Human sociality and systems of language use -
This 5-year project, funded by a 2 million Euro grant to Enfield from the European Research Council, pioneers a systematic approach to the comparison of language use, that is, language in the context of informal social interaction. A team of seven (the project leader, along with three post-docs and three PhDs) are carrying out fieldwork on languages from around the world, with field sites in Laos, Ghana, Ecuador, Russia, Italy, Australia, and Argentina. There are three project objectives. Objective 1 is collection of extensive corpora of video-recorded natural conversation in the field. Objective 2, drawing on these Objective 1 corpora, is a systematic description of three defined systems of language use in each language: (1) repair (how problems in speaking and understanding are corrected), (2) reference (focusing on reference to places), and (3) requests (how people use language to get others to do things).
Because of the great challenge involved in collecting data of the required kind to be able to examine these systems, they have been difficult to study in traditional structural and descriptive linguistics. Each domain is a window onto core aspects of human sociality. This project aims to set an agenda for a new tradition in linguistics—a ‘typology of language use’—which will look for both universals and constraints on diversity. With this work, we hope to bring new evidence to bear upon interdisciplinary questions of the nature and cultural variability of human sociality.