Totem Field Storyboards

Author : Lisa Matthewson

Publication date : 2015

Questionnaire URL :

Bibliographical references :

Burton, Strang and Matthewson, Lisa. 2015. Targeted Construction Storyboards in Semantic Fieldwork. In R. Bochnak and L. Matthewson (eds.), Semantic Fieldwork Methodology, Oxford University Press, 135-156.


"The storyboard technique is a language data collection method that tries to gather authentic speech with as little influence from a contact language as possible. Storyboards are pictorial representations of stories, which speakers are asked to tell in their own words.[...] Storyboards can be use to elicit semantic, pragmatic, syntactic, morphological, phonological or phonetic data." (Typological tools for field linguistics,

Protocol summary

26 storyboards are available.

For exemple, here is how the ''sick girl'' story (TFS Working Group (2011)) is organised: 
- 24 pictures with the story text
- Instructions:
Anyone can use this story to explore the expression of possibility and ability in a language, through a simple story.
- Goals for linguists: 
Linguists can use this story to elicit the contrast (or lack of one) between: deontic possibility (permission) vs. circumstantial possibility (ability).
• Potential infinitives in slides 2, 5, 12, 17, 23.
• Potential deontic necessity modal (obligation)in slide 24.
• You might get a permission modal in slides 2, 9, 16 and 24.
• You might get a circumstantial / ability modal in slides 5, 13, and 20.
• If you get different modals in these two groups of slides, follow-up elicitation will involve trying to switch the two forms in the relevant sentences.
• If you get the same modals in all the slides, it doesn't necessarily mean the language lacks a way to distinguish permission from ability. For example, in English we can used the verb ‘allowed’ or ‘let’ in slide 2, but we can also just use plain ‘could’.

Development context

"What we call 'targeted construction storyboards' have the additional property that the story is designed to include at least one targeted context that can be used to test hypotheses about the relation between linguistic forms and that context. The storyboards thus combine the advantages of spontaneous speech with the benefit of being able to test hypotheses about particular linguistic elements or constructions. They also allow identical contexts to be tested across different languages and by different researchers." (Typological tools for field linguistics,

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