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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 7, 2022

Socially distanced but virtually connected: pandemic fieldwork with Black Bostonians

  • Monica Nesbitt EMAIL logo and Akiah Watts
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard


The Eastern Massachusetts Life and Language project was in its planning stages when the COVID-19 pandemic began to make headway in the United States in 2020. We contribute to the conversation about conducting linguistic fieldwork during a major social upheaval by providing a description of our shift to virtual methodologies, which include utilizing Instagram for participant recruitment and Zoom for conducting sociolinguistic interviews. Virtual data collection remains underexplored, as there has never been a widespread need for such practices until the recent lockdowns resulting from the pandemic. Likewise, social media appears to be underutilized as a recruitment tool in linguistic fieldwork. Nevertheless, it is effective in producing a heterogeneous participant sample in a short amount of time. We are delighted to engage in discussions about the effects of virtual recruitment and data collection on linguistic fieldwork and the data itself. We offer a description of our pivots to virtual recruitment and interviewing and the racial justice initiatives that become achievable because of these changes. We hope this contribution is beneficial to researchers looking to incorporate virtual methodologies into their research program.

Corresponding author: Monica Nesbitt, Department of Linguistics, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA, E-mail:


This publication would not have been possible without the help of so many. We are especially thankful to our Dartmouth College student research assistants including George Stain, Soren Tyler, and Guadalupe Ortega whose dedication to this project amidst a pandemic has contributed greatly to our continued success and perseverance. We humbly thank James N. Stanford for his continued encouragement. To the two reviewers and Betsy Sneller, your insights and gentle guidance were invaluable to the development of this manuscript. Finally, we would not be writing to you today without the continued support from our participants in the Black Boston area who continue to elevate us with their stories and voices. We are honored to represent and work with you.


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Received: 2021-03-26
Accepted: 2022-01-14
Published Online: 2022-03-07

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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