Research Articles

Current issues in language documentation

  • Peter K. Austin


This chapter is an introduction to the field of linguistics that has come to be known as ‘language documentation’ or ‘documentary linguistics’, covering its main features and giving examples of what it involves. The difference between language documentation and descriptive linguistics is discussed, and an argument presented that the two are complementary activities that can cross-fertilise one another. We then look at some current challenges in the field of language documentation, including issues that are the subject of on-going research. For many researchers and communities, especially those speaking endangered languages, the focus of language research has shifted to a new attention to recording, analysing and preserving records of language in use in ways that can serve a wide range of constituencies, particularly the speaker communities themselves. The field has come about due to a change in the vision of what the goals, methods and outcomes of linguistic research can be, changes in the relations between researchers and those whose languages they study, and has benefited from various developments in technology. A number of challenging issues will need to be addressed as documentary linguistics as a field matures further in the future.

Keywords: language documentation, documentary linguistics, descriptive linguistics, endangered languages, linguistic research, goals, methods, outcomes, challenges

How to Cite:

Austin, P., (2010) “Current issues in language documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 12-33. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed