Obtaining Linguistic Data
Many procedures are available for obtaining data about a language. They range from a carefully planned, intensive field investigation in a foreign country to a casual introspection about one's mother tongue carried out in an armchair at home.
In all cases, someone has to act as a source of language data—an informant. Informants are （ideally） native speakers of a language, who provide utterances for analysis and other kinds of information about the language （e.g. translations, comments about correctness, or judgements on usage）。 Often, when studying their mother tongue, linguists act as their own informants, judging the ambiguity, acceptability, or other properties of utterances against their own intuitions. The convenience of this approach makes it widely used, and it is considered the norm in the generative approach to linguistics. But a linguist's personal judgements are often uncertain, or disagree with the judgements of other linguists, at which point recourse is needed to more objective methods of enquiry, using non-linguists as informants. The latter procedure is unavoidable when working on foreign languages, or child speech.
Today, researchers often tape-record informants. This enables the linguist's claims about the language to be checked, and provides a way of making those claims more accurate （'difficult' pieces of speech can be listened to repeatedly）。 But obtaining naturalistic, good-quality data is never easy. People talk abnormally when they know they are being recorded, and sound quality can be poor. A variety of tape-recording procedures have thus been devised to minimise the 'observer's paradox' （how to observe the way people behave when they are not being observed）。 Some recordings are made without the speakers being aware of the fact—a procedure that obtains very natural data, though ethical objections must be anticipated. Alternatively, attempts can