Research Articles

Access and accessibility at ELAR, an archive for endangered languages documentation

  • David Nathan


Language documentation, also known as documentary linguistics, is a subfield of linguistics that emerged in the 1990s as a response to predictions that the majority of human languages will disappear within a century (Krauss 1992). The new discipline aims to develop ‘methods, tools, and theoretical underpinnings for compiling a representative and lasting multipurpose record of a natural language’ (Gippert et al 2006: v). The issue of access to archive resources is multifaceted, and goes far beyond designating resources as open or closed. I have illustrated some of the advantages of custom solutions for a specific field – here, endangered languages documentation. Until now, access has more or less meant providing ‘insiders’ with the means to locate specialist materials by using constrained ontologies. ELAR has sought to help diverse audiences including ‘outsiders’ to access content they hope to find or perhaps never imagined finding. In doing so we are replacing a ‘stork and baby’ approach to archiving – deposit and abandon – with a platform for ongoing relationships and activities around the data. This does require an increased commitment on the part of depositors, but it is likely to result in greater participation amongst and support of speakers of endangered languages...

Keywords: language documentation, endangered languages, archiving, ELAR, access, information technology, documentary linguistics

How to Cite:

Nathan, D., (2014) “Access and accessibility at ELAR, an archive for endangered languages documentation”, Language Documentation and Description 12, 187-208. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed