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April 2010

Language work has been one of the main areas in which Indigenous people and people working with them have used special purpose software, and have had to confront the problems of data management. There's a call for papers for a conference, Information Technologies and Indigenous Communities, to be held at the Australian National University, 13-17 June, 2010. Be nice if there were a few papers on what we've actually learned from managing language data.

Extended deadline for call for papers - 21 May.
Further Information
Anna Johnstone tel: (02) 6246 1144
E-maill: publicprograms AT aiatsis.gov.au

[from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
21 April 2010

The Institute for Linguistics and Language Studies (ILLS) at The University of Manchester and the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies are co-organising a fieldwork training workshop to be held in Manchester on 20th May. This event is aimed at both postgraduate students and lecturers with an interest in teaching field methods for the study of linguistic variation and non-standard varieties. Topics to be covered include the documentation approach to language data, quantitative and qualitative methods in urban sociolinguistic fieldwork, fieldwork challenges in the study of micro-variation at the syntax/semantics interface in cognate languages, and conducting large-scale dialect surveys (grammar and lexicon). There will also be a roundtable discussion on ethical issues in fieldwork and a forum on issues arising in teaching field methods.

The workshop is aimed at both postgraduate students and lecturers with an interest in teaching field methods for the study of linguistic variation and non-standard varieties. There is no charge to attend for employees and postgraduate students of publicly funded UK higher educational institutions and other institutions with a subscription to the Higher Education Academy. There is a small charge for others to attend, and travel bursaries are available. For more details and to enrol see the LLAS website.

This is the third fieldwork training event to be held in the UK in the past year. The previous two were in London at the SOAS Linguistics Department in May 2009 and December 2009.

This semester, I have been helping out Jane with her wonderful Field Methods class in technical matters such as recording, uploading files onto the server and allowing students to securely and quickly download both .wav and .mp3 files. I took this course myself some years ago, and it was a great experience for me and the whole class, and many members of that class have continued on in their studies to do field research of their own, and I'm sure the Field Methods class was as much a help to their research as it was to mine.

But this post is not about when I took the class. Instead, it's about how I almost buggered up this semester's class in what can best be described as a lesson in keeping backups of your recordings.

(Warning: Some computer nerd stuff follows after the fold.)

7 comments |

Doing Great Things with Small Languages is an ARC funded project run by Nick Thieberger and Rachel Nordlinger at the University of Melbourne.

Linguists routinely record minority endangered languages for which no prior documentation exists. This is vitally important work which often records language structures and knowledge of the culture and physical environment that would otherwise be lost. However, while it is typical for the interpretation and analysis of this data to be published, the raw data is rarely made available.
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[from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
20 April 2010

As part of the MA in Language Documentation in the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) at SOAS, students are able to participate in a two-week fieldtrip to Guernsey, Channel Islands, to undertake first-hand fieldwork and document the local highly endangered indigenous language Dgernesiais (or Guernesiais). The fieldtrip is organised by Julia Sallabank, Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation (who was born on Guernsey and has been conducting linguistic research there since 2000), in collaboration with Jan Marquis, Guernsey Language Development Officer. This trip follows the highly successful Spring 2009 fieldtrip when 75 language speakers were interviewed and 50 hours of audio and 10 hours of video recordings were made. This year six students are undertaking the fieldtrip, partially supported by scholarship funds from the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL).

Today there are probably only 200-300 (mainly elderly) fluent speakers of Dgernesiais, all aged over 60. The language is a variety of Norman French and is not mutually intelligible with Parisian French. Due to former negative ideologies (which contributed to its endangerment) Dgernesiais has been considered to be a 'patois' or 'dialect' of French; it has no separate ISO-639 code but is listed under French (fra) Ethnologue erroneously gives the name as a dialect of French spoken in the United Kingdom; in fact, Îles d'la Manche (The Channel Islands)are a British Crown Dependency and are not part of the UK (or the EU for that matter).

During their time in Guernsey the students have the opportunity to practice their fieldwork and language documentation skills (including recording, transcribing and annotating texts recorded on audio and video) and to learn about local customs and cultural activities. They also participate in outreach activities, including interviews at the local BBC radio station.


This year we have added a focus on meta-data and meta-documentation (documentation of the documentation), and as part of this the students are taking turns to contribute to a fieldwork blog where you can read about their research and other adventures.


[From Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
14th April 2010

Last month I received the following email query from a colleague:

"I am currently submitting a grant application for a small grant at the HRELP to document .... One concern I have is how many hours it will realistically take to transcribe one hour of text. I have done fieldwork in the past, but this would be the first time that I will have trained a transcriber who would work (mostly) independently. (The linguists on the project would consult with them.) I would like to give some sort of concrete number of total hours transcribed and translated (in contrast to fully annotated)."

Since this is an issue I have been asked about several times, I present here an elaborated version of what I wrote back to my correspondent (here I am using 'source language' to refer to the language of the recording, and 'target language' to refer to the language of a translation of the recording. I restrict my remarks to transcription of spoken languages).

I wrote back:
The answer to your questions is kind of like the answer to the question: 'How long is a piece of string?'

There are so many variables:

8 comments |

from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS

7th April 201

Now available! Language Documentation and Description Volume 7 was published on 26 March 2010, and is a special issue containing lectures on topics in language documentation and description from the 3L Summer School held at SOAS in 2009.


[from Sarah Ogilvie]

The Endangered Languages and Dictionaries Project at the University of Cambridge investigates ways of writing dictionaries that better facilitate the maintenance and revitalization of endangered languages. It explores the relationship between documenting a language and sustaining it, and entails collaboration with linguists, dictionary-makers and educators, as well as members of endangered-language communities themselves, in order to determine what lexicographic methodologies work particularly well pedagogically for language maintenance and revitalization.

In addition to developing a methodology for writing dictionaries that are more community-focussed and collaborative in their making, content, and format, the Project is creating an online catalogue of dictionary projects around the world. If you would like your dictionary to be included in the catalogue, please fill out the Dictionary Survey or contact Sarah Ogilvie at svo21 AT cam.ac.uk. We really hope you will want to participate, in order to make the catalogue as comprehensive as possible.

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