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“... to grasp the native's point of view ...” — A plea for a holistic documentation of the Trobriand Islanders' language, culture and cognition


Senft,  Gunter
Language and Cognition Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Senft, G. (2020). “.. to grasp the native's point of view..” — A plea for a holistic documentation of the Trobriand Islanders' language, culture and cognition. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 24(1), 7-30. doi:10.22363/2687-0088-2020-24-1-7-30.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-FA0A-7
In his famous introduction to his monograph “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” Bronislaw
Malinowski (1922: 24f.) points out that a “collection of ethnographic statements, characteristic
narratives, typical utterances, items of folk-lore and magical formulae has to be given as a corpus
inscriptionum, as documents of native mentality”. This is one of the prerequisites to “grasp the
native's point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world”. Malinowski managed
to document a “Corpus Inscriptionum Agriculturae Quriviniensis” in his second volume of “Coral
Gardens and their Magic” (1935 Vol II: 79-342). But he himself did not manage to come up with a
holistic corpus inscriptionum for the Trobriand Islanders. One of the main aims I have been pursuing
in my research on the Trobriand Islanders' language, culture, and cognition has been to fill this
ethnolinguistic niche. In this essay, I report what I had to do to carry out this complex and ambitious
project, what forms and kinds of linguistic and cultural competence I had to acquire, and how I
planned my data collection during 16 long- and short-term field trips to the Trobriand Islands
between 1982 and 2012. The paper ends with a critical assessment of my Trobriand endeavor.