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Language documentation


Language documentation or more properly, language and culture documentation is a comprehensive, lasting, multipurpose record of the linguistic and cultural practices of a speech community that can be used by both specialists from numerous scholarly fields and members of the community itself for a wide range of academic purposes as well as language and cultural preservation and revitalization. It aims to “to provide a comprehensive record of the linguistic practices characteristic of a given speech community”. Language documentation seeks to create as thorough a record as possible of the speech community for both posterity and language revitalization. Language documentation also provides a firmer foundation for linguistic analysis in that it creates a citable set of materials in the language on which claims about the structure of the language can be based. It is a new area within linguistics that has emerged as a response to the growing crisis of language endangerment. It emphasizes data collection methodologies, in two ways: first, in encouraging researchers to collect and record a wide range of linguistic phenomena in genuine communicative situations; and secondly, in its use of high quality sound and video recording to make sure that the results are the best possible record of the language. It is important to carefully archive language documentationsthat have been made, because such materials have irreplaceable value for language communities and for linguists and other researchers. Digital archives allow possibilities never before imagined: catalogues are accessible and searchable from anywhere with internet access, materials are easily deliverable by network or on CDs and DVDs, and communities can express sensitivities or restrictions to control access to materials. Language communities also have stronger relationships with their language heritage materials, because they can make use of multimedia materials in support of local language support activities. In addition to making materials discoverable and accessible through suitable archiving and cataloguing, the next big challenge facing Language documentation is the discovery and widespread use of software interfaces that make documentation materials easily and flexibly usable by a wide range of users.

Documenting a language is a complex process that involves finding speakers who can serve as language teachers (often called 'language consultants', and in former times 'informants') and then working together with them to study the language and its use. We begin by recording words and expressions, transcribing them (writing them down phonetically) and then analyzing the materials to uncover the structure and functions of the language. The result of this kind of documentation is often a dictionary and a grammar of the language. In addition, we aim to collect 'texts', that is stories, narratives, personal histories, explanations of how culturally important activities are carried out, speeches and other literary forms, including poetry and songs. Preferably, we record the performance of the texts - or other naturalistic language usage - using sound or video recorders. All of this will be transcribed, analyzed and translated into a language of wider communication so that the materials can be used for a range of purposes, both by the language community, teachers, and researchers (provided that the community agrees that the materials can be used). This kind of research typically involves fieldwork, going to a place (often a remote location) where speakers of a language live and working and living together with them there. To undertake fieldwork the researchers must be properly trained in the techniques of recording (sound and video), transcribing, analyzing and translating languages that have never been studied before. Researchers should collect, and appropriately record, metadata for all of the collected materials. The methods and terminology should be aimed at making knowledge about the language accessible to a wide audience: not only academics, but also community members, as well as learners and teachers.

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Associations of Language documentation
• Wolfram Language & system documentation center
• Modern language Association
• Modern Language Association of America
• DOBES- Documentation of Endangered Languages
• SIL International
• Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (Paradisec)
• LACITO (Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale)
• First Peoples' Cultural Council
• World Oral Literature Project

Conferences on Language documentation
• 4th International Conference on Language Documentation & Conservation from February 26-March 1, 2015 at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
• NSF-Supported Special Sessions on Pedagogy in Language Conservation from 26-Feb-2015 - 01-Mar-2015 at Honolulu, HI, USA.
• Australian Linguistic Society Conference from December 10-12 at University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia
• International Conference-Workshop on Mother-Tongue and National Language in the K TO 12 Curricular Enhancement as Framework for Development from November 20 to 22, 2014 at De La Salle University, Quezon City, Phillipines.
• Linguistic Approaches to Endangered Languages: Theory and Description from July 28-30 Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey.

This page will be updated regularly.

This page was last updated on 10th Oct, 2014

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