Elicitation Tips

2. Adapt.

With my consultant, the best way to elicit anything (words, sentences, stories) ended up being a process involving a story. The story might be very short or rather long, depending on how complex the construction I have in mind. This may or may not work for your consultant; the key is to listen and adapt.

Your consultant may prefer sentence continuation, telling their own stories, a fill-in-the-blanks strategy, or something else. Adapting also comes into play when you run into a word your speaker does not know. If you are interested in a particular construction and not the word itself, be ready to provide a synonym for your speaker.

You may also run into taboo words, topics, or other things that your consultant is uncomfortable discussing. Be ready to find another word, topic, or approach.

Here is an example of the kind of story-telling I do. (I used this particular one when asking for a sentence over email.) I was looking for a very specific construction, and wanted to make sure I got the correct interpretation of the English. (If you’re interested, I was interested in stage-level vs. individual-level predicates; Gaelic has both a copula and a verb ‘to be’ which are used differently in the different predicates. So I wanted to make sure I was conveying the interpretation that I wanted.)

So, I have a friend named Lachy. He is a farmer now, but he didn’t start out that way. When he was young, he wanted to be a doctor. So he went away to medical school and learned all the stuff and did his residency, but as things went along he liked it less and less. He finally finished all his training and got a job at a big hospital, but he only lasted there a week before he got fed up and left. One day I’m trying to set up my friend with Lachy, who is now a successful and happy farmer. She says, “What does he do for a living?” I say, “Well, he was a doctor for a week, but now he is a farmer.”How would I say, “Well, he was a doctor for a week, but now he is a farmer.”? If you can think of more than one way, you can give me all of them.

Sometimes (or often) during a session, your consultant may want to talk about something other than the exact sound/word/pattern/sentence that you’re trying to get at. Maybe they’ve been reminded of a story that someone once told them, or maybe they’ll remember a related word, or maybe they just can’t make sense of the particular type of sounds/words/patterns/sentences that you’ve been working on anymore. Don’t let this kind of lateral movement make you feel like you’re getting off track–lateral movement is still movement. Maybe your consultant gives you a sentence construction that you aren’t looking for at the moment. Don’t fret, and certainly don’t ignore it. If it’s merely a side note, record it and move on; if your consultant is excited about it, go with it. You’ll get much better data if the speaker is enthusiastic and engaged. Even if you don’t think you can use the data now, you (or at the very least, someone) will be able to use it later.

The moral is, stay on your toes and pay attention to the needs of your speaker. If one approach isn’t working, try something else. Don’t keep trying the same thing (the same sentence, the same word, the same approach) and expect a different result.