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Progressive archiving: theoretical and practical implications for documentary linguistics

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Title: Progressive archiving: theoretical and practical implications for documentary linguistics
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: Archiving is regarded as an indispensable aspect of language documentation, because records of endangered languages should not be at risk (Bird & Simons 2003), and to enable access to those records by a variety of users and disciplines (Himmelmann 1998). While language documentation has been theorised (e.g. Himmelmann 1998, Woodbury 2011) and there is vigorous discussion about its goals and practices, there has been little theorisation about the interrelationship between archiving and documentation.

Currently, the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS is developing policies and systems for “progressive depositing”, where documenters (and others) can submit materials to the archive in various stages of completeness as projects and activities progress. Although early depositing is already encouraged as good practice (Johnson 2004: 145), once systematised it would have deep-running implications for documentation theory and practice. Documenters depositing early outputs of projects will need to design and maintain metadata earlier in their workflow than is typically done at present, including collecting access restrictions which may themselves change over time. The value of “metadocumentation” - contextualising information and explicit descriptions accounting for the nature of materials as they appear in the archive over time (Austin 2010:28, Author 2010:196) - will be highlighted. Metadocumentation describing relationships between various versions and tranches of resources would become paramount. To retain the integrity and readability of a documentary collection expanding over time, the identity, naming, structures and relationships between materials will need to be carefully managed. This would emphasise the role of data management in documentary work, place documenters and archives into a closer partnership, and expose documenters to principles and techniques of corpus linguistics (Cox 2011). Metadocumentation would also describe, for example, how the documenter’s understanding and representations of the language change during the project.

Other benefits include documenters receiving earlier and ongoing feedback from both the archive and from others who would have earlier access to materials. By changing perspectives of archiving from “finality” and “comprehensiveness” to open and evolutionary, a major disincentive to broader types of depositing (including from community members) is attenuated, and there is more scope for a variety of disciplines and people, including community members, to view progress and to engage with projects. A fully progressive depositing model would also have far-reaching implications for, and demands on, archives, but the potential benefits for documentation, for broader research and for language communities all seem to be positive.
URI/DOI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/26115
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)



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