Research Articles

Language documentation and archiving: from disk space to MySpace

  • David Nathan


The Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS is responding to the needs of digital archiving in language documentation and description by exploiting social networking technologies to redefine the archive as a forum or a platform for data providers and users to negotiate about, and to exchange, data. Romaine (2006) has noted that intergenerational transmission may soon be supplanted by institutional learning for many endangered languages. In the longer term, however, documentary corpora and the archives that hold them will become the key vectors of transmission for many endangered and extinct languages. Therefore, the theory and practice of documentation, and the methodologies and capabilities of language archives, will play a crucial role in the future states of many human languages. At ELAR, we believe that we exist in a time when digital preservation practices have rapidly matured and can now be subsumed to an understanding that we must function as the hosts of an important component of human heritage. Management of non-preservation functions will be largely handed over to depositors and users. Tomorrow’s digital language archiving is not about technology but about relationships and commitments.

Keywords: Endangered Languages Archive, ELAR, language documentation and description, archiving, endangered languages, social networks, documentary corpora, methodology, digital preservation, technology

How to Cite:

Nathan, D., (2010) “Language documentation and archiving: from disk space to MySpace”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 172-208. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed