Research Articles

Audio responsibilities in endangered languages documentation and archiving

  • David Nathan


Documentary linguistics (also called ‘language documentation’) focuses on data, and how data is acquired, represented, presented, and preserved, in contrast to the analytical and theoretical concerns of much of linguistics (Austin 2006, Austin and Grenoble 2007). And since many endangered languages are not written, the majority of this documentary data is audio. In turn, this raises new and interesting questions, such as: what audio data needs to be collected to count as a record of a language that is likely to disappear? Are standard corpus concepts of coverage and balance applicable to endangered language documentations? How can quality be measured? For what purposes and by whom will the data be used?

For those of us concerned with the evolution of documentary linguistics, there are four key audio-related issues. The first is audio quality ... The second issue is the role and nature of the symbolic data that accompanies audio. The third issue is what we call mobilisation: the practical development of resources and products that make use of collected data to serve purposes such as language revitalisation (Nathan 2006). The fourth issue, protocol, arises from the fact that audio directly captures and represents individuals in a way that written data...

Keywords: endangered languages, language documentation, documentary linguistics, audio, quality, symbolic data, mobilisation, protocol

How to Cite:

Nathan, D., (2014) “Audio responsibilities in endangered languages documentation and archiving”, Language Documentation and Description 6, 101-116. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed