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Title: Documentary vs. descriptive linguistics in the study of Saami languages 
Author: Aikio, Ante
Date: 2009-03-14
Description: The Saami languages, a branch of the Uralic language family, are a group of nine rather closely related but mutually mostly unintelligible languages spoken by the indigenous Saami people of Central and Northern Scandinavia, Northern Finland and extreme Northwestern Russia. All of the languages are either endangered, mostly seriously so, or moribund. The study of Saami languages has a very long tradition in the field of Uralic linguistics. Even though the research tradition has been heavily oriented towards historical linguistics, previous generations of scholars have also compiled vast amounts of primary language materials such as audio recordings and texts. In this sense, thus, most Saami languages can be characterized as very well documented. From a descriptive point of view, however, the situation is somewhat different: adequate reference grammars are few, and dictionaries of many languages are in an outdated format, employing a narrow phonetic transcription. Himmelmann (1998) has drawn attention to the distinction between ‘documentary’ and ‘descriptive’ linguistics, emphasizing the importance of extensive primary documentation that can serve a variety of linguistic and other purposes. In contrast, work aiming at the description of less studied languages has often been oriented towards the publication of reference grammars and dictionaries, sometimes altogether skipping the step of archiving and publication of primary linguistic data. In the case of Saami languages the situation is almost a reverse one: there is a huge amount of archived or published primary linguistic material, whereas descriptive work is more limited, or in the case of some languages almost entirely lacking. In my presentation I will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this data-oriented or ‘documentary’ tradition. In particular, I will examine how the extant materials facilitate grammatical description (e.g., writing of reference grammars) as well as practical efforts at language revitalization. It will be seen that while the existence of extensive linguistic corpora is in many ways beneficial to both endeavors, the situation is nevertheless not as ideal as proponents of a broad ‘documentary’ approach have envisioned. Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. (1998). Documentary and Descriptive Linguistics. -- Linguistics 36:161-195.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/5086
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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