Vol. 11 (2017)


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LD&C 10th Anniversary Articles

LD&C possibilities for the next decade
Nick Thieberger, pp. 1–4

The Founding of Language Documentation & Conservation
Kenneth L. Rehg, pp. 5–9


Language Vitality among the Mako Communities of the Ventuari River
Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada, pp. 10–48

Mako [ISO 639-3: wpc], a Sáliban language spoken along the Ventuari River in the Venezuelan Amazon, has been variably reported as (critically) endangered and threatened. These reports, however, are based on second-hand information and/or self-reported census data. In this article, I present a vitality assessment of Mako that relies on first-hand fieldwork data from 20 communities in the Middle Ventuari River area. The analysis of the data – collected through interviews, community censuses, and participant observation between 2012 and 2014 – shows that the situation is not as dire as previously reported and that the language is very vital in its local context. I also show that the place of Mako in the regional and national contexts put it in a vulnerable position and that steps should be taken to ensure its presence in new domains of use. Methodologically, I show the importance – and argue in favor – of including data from long-term participant observation in analyses and reports of linguistic vitality because of the access this methodology provides to tacit knowledge about language use and attitudes. This work thus contributes both to our understanding of language vitality among the Mako communities and to discussions of best practices in language vitality assessments.

Earbuds: A Method for Analyzing Nasality in the Field
Jesse Stewart & Martin Kohlberger, pp. 49–80

Existing methods for collecting and analyzing nasality data are problematic for linguistic fieldworkers: aerodynamic equipment can be expensive and difficult to transport, and acoustic analyses require large amounts of optimally-recorded data. In this paper, a highly mobile and low-cost method is proposed. By connecting low impedance earbuds into a microphone jack of a recording device and placing one earbud immediately below one nostril while keeping the other earbud by the mouth, it is possible to capture the relative intensity of sound exiting the nasal and oral cavities. The two channels can then be normalized to assess the relative prominence of nasality and orality in a given speech sound. This method can not only be used to establish whether nasality is present in a speech signal, but it can also provide information about the timing and duration of nasal gestures. As such, it is an ideal tool for collecting high-quality nasality data in the field.

Some principles for language names
Martin Haspelmath, pp. 81–93

Linguists are sometimes confronted with choices concerning language names. For example, one and the same language may be referred to as Persian or Farsi. This short paper discusses some principles that one might use for making decisions when there are variant forms in use, or when one feels that none of the existing names is appropriate. The principles discussed here arose from work on Glottolog, an English-language database of the world’s languages (Glottolog.org), where each language has a single primary English name (though variant forms are of course included), and where the goal is to choose the best variant form as the primary name of the language. Whenever the question arises which variant name form to choose, the Glottolog editors are guided by these principles, so they are formulated in a prescriptive way, but with explanation and justification for each principle. It seems that the general issue is also quite important for language documenters, because the names of non-major languages are often not fully established yet, and naming decisions have to be made.

The IATH ELAN Text-Sync Tool: A Simple System for Mobilizing ELAN Transcripts On- or Off-Line
Lise M. Dobrin & Douglas Ross, pp. 94–102

In this article we present the IATH ELAN Text-Sync Tool (ETST; see http://community.village.virginia.edu/etst), a series of scripts and workflow for playing ELAN files and associated audiovisual media in a web browser either on- or off-line. ELAN has become an indispensable part of documentary linguists’ toolkit, but it is less than ideal for mobilizing the transcribed media it allows linguists to create when they have reason to display these materials in non-research settings where linguists are not the primary audience. In conjunction with display of a video or audio file, ETST plays tiers of transcript for overlapping speech, along with optional glosses, and distinguishes speakers with participant codes. Using ETST requires no programming knowledge, but with some such knowledge the tool can be readily customized to suit users’ needs. To that extent, ETST is a simple browser-based transcript player that can be used either as is, “out of the box”, or as a basis for further development. We hope that ETST will be a helpful addition to documentary linguists’ repertoire of digital tools, making it easier for them to share materials with all those who have a stake in their research.

Toward a linguistically realistic assessment of language vitality: The case of Jejueo
Changyong Yang, William O’Grady & Sejung Yang, pp. 103–113

The assessment of language endangerment requires accurate estimates of speaker populations, including information about the proficiency of different groups within those populations. Typically, this information is based on self-assessments, a methodology whose reliability is open to question. We outline an approach that seeks to improve the accuracy of self-assessment by exposing participants to a simple linguistic task before they render their judgments. The viability of the approach is evaluated with the help of a case study involving 81 partial speakers of Jejueo, a critically endangered Koreanic language.

Motivating the documentation of the verbal arts: Arguments from theory and practice
Colleen M. Fitzgerald, pp. 114–132

For language documentation to be sufficiently extensive to cover a given community’s language practices (cf. Himmelmann 1998), then including verbal arts is essential to ensure the richness of that comprehensive record. The verbal arts span the creative and artistic uses of a given language by speakers, such as storytelling, songs, puns and poetry. In this paper, I demonstrate the significance of verbal arts documentation in three other ways. Drawing from Indigenous language community contexts in the United States, I describe how the verbal arts are relevant to linguistic theory, revitalization and training. First, the influence by verbal arts on phonological theory is attested, affirming that the collection and analysis of verbal arts data plays a significant role in the phonological analysis of a given language and in theories of phonology. Second, the verbal arts generate extremely useful examples in training models for language work, since such examples can be used to cultivate phonological awareness in learners and teachers. Third, the verbal arts provide culturally meaningful materials for language revitalization.

New Technologies, Same Ideologies: Learning from Language Revitalization Online
Irina Wagner, pp. 133–156

Ease of access, production, and distribution have made online technologies popular in language revitalization. By incorporating multimodal resources, audio, video, and games, they attract indigenous communities undergoing language shift in hopes of its reversal. However, by merely expanding language revitalization to the web, many language learning websites often include already existing language ideologies seen in existing resources. Many of the ideologies reported for Native North American languages can be harmful to language maintenance. In particular, such problems as limited social ecology of language use, elder purism, reliance on memorization, and others have been widely reported to be the “stumbling blocks” in language revitalization. Through examining different types of Algonquian websites, this study demonstrates that these language ideologies are not unique to classroom instruction but often are reiterated online. The unique advantage of the online resources, however, is their flexibility and diversity which allow language revitalization workers to implement many different instructional designs. In appealing to different types of learners through using various types of language instruction, some online language learning resources can not only diversify language learning but also re-contextualize the indigenous language. The online space becomes a useful tool for supplying alternative teaching materials, histories, and contexts. Through such representation of the language, this study argues, online language revitalization can engage a wider audience and fulfill the goals of cultural revival. This study recommends broadening the contextual instructions, various procedures, and including more language learners in the creation of the materials.

Putting practice into words: The state of data and methods transparency in grammatical descriptions
Lauren Gawne, Barbara F. Kelly, Andrea L. Berez-Kroeker & Tyler Heston, pp. 157–189

Language documentation and description are closely related practices, often performed as part of the same fieldwork project on an un(der)-studied language. Research trends in recent decades have seen a great volume of publishing in regards to the methods of language documentation, however, it is not clear that linguists’ awareness of the importance of robust data-collection methods is translating into transparency about those methods or data citation in resultant publications. We analyze 50 dissertations and 50 grammars from a ten-year span (2003–2012) to assess the current state of the field. Publications are critiqued on the basis of transparency of data collection methods, analysis and storage, as well as citation of primary data. While we found examples of transparent reporting in these areas, much of the surveyed research does not include key information about methodology or data. We acknowledge that descriptive linguists often practice good methodology in data collection, but as a field we need to build a better culture with regard to making this clear in research writing. Thus we conclude with suggested benchmarks for the kind of information we believe is vital for creating a rich and useful research methodology in both long and short format descriptive research writing.

Linguistic Vitality, Endangerment, and Resilience
Gerald Roche, pp. 190–223

The concept of “resilience” originated in both ecology and psychology, and refers to the propensity of a system or entity to “bounce back” from a disturbance. Recently, the concept has found increasing application within linguistics, particularly the study of endangered languages. In this context, resilience is used to describe one aspect of long-term, cyclical changes in language vitality. Proponents of “resilience linguistics” argue that understanding long-term patterns of language vitality can be of use in fostering resilience in, and therefore maintenance of, endangered languages. This article takes a critical look at these proposals, based on the examination of long-term trends in the Monguor and Saami languages.

Choguita Rarámuri (Tarahumara) language description and documentation: a guide to the deposited collection and associated materials
Gabriela Caballero, pp. 224–255

Choguita Rarámuri (Tarahumara) is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken in Northern Mexico of great typological, theoretical, and historical significance. This paper presents an overview and background of the Choguita Rarámuri language description and documentation project and provides a guide to the documentary collection emerging from this project. This collection, deposited in the Endangered Languages Archive, is the result of collaboration with community members with the long-term goals of aiding in language preservation efforts and the development of a reference grammar of the language. While the production of linguistic analysis in the form of the reference grammar and other publications motivates a significant amount of the documentary corpus, the collection was also theorized from the perspective of a variety of audiences and provides an example of community-based design of documentary materials. This paper provides details on the development of the project, which allows readers to contextualize the scope and nature of the resulting corpus. This paper also discusses current restrictions on access to the collection, as well as an overview of existing associated materials and work underway that seeks to provide direct links between the deposited collection and products of linguistic analysis.

Losing a Vital Voice: Grief and Language Work
Racquel-María Sapién & Tim Thornes, pp. 256–274

Working with speakers of endangered languages often involves developing a deep rapport with the eldest members of a community. These relationships present unique challenges that include navigating great losses – not only of the language of study, but, more profoundly, the attendant death of its speakers. This essay is motivated by the recognition that the death of close consultants is inherent in work with endangered languages. It draws on case study examples to examine the emotional components of language work, specifically grief and loss, from both personal and professional perspectives. Our focus is on two key issues. The first is as a methodological issue that arises for those operating under a collaborative model of language work where investment by the community and participatory research by the fieldworker is the norm. The second is as a training issue involving our responsibilities to those we mentor in understanding the reality of close work with speakers, particularly of endangered languages. This reality includes careful consideration of their families and communities. Our hope is that this essay may serve as a foundation upon which a more thorough consideration of methodological issues and preparation through honest and open approaches to training can be constructed.