Research Articles

Documenting Ceremonial Dialogues: An in vitro performance and the problem of textualisation

  • Martin Gaenszle


The more general topic of this paper is the problem of turning oral discourse into a written text, i.e. what is usually termed ‘transcription’ and, if edited in some way (through standardisation, glossing, translation, etc.), ‘textualisation’. This process, which in this article I will, as a matter of convention, refer to as textualisation, is particularly problematic in the case of dialogic discourse. Much of ritual speech is monologic (invocations, chants, recitations), and this is difficult enough to textualise. But in the case of dialogic ritual speech, features like turn-taking, overlaps, multiple speakers etc. can turn the task into a rather challenging enterprise. As ritual discourse tends to have a textual structure, the major question is: how can one bring out this structure and distinguish it from the contingencies of a live performance? Or more specifically: is it methodologically legitimate to stage a performance in order to make it more comprehensible? I will deal with this general issue by looking at a specific case: the recording of a ceremonial wedding dialogue among the Mewahang Rai in East Nepal.

Keywords: language documentation, transcription, textualisation, oral discourse, dialogic discourse, ritual speech, ceremonial dialogue, live performance, Mewahang Rai, East Nepal

How to Cite:

Gaenszle, M., (2014) “Documenting Ceremonial Dialogues: An in vitro performance and the problem of textualisation”, Language Documentation and Description 8, 66-82. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed