Research Articles

On the representativeness of language documentations

  • Frank Seifart


A very real, practical problem for someone wanting to document languages (in the sense of Himmelmann 1998, 2006) is ... where to point the camera and microphone and when. The cumulative result of these individual documentary recordings will be a corpus of primary data, the centre piece of a language documentation. It is desirable for this corpus to be representative of the language, the more so if it is endangered and most likely soon not be spoken anymore. The importance of representativeness is maybe most apparent when considering the opposite case: a misrepresentation of a language (and thus the speech community) by a heavily biased corpus. This paper approaches the problem of representativeness of a language documentation by first discussing various criteria that may be used to select the events that are recorded and included in the documentation (section 3). Central to this problem are the possibilities and limitations of applying criteria that are based on a systematic classification of communicative event types and may therefore help to ensure the representativeness of a documentation in a theoretically grounded way (section 4). We then discuss the application of such criteria in a documentation project in the North West Amazon (section 5)...

Keywords: language documentation, theoretical framework, primary data, criteria, representativeness

How to Cite:

Seifart, F., (2014) “On the representativeness of language documentations”, Language Documentation and Description 5, 60-76. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed