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Volume 4, 2010

Abstracts

Why Revisit Published Data of an Endangered Language with Native Speakers? An Illustration from Cherokee
Durbin Feeling, Christine Armer, Charles Foster, Marcellino Berardo, and Sean O'Neill

In this paper we show that much can be gained when speakers of an endangered language team up with linguistic anthropologists to comment on the documentary record of an endangered language. The Cherokee speakers in this study examined published linguistic data of a relatively understudied grammatical construction, Cherokee prepronominals.2 They commented freely on the form, usage, context, meaning, dialect, and other related aspects of the construction. As a result of this examination, we make the data of Cherokee prepronominals applicable to a wider audience, including other Cherokee speakers, teachers, language learners, and general community members, as well as linguists and anthropologists.
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Trust me, I am a Linguist! Building Partnership in the Field
Valérie Guérin and Sébastien Lacrampe

Although language documentation calls for linguists, anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, and other scholars to work with each other, as well as with language communities, graduate students in linguistics often miss out on both parts of this enterprise: they have little opportunity to work on such teams and spend most of their fieldwork as “lone wolves.” In this paper, we reflect on our experiences as first-time fieldworkers and discuss how we managed to rid ourselves of the “lone wolf” label. We first discuss some of the challenges we faced in gaining the support of the communities we worked with. We then isolate the factors which facilitated our social integration and the benefits this had on our overall documentation projects.
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Principles and Practicalities of Corpus Design in Language Retrieval: Issues in the Digitization of the Beynon Corpus of Early Twentieth-Century Sm’algyax Materials
Tonya N. Stebbins and Birgit Hellwig

This paper describes a pilot project to develop a machine-readable corpus of early twentieth-century Sm’algyax texts from a large collection of handwritten manuscripts collected by the Tsimshian ethnographer and chief William Beynon. The project seeks to ensure that the materials produced are maximally accessible to the Tsimshian community. It relates established principles for corpus design to practical issues in language retrieval, recognizing that the corpus will likely function as an intermediate stage between the original manuscripts and any language materials developed by the community. The paper is addressed primarily to linguists working on language retrieval projects but may also be of use to communities who are working with linguists, as it provides insight into the concerns and preoccupations that linguists bring to such tasks.
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The Index of Linguistic Diversity: A New Quantitative Measure of Trends in the Status of the World's Languages
David Harmon and Jonathan Loh

The Index of Linguistic Diversity (ILD) is a new quantitative measure of trends in linguistic diversity. To derive the ILD we created a database of time-series data on language demographics, which we believe to be the world’s largest. So far, the database contains information from nine editions of Ethnologue and five other compendia of speaker numbers. The initial version of the ILD, which draws solely on the Ethnologue subset of these data, is based on a representative random sample of 1,500 of the world’s 7,299 languages (as listed in the 2005 edition). At the global level, the ILD measures how far, on average, the world’s languages deviate from a hypothetical situation of stability in which each language is neither increasing nor decreasing its share of the total population of the grouping. The ILD can also be used to assess trends at various subglobal groupings. Key findings:

  • Globally, linguistic diversity declined 20% over the period 1970–2005.
  • The diversity of the world’s indigenous languages declined 21%.
  • Regionally, indigenous linguistic diversity declined over 60% in the Americas, 30% in the Pacific (including Australia), and almost 20% in Africa.

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    Language Description and "The New Paradigm": What Linguists May Learn from Ethnocinematographers
    Gerrit J. Dimmendaal

    The audio-visual documentation of language corpora provides new opportunities for the analysis of languages in their cultural context. For the linguist interested in this endeavour, the integration of sound and video recordings and the recording of linguistic practices raise new questions, not only concerning ethics, but also aesthetics. In this brief contribution, it is argued that the linguistic community involved in language documentation may learn from the knowledge and experience acquired by ethnocinematographers in this respect.
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    The Status of the Least Documented Language Families in the World
    Harald Hammarström

    This paper aims to list all known language families that are not yet extinct and all of whose member languages are very poorly documented, i.e., less than a sketch grammar’s worth of data has been collected. It explains what constitutes a valid family, what amount and kinds of documentary data are sufficient, when a language is considered extinct, and more. It is hoped that the survey will be useful in setting priorities for documentation fieldwork, in particular for those documentation efforts whose underlying goal is to understand linguistic diversity.
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    Words Should be Fun: Scrabble as a Tool for Language Preservation in Tuvan and Other Local Languages
    Vitaly Voinov

    One small but practical way of empowering speakers of an endangered language to maintain their language’s vitality amidst a climate of rapid globalization is to introduce a mother-tongue version of the popular word game Scrabble into their society. This paper examines how versions of Scrabble have been developed and used for this purpose in various endangered or non-prestige languages, with a focus on the Tuvan language of south Siberia, for which the author designed a Tuvan version of the game. Playing Scrabble in their mother tongue offers several benefits to speakers of an endangered language: it presents a communal approach to group literacy, promotes the use of a standardized orthography, creates new opportunities for intergenerational transmission of the language, expands its domains of usage, and may heighten the language’s external and internal prestige. Besides demonstrating the benefits of Scrabble, the paper also offers practical suggestions concerning both linguistic factors (e.g., choice of letters to be included, calculation of letter frequencies, dictionary availability) and non-linguistic factors (board design, manufacturing, legal issues, etc.) relevant to producing Scrabble in other languages for the purpose of revitalization.
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    Orthography Design for Chuxnabán Mixe
    Carmen Jany

    Many discussions of orthography development center on the later stages of such endeavors and on the impact of newly developed orthographies over an extended period of time. This paper focuses on the early stages of orthography development for Chuxnabán Mixe, a previously undocumented language, and the establishment of a working orthography in collaboration with the community for the purpose of language documentation.
    The orthography design follows many of the linguistic, pedagogical, sociopolitical, and practical principles observed in new orthographies, such as phonemic orientation, maximum ease of learning, local acceptability, and ease of use with computers and new media. While the community favors using conventions from the dominant language, Spanish, it also prefers dialectal particularity over multidialectal uniformity.
    Chuxnabán Mixe is a Mixean language spoken by 900 people in one village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Limited documentation is available for some of the other Mixean varieties, but there is no widely used uniform orthography. Mixean languages and dialects differ primarily in their vowel systems, and each variety, if documented, has its own orthographic conventions established, often highlighting dialectal idiosyncrasies. This paper illustrates the orthography development and discusses some of the similarities to and differences from other orthographic conventions used for this language family.
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    Basic Oral Language Documentation
    D. Will Reiman

    Since at least 1992, when Michael Krauss presented the topic of language endangerment in Language, linguists have been wrestling with the problem that languages are disappearing from the earth faster than they can be satisfactorily documented. This paper advocates a methodology for documenting languages that minimizes the use of high-cost means of recording comments on recorded language data (written annotation), focusing instead on making low-cost means (oral annotation) more effective. I present here a brief history of the origins of the method, detail how the annotation process is executed, and evaluate its effectiveness in several dimensions. Finally, since it is an emerging technique, I will also discuss the directions in which the research on this methodology ought to develop.
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    Making “Collaboration” Collaborative: An Examination of Perspectives that Frame Linguistic Field Research
    Wesley Y. Leonard and Erin Haynes

    Though increasingly hailed as a best practice for linguistic field research, the notion of “collaboration” is rarely truly inclusive of both the “researcher” and the “researched.” This paper examines common assumptions about collaboration, particularly as they pertain to endangered language research, and advocates a paradigm shift toward a model that is truly in line with the “Respect for Persons” principle of the Belmont Report, the federal guide for ethical human research in the United States. We examine and critique other proposed forms of collaboration in linguistics, offering instead a model that incorporates the needs and expertise of all people involved in a research study. Specifically, we argue that true collaboration necessitates a collaborative approach in the very first stage of defining research roles and goals through collaborative consultation. We illustrate this approach through two case studies in Warm Springs (Oregon) and Miami (Oklahoma) communities. First, we examine our experiences conducting collaborative research within these communities. Second, we present a microanalysis of formal collaborative methods, focusing specifically on the question of determining speakerhood for linguistic fieldwork. We present collaboration as a philosophy and approach to developing a research program and demonstrate how this approach enhances rather than detracts from academic integrity.
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