Research Articles

Speakers and documentation of endangered languages

  • Colette Grinevald


This is an expanded version of my presentation at the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Workshop. Within the major task in front of us of “intellectualising and theorizing” the business of documenting endangered languages, I would like to focus on the foundation itself of such work, that is to say on the human relations between linguists and speakers of the languages they set out to document. To focus therefore on what happens in fact before we can begin to collect data, which means to focus on who the speakers on the other side of the cameras and the microphones we point at them are, on whether what we ask them to do makes sense to them and on how they might feel about it. By talking about the speakers behind the microphones and cameras, I want to also focus our attention on what kind of data we are collecting, and how we do it with them.

My goal is therefore to consider the human factor in the enterprise of linguistic fieldwork, in order to highlight some of the specific challenges one can anticipate encountering in the kind of projects we are talking about here, the documentation of endangered languages.

Keywords: endangered languages, language documentation, speakers, social relations, linguistic fieldwork, challenges

How to Cite:

Grinevald, C., (2014) “Speakers and documentation of endangered languages”, Language Documentation and Description 1, 52-72. doi:

Download PDF



Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed