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I'm sure we've all done it from time to time: somehow, despite carefully trying to do something else altogether, we delete a critical and unique recording on our flash recorder... never to be heard again.

But all is not lost, in fact its often really quite simple to get it back... but only if you've taken the necessary precautions.

First of all, this only applies to flash recorders. If you taped over your analogue recording or minidisc (which I hope no-one is using any more!) then you're up the proverbial creek.

If you are using a flash recorder (or HD recorder for that matter), grab one of the many media recovery programs... These are for recovering media from a flash card in your digital camera. There are plenty available for Mac or PC but unfortunately I couldn't find a free one.

For instance, you could try MediaRecover or PhotoRecovery (both are cross-platform).

The other source of lost files is corrupted media. This could happen for a number of reasons, and you can often salvage files using the same software when it does happen. Its a good idea to have at least two flash cards with you when recording in the field, and to cycle cards frequently, especially if you don't have a laptop to recover files. Cycling cards will also stop you recording over a file that you realise days later you need to recover.

Unfortunately not all cards are created equal, and its not until an audio-engineer like Frank at PARADISEC looks at your files up close that you discover that there was a bit of faulty gear somewhere in the recording chain. Its also a good idea to write down which card you used for which recording in your log book/file as it will help you to identify faulty media (and it is relevant archive metadata too!). Flash cards have a limited life (some allow only 500 writes!) so its a good idea to track the usage of cards so you can discard them before you end up with media errors and lost files! This is precious data, so don't cut corners when purchasing and using flash cards. I personally know the sting of lost data due to weird digital glitches... never again!


It is very important to make multiple back-ups of your data. This is espeically true if you are storing your data on flash media...

One time when I was in Jayapura, my ex-laptop (a Sony Vaio) gave off a clicking noise and displayed a message which I guessed meant 'I am going to die very soon'. I quickly backed-up my files onto two Memory Sticks (Sony again): I sent one back to Sydney, and I kept the other one with me in my camera.

The hard disk of the computer died two days later. I returned to Sydney some time later and the Memory Stick in the camera died on the day I arrived back in Sydney (literally). Luckily all I lost were some relatively unimportant photos; the other Memory Stick made it safely to my residence in Sydney.

What I did next was make five copies of all my files (from the only remaining copy) and store them in three countries...

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.


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ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

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Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text