« Australia beats US, again - Peter K. Austin | Blog home | News from the WA Language Centre Conference - Sally Dixon »

business learning training articles new learning business training opportunities finance learning training deposit money learning making training art loan learning training deposits make learning your training home good income learning outcome training issue medicine learning training drugs market learning money training trends self learning roof training repairing market learning training online secure skin learning training tools wedding learning training jewellery newspaper learning for training magazine geo learning training places business learning training design Car learning and training Jips production learning training business ladies learning cosmetics training sector sport learning and training fat burn vat learning insurance training price fitness learning training program furniture learning at training home which learning insurance training firms new learning devoloping training technology healthy learning training nutrition dress learning training up company learning training income insurance learning and training life dream learning training home create learning new training business individual learning loan training form cooking learning training ingredients which learning firms training is good choosing learning most training efficient business comment learning on training goods technology learning training business secret learning of training business company learning training redirects credits learning in training business guide learning for training business cheap learning insurance training tips selling learning training abroad protein learning training diets improve learning your training home security learning training importance

From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS

Last year I wrote about how mobile phones are being used to do "fieldwork at a distance", checking data with consultants, or collecting text messages of writing in endangered languages.

A recent blog post by ESL educator Tom Leverett alerted me to yet another possible technological aid for linguistic data collection and checking, Skype. Many of us know Skype as a way to make cheap (or even free) voice and video phone calls, but Tom points out another use for the software (in association with audio and video software) -- conducting and recording conversations. He reports on an experiment that he carried out with a colleague:

"Thom T., our lab director, who makes it his business to know these things, agreed to place a call, and sure enough, from my office to his, we not only had a call, but also recorded it; furthermore, he bundled up that tiny recording (he had recorded only a few minutes of it - still, he said, it was quite a large bundle) and sent that bundle to me over the text chat function that is right there on Skype ... one can send songs, movies, documents, anything, as one would on an IM or another chat function. But, you can do it, and look the other person in the eye as you do it. Look 'em in the videocam eye, anyway"

So, I thought, what about interviewing consultants on Skype and using it to collect material to be added to a documentary corpus, check grammaticality judgements, socialise with the community, get feedback on materials, or indeed, just about anything that involves two-way communication? There are, however, limitations, as Tom points out. Two of these are bandwidth and interference:

"Speaking only of the limitations, the first is broadband; everyone has to have it. We in our building have T1 cable; my picture was smooth, everything went well. However, before I reached Thom T., I accidentally reached his mother-in-law in Maine ... her picture was not smooth; every time she moved it took a while for the picture to catch up to her. And, finally, there was some interference ... the interference noise was so great and so unpleasant that I had to eventually hang up on her"

A third is the size of the recorded data file, meaning that you need plenty of available disk space to save the recorded file, and some decent editing software:

"even the small two-minute bundle he sent me was quite huge; it took up a lot of space ... What was important, he said, was to be able to crop, or cut out only a part of what you had recorded, ... most of which you couldn't even use"

I wonder if any readers have tried this out in their own work.

A second intriguing bit of technology that might, just might, have an application in documentation of endangered languages is Microsoft's Project Natal addition to the Xbox 360 game player announced on 1st June (there is a video demonstration on YouTube). It uses a 3-D system of motion sensitive cameras to detect a player's body movements that can then drive a character on the screen. Just imagine if data from such as system could be captured in a usable format and how this might contribute to research on gesture and the use of space by speakers. Probably pie in the sky though, as the aim of the system is to represent motion in a game, so it could be being done in a quite dumb non-representational way that doesn't serve as a basis for an application to linguistic documentary research. Still, doesn't hurt you to dream.


A student of mine collected recordings of L2 learners via skype. She was working on a project about Spanish learners of English, and (I believe) Pamela function on skype was used to record the speech.

If you don't mind voice only, rather than video and voice then both the bandwidth requirements and the size of the recordings can be reduced dramatically. For just voice fast dial up or a 3G mobile connection are sufficient.

Further, if you use a tool such as Audacity to record the voice then you can export the recording as an MP3 or similar compressed format for quite small file sizes.

I've used Skype and Audacity for recording podcasts on many occasions. While this was on a Macintosh I believe similar free software is available for Windows to perform the same functions.

// Tony

Via Facebook I have heard from three colleagues that they have used Skype to collect and check language data -- if I can get more information I will post it as a comment.

My main consultant in Cairo speaks a slightly different dialect from my main consultants in Sudan so we use Skype to check data whenever there's a question as to whether a certain word or pronunciation is accepted in the other dialect. I also use Skype to check grammaticality judgements or to get less common lexical items. It's great to be able to have my consultant in Cairo present while I talk to the consultants in Sudan so that we can all come to an agreement together. Since word got out in the speaking community that I am available on Skype I've been contacted by speakers from all over the world! Aside from the obvious community networking benefits it's especially interesting when they write to me on Skype to see their natural instincts on how to write their language. I haven't tried recording Skype elicitations since the call quality is not up to our usual recording standards ;-) It's a good idea though for collecting natural speech data... something to consider in the future.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Enter the code shown below before pressing post

The Authors

About the Blog

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.


Papua New Guinea FAQs from Eva Lindstrom Papua New Guinea (New Ireland): Eva Lindstrom's tips for fieldworkers

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

Language on the Move Intercultural communication and multilingualism

Talking Alaska: Reflections on the native languages of Alaska

Culture matters: applying anthropology Australian anthropology blog: postgraduates and staff

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

matjjin-nehen Blog on Australian linguistics, fieldwork, politics and the environment.

Language Log Group blog on language and linguistics


E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources a worldwide network of organizations, academics, activists, indigenous groups, and others representing indigenous and tribal peoples

Technorati Profile

Technology-enhanced language revitalization Include ILAT (Indigenous Languages and Technology) discussion list.

Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

Linguistic fieldwork preparation: a guide for field linguists syllabi, funding, technology, ethics, readings, bibliography

On-line resources for endangered languages

Papua New Guinea Language Resources Phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy, language maps for many PNG languages

Resource network for linguistic diversity Networking practitioners working to record,retrieve & reintroduce endangered languages


ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

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