Research Articles

Sound and unsound practices in documentary linguistics: towards an epistemology for audio

  • David Nathan


I first noticed problems in linguistic approaches to audio when I began working with multimedia as a member of a team developing curriculum and teaching materials for Australian Indigenous languages during the mid 1990s. I drew the conclusion that linguists make field recordings to serve as evidence, not performance ... Even as evidence, audio was auxiliary, a kind of side-effect; the principal fieldwork products being field notes and the language knowledge absorbed by the researcher. Following the emergence of the field of documentary linguistics in the late 1990s, such audio issues have become harder to ignore. Documentary linguistics, as a response to language endangerment throughout the world, emphasises the collection (i.e. recording) and representation of a range of language events, where the resulting data can be drawn on by various disciplines (Himmelmann 1998, Austin 2010a). Naturally, audio would appear to be its principal medium. This chapter has shown that audio is a necessary, complex, and rich component of the documentation of spoken languages. The broadest aim of the chapter is to stimulate discussion about the goals and purposes of audio in our field.

Keywords: documentary linguistics, audio, recording, best practices, goals, purposes, quality

How to Cite:

Nathan, D., (2010) “Sound and unsound practices in documentary linguistics: towards an epistemology for audio”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 262-284. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed