Semantic fieldwork: How experimental should we be?


  • Lisa Matthewson University of British Columbia


Salish, Tsimshianic, St’át’imcets, Gitksan, fieldwork, experiments


In recent years there has been an increase in formal semantic research that is based on quan- titative data collection methodologies (a.k.a. ‘experiments’). At the same time, many researchers are conducting non-quantitative fieldwork-based studies, and still other papers rely on introspective data by the authors. In this paper I focus on methodologies for hypothesis-driven semantic fieldwork. The core question is whether and how the methodologies semantic fieldworkers are currently using should change, in response to challenges from both a typological angle (e.g., Aikhenvald 2018) and an experimental angle (e.g., Gibson and Fedorenko 2013). I support Davidson’s (2020) proposal that experimental is a gradable predicate (i.e., there is no simple two-way dichotomy between experimen- tal and non-experimental research), and that research can often be made more robust by adopting some practices from experimental fields. However, I argue that ‘more experimental’ is not always ‘better’.