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The role of linguistics in community-based language documentation: Bottle-neck or boot-strap?

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Title: The role of linguistics in community-based language documentation: Bottle-neck or boot-strap?
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: The key to successful community-based language documentation is a cohort of speakers who are trained in the basics of documentary linguistics. With this foundation, speakers understand that for documentation to be authentic, it must be wide (sampled from many speakers and genres), full (emphasizing conversationally contextualized expressions), and deep (properly recorded, transcribed, analyzed and archived). Across North America, a variety of programs have emerged over the past several decades to support speakers “working on their languages”. For the past 13 years, the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute (CILLDI) at the University of Alberta has provided intensive training in linguistics during its annual summer school for endangered language revitalization.

Since 2007, CILLDI has offered a Community Linguist program, a series of six courses providing the essentials of documentary linguistics. The first four cover the core descriptive and analytical areas. The final two cover topics directly relating to the needs of community linguists, including use of technology, grant-writing, language planning, and best practices in audio and video recording. Students who complete all six courses earn the provincially-recognized Community Linguist Certificate (CLC).

Building on more than a decade of delivering Certificate courses and drawing on the expertise of a wide range of collaborators, CILLDI is now developing the Community Linguist Handbook. It serves as an integrated training manual for future community linguists, covering the content of all six CLC courses. The Handbook and its accompanying website allow students to systematically build up a portfolio of their language through a graded series of elicitations and exercises, beginning with individual sounds and eventually moving through words and phrases, and on to full texts or conversations.

The approach is usage-based and surface-true. Students acquire facility with a range of terminology as they learn to compare and contrast their language with English and other indigenous languages. Beyond the basics of documentation, the Handbook aims to provide students with an understanding of the importance of genre and the ubiquity of variation across speakers, a respect for the primacy of oral language, and strategic skills in designing language programs.

With the skills developed in the Handbook, students are well-prepared for more advanced topics such as dictionary-building and language archiving, as well as digesting technical materials produced by field or theoretical linguists. They are also ready to apply this knowledge as “super speakers” in their community, thus being more effective language advocates at the tribal or national level.
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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