Peter K. Austin and David Nathan
Linguistics Department, SOAS
6th January 2009
The Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) was established at SOAS in January 2004, with the first deposits accepted in late 2005. Our initial priority was on preservation but recently the ELAR public catalogue was released and it will soon extend to providing access to materials (where permissions allow). To date, ELAR has received over 50 deposits and stores about 4 terabytes of data. Audio recordings make up about 60% of this (both in terms of the total number of files and the total volume of data).
ELAR was established primarily to preserve and disseminate data collected by grantees from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) and by staff and students from the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP). Because language documentation is an emerging area that relies a lot on new techniques and technologies, ELAR also provides training, advice and support to ELDP grantees, ELAP staff and students, and others through international training workshops (see, for example, the various organised by ELAR and taught by ELAR and ELAP staff and students and additional experts). ELAR staff also manage the research facilities of the Rausing Room, the Linguistics Resources Room, and the pool of fieldwork equipment available to ELAP staff and students.
ELAR now has four staff, with David Nathan and Ed Garrett being card-carrying linguists and IT professionals, and technicians Tom Castle and Bernard Howard having specialist skills in digital and analogue audio techniques and equipment.
With these resources, skills and experience, ELAR is able to help people who want to archive resources for endangered languages, including individual and retired researchers who may not have alternative sources of equipment or advice. Dietrich Schüller, the former Director of the Austrian Phonogrammarchiv, has warned in a recent paper[.pdf] that the great majority of the world's human cultural heritage is sitting unpreserved and uncatalogued on the shelves of individual researchers. We can help these researchers with preparing materials, including digitising and converting audio, as well as providing advice and training in how to create metadata and cataloguing information.
Over the last few years ELAR has collaborated with a number of individual researchers in preparing their materials for deposit: