Language Documentation

Peter Austin

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Language Documentation

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Language Families
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics


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Language documentation, also known as documentary linguistics, is the subfield of linguistics that deals with creating multipurpose records of languages through audio and video recording of speakers and signers and with annotation, translation, preservation, and distribution of the resulting materials. It shows by its nature multidisciplinarity and draws on theoretical concepts and methods from linguistics, ethnography, folklore studies, psychology, information and library science, archiving and museum studies, digital humanities, media and recording arts, pedagogy, ethics, and other research areas. Its major goal is the creation of well-organized, long-lasting corpora that can be used for a variety of purposes, including theoretical research and practical needs such as language and cultural revitalization (see Mobilization and Revitalization). Another prominent feature is attention to the rights and desires of language speakers and communities and collaboration with them (see Speakers and Collaboration) in the recording, analysis, archiving, dissemination, and support of their own languages. The term “language documentation” historically has been used in linguistics to refer to the creation of grammars, dictionaries, and text collections for previously undescribed languages; however, works defining language documentation as a distinct subfield of linguistics emerged around 1995 as a response to the crisis facing the world’s endangered languages, about half of which could disappear in the 21st century, and the urgent need to record and analyze languages and speakers’ linguistic knowledge while they continue to be spoken, and to work with communities on supporting threatened languages before opportunities to do so become reduced. It was also prompted by developments in information, media, communication, and archiving technologies, which make possible the collection, analysis, preservation, and dissemination of documentary records in ways that were not feasible previously. It was also facilitated by high levels of research funding support from three main sources: the Documentation of Endangered Languages (DOBES) program sponsored by Volkswagen Foundation in Germany (2000–2013), the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) supported by Arcadia Trust in the United Kingdom (2002–2016), and the Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) interagency initiative of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment of the Humanities (2005–). Language documentation concerns itself with principles and Methods for the recording and analysis of primary language and cultural materials, and Metadata about them, in ways that are transparent and accountable, and that can be archived and disseminated for current and future generations to use. Some researchers have emphasized standardization of data and analysis and “best practices,” while others have argued for a diversity of approaches that recognize the unique and particular social, cultural, and linguistic contexts within which individual languages are used. Methods and practices for training in language documentation have also been explored.

Article.  7387 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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