Experimenting with picture-based methods for semantic fieldwork: A case study on quantity superlatives in Persian

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för filosofi, lingvistikoch vetenskapsteori

Abstract: This work (a) presents a novel questionnaire for eliciting comparatives and superlatives of quality and quantity; (b) suggests guidelines for creating visual elicitation stimuli, as well as practical implications for semantic fieldworkers; (c) reports on a case study comparing two visual elicitation methods in semantic fieldwork, storyboards and picture-aided translation, showing that picture-aided translation might work better than storyboards for some purposes; (d) reports the results of comparing two different stories (the ‘What Matters’ story, developed in the project, and the ‘Bake-off’ story from Totem Field Storyboards) in semantic fieldwork; and (e) presents results of studying the morphosyntactic strategies for expressing superlatives of quantity and quality, comparatives, definiteness, and absolute, relative and proportional readings in Persian.Storyboards are a series of pictures which tell a story, and the participants are invited to tell the story in their native language, based on the pictures. In picture-aided translation, each picture is accompanied by a text, and participants are asked to give translations based on both the picture and the text. Storyboards are advocated by Burton & Matthewson (2015), in contrast to standard semantic elicitation techniques, since storyboards elicit more natural, spontaneous utterances, minimize the influence of the meta-language, and obviate the need for verbal context description, which minimizes the risk of misunderstanding of the context. However, storyboards pose heavy cognitive burdens on the participants’ memory and this can result in discomfort for the participants and failure to elicit the target constructions. Therefore, a systematic comparison of storyboards and picture-aided translation is conducted in this project to see whether the presence of text makes data elicitation better or worse.In the main stage of this thesis, a comparison of picture-aided translation with storyboards was made by conducting a case study on Persian (with eight Persian speakers); each consultant participated in four tasks, and each data elicitation session took about one hour. The results were then scored along several dimensions, including ‘faithfulness’, which is a measure of success in eliciting the target construction; a sentence was scored as 1 when the target construction was elicited and 0 otherwise. The results showed that picture-aided translation increases faithfulness: on average (per participant), the percentage of sentences faithfully translated increased 20% using picture-aided translation for the ‘What Matters’ story, and 10% for the ‘Bake-off’ story. Feedback received after each dataelicitation session indicated that participants generally felt more comfortable when text was present. In addition, participants reported that both picture-aided translation and storyboard tasks felt equally fun.More faithful translations were received for the ‘Bake-off’ story than the ‘What Matters’ story. This is possibly due to the length of story and sentences, and level of difficulty. It suggests that storyboards should be kept short and simple. More practical implications and tips for the fieldworkers who intend to use translation elicitation materials (including picture-based methods) in their fieldwork are presented at the end of the thesis.English uses the superlative from of many/much for both a relative and a proportional reading. In Persian, a superlative from (biš-tar-in ‘much-CMPR-SPRL’) is used for a relative reading too. However, unlike English, bis-tar-e ‘much-CMPR-EZ’ which is the comparative form of biš ‘much’ plus Ezafe is used for a proportional reading. Finally, the results from this study shows that for quality adverbials, the morphological strategy [M] cannot be used, while for quality absolutes only the morphological strategy [M] was observed and it is probably the dominant way to make quality absolutes in Persian.

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