Supporting communities through language and culture documentation

LCD Workshop participants refined their recording skills in order to better capture and preserve aspects of an ethnolinguistic community's unique culture and the way that the language is spoken by mother-tongue speakers.

(June 2014) At a recent workshop, participants gained hands-on experience in methods of language and culture documentation, including audio and video recording. The Language and Culture Documentation (LCD) Workshop’s purpose was to equip participants to plan, execute and archive a documentary corpus according to current best practices. Documentation preserves language and culture data to support linguistic vitality, cultural identity and stewardship of heritage resources.

The LCD Workshop was held 2-13 June at the International Linguistics Center in Dallas, Texas. Participants from a variety of professional backgrounds came from across the US and from as far away as Australia, Israel, the Philippines, Trinidad, Saudi Arabia and the UK. Co-authors of A Language and Culture Documentation Manual (in progress) served as the four lead instructors. Excerpts from the manual served as homework readings for the workshop. Several invited guests provided lectures on topics in oral storytelling, world arts and ethnobotany.

Sessions on oral storytelling and the Guide to Planning the Future of Your Language (GPFYL) proved to be the most popular with participants. Ethnobotany also received an enthusiastic response. Many agreed that learning about the SayMore software will be helpful for managing the data they'll be gathering in their future work. At the closing banquet participants expressed appreciation to the instructors and generally agreed that they had learned much from the two-week workshop.



Clockwise from top: Workshop participants and instructors came from across the US and from abroad; segmenting audio files from collected data; in an activity from GPFYL, colored beans represented the languages used in different environments within a community; professional ethnobotanists taught participants how to collect botanical samples; there were many lively discussions about topics such as Rapid Word Collection and how to find out what makes a good story in a particular language; an instructor demonstrates the "mirrored chair" technique for capturing video of the front and side of a speaker's mouth and neck to better identify how particular speech sounds are made.

Participant comments:

Aside from the fact that the Guide to Planning the Future of Your Language will empower the community, I observed that the process can also be a way to awaken the community to the importance of their language and culture. This might also pave the way for them to desire to revitalize their language and culture.

I loved the session on storytelling. The session on grant funding and publishing versus fieldwork was also great, mainly because the discussion touched on some of the thornier issues… The modules on metadata and the introduction to SayMore helped me understand clearly what language documentation is about and what it is done for. The session on audio quality and types of microphone was a revelation to me.

I’m new to the language & culture documentation branch of linguistics so it was very helpful to know the theory behind it and the reason why we do it. This is why my favorite modules are the theory ones about why it is important. But, because I’m all sold out to doing LangDoc, I also loved the practical modules teaching me how to do LangDoc (i.e., modules on SayMore, equipment, GPFYL, Rapid Word Collection, functions of language and fields of knowledge, BOLD and oral storytelling).

The oral storytelling module was fabulous. It had lots of information and the length of the associated lab was just right.

Related links