languages spoken in the world, psycholinguists have looked at (and written about) less than 30. This made sense to me, having grown up in a country where experimental research on language is just starting, and most people look baffled when you say "I am a psycholinguist".

Luckily, many psycholinguists are working hard to increase this number. It is a welcome change, and I get a pang of enthusiasm every time that I find a paper about the production of passive sentences in Yukatek Maya, or the comprehension of relative clauses in Chamorro. It was about time that these languages were represented in the field!

And while I try to contribute to this change, I feel that something is missing. Here is my worry: researchers know that the situation is improving. They read it in journal articles, they discuss it in academic conferences. But what about the people who helped make the change possible to begin with? Do they get to see the results of their contribution? In my experience, when a language is under-researched and there is no big powerful university sponsoring studies, change happens because of people's engagement. Change happens because people (who usually have no idea what they are getting into) agree to do a language survey, or to have their eyes movements recorded while reading sentences. And they do it and then they call their family, their partner or their friends, and ask them to participate as well.

At least, this was my experience growing up in Buenos Aires. I got experiments done because my neighbors had compassion for the weird girl carrying a recorder around the block. I have interviewed people in parks, in street corners, in schools, at hospitals. Once, when I needed to quickly get participants and I had run out of ideas, a friend took me to her work: a nuclear reactor. I interviewed 20 engineers, chemists and physicists, most of whom had never heard about psycholinguistics. For my bachelor’s project, my cousin, who was getting married, made a deal with my family. They organized themselves, such that during the wedding people would come into a small booth, do my experiment, and only then would they be allowed to dance and drink. The last family members in the testing line did not seem to enjoy it, but hey, I got my project done ;)

I owe a lot to these people. And I often wonder whether they know that they made a difference for me. But more importantly, that their contribution made it possible for my dialect, Argentinian Spanish, to be part of the increasing number of non-English languages that can be studied and analyzed. These people don't often read journal articles, but a lot of what researchers do and write about is possible because of them. So these posts are for them. They are my attempt to state simply and plainly why their participation is important, and to update them on how their data turns out. Maybe one day I will find a better way to communicate with my participants than through my clumsy prose. But in the meantime, thanks for stopping by and I hope that you enjoy it!