Research Articles

Archiving for the community: Engaging local archives in language documentation projects

  • Joshua Wilbur


An increased awareness of documentary linguists’ ethical responsibilities towards the communities where they work, particularly where languages are endangered, has heightened the importance of providing access to linguistic materials not only to the international academic community, but also to members of the language communities themselves. A local archiving institution (such as a local library or museum) can play a vital role in ensuring such access both now and in the future because it can potentially overcome certain technical and language-based hurdles encountered by some language communities. However, a number of challenges exist in archiving locally due to lack of technical infrastructure and experience, and limited prioritization of language materials.

In the following discussion, I describe my own experiences gained in working with local archiving institutions in northern Sweden while carrying out the Pite Saami Documentation Project. First, this should provide an impression of how a variety of local institutions can serve as repositories of digital language materials. Second, these experiences will establish a foundation to discuss some practical aspects of fulfilling the ethical responsibility to provide documentation materials to local communities. In doing so, I outline ideas about the implementation of this for other (endangered) language documentation projects.

Keywords: endangered languages, language documentation, ethics, access, archiving, Pite Saami Documentation Project, digital language materials

How to Cite:

Wilbur, J., (2014) “Archiving for the community: Engaging local archives in language documentation projects”, Language Documentation and Description 12, 85-102. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2014
Peer Reviewed