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Evaluation of a language documentation project in Nagaland

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Title: Evaluation of a language documentation project in Nagaland
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: Sumi is an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of Nagaland, North East India that has recently been the focus of a documentation project that looks at traditional agricultural songs and stories. This presentation offers an evaluation of the project. We assess the data collected for the project, in light of the different priorities of the language community (as represented by the Sumi Cultural Association) and those of academic research. We demonstrate how some of these different priorities have influenced the type and quality of the data that have been collected.

Just as importantly, we examine the ways that this project has affected the identities of both the native and non-native researcher, and how these may have impacted on the various accomplishments and shortcomings of the project. More specifically, we consider the native researcher’s position as a younger woman in cultural settings that are typically dominated by older men, comparing her experience with that of other researchers who are also ‘insiders’ in their respective communities (e.g. Chavez, 2008). We also consider the non-native researcher’s position as a foreigner who is often mistaken for a local, comparing his experience with those of other foreign researchers who physically resemble people in the communities they work with (Fadzillah, 2004). Finally, we consider the assumptions the two researchers have made about each other in terms of identity and how this has led to communication successes and failures.

We feel that an understanding of the effects on the identities of the researchers is relevant to an evaluation of the current project, and that it also has significant implications for future projects with the language community. We also hope that an understanding of these issues will help inform other similar community-based language documentation projects.

Chavez, Christina. (2008). Conceptualizing from the inside: Advantages, complications and demands on insider positionality. The Qualitative Report, 13(3), 474-494.

Fadzillah, Ida. (2004). Going beyond “The West” and “The Rest”: Conducting non-Western, non-native ethnography in Northern Thailand. In L. Hume & J. Mulcock (Eds.), Anthropologists in the field: Cases in participant observation. (pp 32-45). New York: Columbia University Press.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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