Research Articles

Communities, ethics and rights in language documentation

  • Peter K. Austin


This chapter is about the general topic of communities, ethics and rights as they relate to language documentation, especially in the context of endangered languages. It is becoming increasingly clear that language documentation projects need more than ethical frameworks, IRBs, statements of ethics and copyright rules. We need a holistic humanistic reflexive practice in carrying out our research (Chambers & Nathan 2009, Dobrin & Berson 2010). We cannot maintain the divisions between ‘us’ as the researcher and ‘them’ as the subjects of research. Fieldwork and language documentation is the ultimate social act in a system of exchange. So, we have to make reciprocity central and not peripheral to what we do, negotiating the conduct of our projects, and outcomes, making the documentation usable and valuable, and giving back in ways that are meaningful and valuable to the communities. Ethical behaviour or even advocacy (supporting communities, writing letters, and advocating for them) is not enough. Ideally, researchers should share their knowledge and be prepared to help communities to support their languages if they wish to do so.

Keywords: language documentation, endangered languages, communities, ethics, rights, practices

How to Cite:

Austin, P., (2010) “Communities, ethics and rights in language documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 7. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed