Preparing a Language Documentation Project

On July 15th the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme opened its 2022 grant round. This week on the ELAR blog we’ll share some resources with you to help you prepare your project proposal.

Preparing a language documentation project involves careful planning of many different aspects

ELAR depositor Martha Tsutsui Billins, whose ELAR collection is titled Documentation and Description of Southern Amami Oshima, produces a podcast called Field Notes. In the interviews, language documenters discuss their experiences, the methods they use during field work, and which equipment they recommend. Here are some of our favourite episodes:

Two particularly useful episodes if you’re thinking about applying for an ELDP grant and planning a language documentation project are the Fieldwork Q&A sessions with Vera Ferreira and Hugo Cardoso, where they discuss questions like “How can collected data be shared in a meaningful way with communities” or “How to deal with difficult recording situations”.

On this blog post, ELAR depositors talk about what they wish they’d known before going into the field for the first time.

If you are uncertain about the language you want to work with or whether it is in need of documentation, read Harald Hammarström’s blog post Which language should I document? Some concrete suggestions from diversity and endangerment.

ELDP grantee Bill Parker used wireless microphones and wrote about the advantages of this on our blog. Check out his Cora collection here. Joey Lovestrand was sceptical about using video for language documentation before starting his ELDP grant which resulted in the ELAR collection Recording and archiving Barayin (Jalkiya) language data. Read his account of the positive feedback he received from the community here. Using video for language documentation has now become standard practice. In their 2020 paper, Mandana Seyfeddinipur and Felix Rau discuss best practices for working with audio-visual data.

If you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to travel due to the global pandemic, remote fieldwork might be an option for you. In this blog post, ELDP grantee Richard Griscom gives a detailled explanation of his remote elicitation methods which he also discussed with Martha on Field Notes.

Although many situations in the field can’t be anticipated, planning your recording sessions in advance is very helpful for a number of reasons. ELDP grantee Kristian Roncero who works with Chamalal created a template for a fieldwork session planner which he introduces in this blog post.

Even before making your first recording you should think about how you want to organise and archive your data. To see what a good ELAR collection looks like, explore the DELAMAN award winning collections Upper Napo Kichwa: documentation of language and culture and The languages of Northern Ambrym, Vanuatu. If you want to learn more about language archiving, check out AILLA‘s online course Archiving for the Future! To gain a better understanding of metadata, get acquainted with our metadata tool lameta, and learn about the importance of good metadata on the ELAR blog.

You can find lots of useful articles about language documentation and linguistic fieldwork in the free open access journals Language Documentation & Conservation and Language Documentation and Description.

Good luck preparing your documentation project!

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