Almost Through

I’m back in Thohoyandou, wrapping up my second-to-last week here. Kruger was truly delightful, exactly the rest I needed. I was up at the Nyalaland wilderness trail, which I highly recommend — it’s one of the most remote of the bush camps and set in some truly stunning scenery along the Luvuvhu river. Every morning our guides would wake us up at 6am and by sunrise we’d already be out walking cross-country through mopane and ironwood trees, dodging termite mounds and following the occasional honeyguide.

The most spectacular wildlife encounter happened right at camp one night, actually: Well past dark, as we were all sitting around the fire chatting, one of the guides heard some noises from down in the river. Our flashlight eventually picked out a bull elephant come down to the river to drink! Before long he’d crossed the water and was contentedly munching away on the accacia bushes just down the bank from us. We did see other elephants on other days, but none as close as that one. We also saw plenty of hippos (something about the baby ones bobbing up and down in the river because they’re too short to stand on the bottom is surprisingly adorable), and the sounds of zebras off in the distance seemed to follow us, though we only saw them right at the end of the trip. And more!

I returned to Thohoyandou feeling refreshed but also slightly anxious: So much to do! So little time! For the past several weeks I’ve been working primarily with three consultants, who have all been wonderful. But as of this week the UniVen undergrads are starting to arrive back on campus, meaning I suddenly have a much larger pool of speakers willing to work with me. I’m always concerned by fieldwork that focuses on just one or two speakers — especially on understudied languages like Tshivenda where there’s less published material to fact-check against, I’m always concerned that the data I’m getting isn’t representative in one way or another.

So I spent the first part of the week putting together a controlled set of sentences with which to quickly collect a lot of data from a larger number of people. In addition, I’ve been putting together stimuli for a phonetics experiment I’m working on. Today I recruited and met with my first of the newly-arrived udnergrads — five new speakers, five different recordings of the same nice, balanced datasets! I’m quite excited about this. I’ll be meeting with them all again next week (to record some sentences I haven’t designed yet…); that, plus a few more meetings with my primary consultants, plus a few meetings with speakers of Xitsonga (another local Bantu language) to collect some data for a different project… I expect it will be a busy week!