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Benefits and lessons from the collaboration between linguists and biologists in a language documentation project (Ixcatec, Mexico)

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Title: Benefits and lessons from the collaboration between linguists and biologists in a language documentation project (Ixcatec, Mexico)
Authors: Swanton, Michael
Costaouec, Denis
Rangel Landa, Selene
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: The Ixcatec language (ISO-639 code: IXC; Popolocan, Otomanguean) is highly endangered. Although there exist several semi-speakers with limited speech production abilities (mostly isolated words and frozen expressions), there are only nine identified fluent Ixcatec speakers, almost all of whom are senior citizens in their 70s or 80s.

Ixcatec is spoken only in Santa María Ixcatlán (17° 51’ 14” N, 97° 11’ 30” W), a municipality composed of a single small village of some 400 inhabitants and extensive uninhabited territory in the state of Oaxaca, located in southeastern Mexico. The municipality lies at the heart of a mountainous region known for its astonishing botanical diversity. Despite its small size (approx. 10,000 km2), this region is the semi-arid and arid zone of greatest biological diversity in North America and furthermore possesses a surprisingly high degree of floristic endemism (Dávila et al., 2002, Smith, 1965). In recognition of this great diversity, the Mexican federal government declared the region an important protected zone in 1998 (the Reserva de la Biósfera Tehuacán-Cuicatlán).

Since the elder Ixcatec speakers possess extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna of their municipality, the authors have organized an interdisciplinary Ixcatec language documentation project. One of the most distinctive characteristics of this project is the close collaboration between a team of linguists (4 persons) and a team of ethnobotanists (3 persons) and a zoologist over a period of a year and a half. This collaboration has resulted in a number of mutual benefits, but also lessons. In this talk the authors will discuss four methodological issues that have emerged from this collaboration:

1. how language documentation has enriched the ethnobiological data,
2. how ethnobiological data has enriched language documentation,
3. how to relate the different workflows of biological determination and linguistic analysis by designing a bridge between the two different sets of metadata, and
4. the importance of work with Spanish monolingual Ixcatecs in these processes.

This last point not only challenges assumptions about correlates between language displacement and ethnobiological knowledge, but has been important as a way to involve young people of the community in the project.
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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