Volume 12 : Language Documentation & Conservation

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    Review of The Traditional Ecological Knowledge of the Solega: A Linguistic Perspective
    (University of Hawaii Press, 2018-12) Berez-Kroeker, Andrea L. ; Miller, Lucia
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    Developing an Audio-visual Corpus of Scottish Gaelic
    (University of Hawaii Press, 2018-12) Clayton, Ian ; Patton, Colleen ; Carnie, Andrew ; Hammond, Michael ; Fisher, Muriel
    Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language spoken primarily in the western regions of Scotland, is experiencing sustained contraction in its geographical extent and domains of use. Native speakers of the language are mostly over 40, and relatively few children are acquiring the language in the home. In the media, Gaelic is typically represented by a standardized form, and children learning the language through Gaelic-medium education – currently the only demographic where Gaelic is expanding – tend to acquire a standardized form of the language as well. Consequently, the rich regional diversity Gaelic once displayed has been considerably reduced in recent decades, and is likely to suffer further significant losses within the next generation. There is an imperative, therefore, to create a record of the surviving diversity within the language, focusing most urgently on remaining speakers of dialects most at risk. In this paper, we describe our ongoing efforts to develop an audio-video corpus of Gaelic which represents as diverse a range of Gaelic dialects as possible, with particular attention to those varieties most immediately at risk of loss. The corpus contains material collected over the past four years through extensive fieldwork among historically Gaelic-speaking communities in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
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    Working with ‘Women Only’: Gendered protocols in the digitization and archiving process
    (University of Hawaii Press, 2018-12) Kell, Jodie ; Booker, Lauren
    Gender is a significant social category that needs to be taken into consideration when working with Australian Aboriginal communities. Whilst archives hold knowledge systems that encode cultural practices of huge importance to current Australian Indigenous language revitalization projects, women have often been marginalized and excluded due to culturally inappropriate practices of collection, storage, and access. As women working in an archive, the authors provide a gendered perspective on the development of workflow processes that have the potential to re-orientate the relationship with endangered language communities and contribute to the negotiation of agency for Aboriginal women in the archival space. This paper draws on the experience of an Australian archiving service involved in a partnership with an Aboriginal organization to digitize resources and facilitate their return to the originating communities. As part of the partnership, tapes of women’s songs from central Australia were digitized using the skills of a female audio engineer. The paper argues that utilizing a female chain of linguist, anthropologist, musicologist, data administrator, and audio engineer in a participatory loop empowered the women in community to make choices knowing that their cultural property was being handled with respect and in a culturally appropriate manner.
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    Documenting a language with phonemic and phonetic variation: the case of Enets
    (University of Hawaii Press, 2018-12) Khanina, Olesya
    This paper describes phonemic and phonetic variation attested in Enets, a highly endangered Uralic language of Northern Siberia. This variation is worth describing for three reasons. First of all, it is a part of documenting phonology of this disappearing language. Second, it is extremely frequent and widespread, including most words of the lexicon, but at the same time it does not visibly correlate with any social parameters, so this is one more case study in the vein of the sociolinguistic agenda set by Dorian (2001; 2010). Third, the Enets variation presents a challenge for consistent transcription, let alone an orthography design. These three reasons structure the paper: after an introductory section on the Enets community, languages used in the community in past and present, methodology of this study, and phonological profile of Enets, I proceed to a phonological description of the variation (section 2), to sociolinguistic details of this variation (section 3), and finally to issues of representation of the Enets data in a vain search for a perfect orthography for the language (section 4). Crucially, the last reason was the driving force for this research in the first place, as “[c]reating a phonemic orthography implies at least a basic phonological analysis preceding its design” (Jany 2010:234) and “faulty phonological analyses give rise to faulty orthographies” (Rehg 2004:506). Being neither a phonetician, nor a phonologist, I had initially aimed only for a basic description of sound patterns for the sake of an orthography; however, it quickly became evident that the puzzle of variation in Enets was not to be taken lightly, and more specific research was conducted. However, despite all the work done, I still see the results rather as a grounding for a consistent transcription/orthography than as a full phonological description. For the latter, Enets is still awaiting a talented phonologist, while our documentation project aimed hard to preserve exemplars of Enets sounds for this purpose (see Khanina 2017 for details).
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    Integrating Automatic Transcription into the Language Documentation Workflow: Experiments with Na Data and the Persephone Toolkit
    (University of Hawaii Press, 2018-09) Michaud, Alexis ; Adams, Oliver ; Cohn, Trevor Anthony ; Neubig, Graham ; Guillaume, Séverine
    Automatic speech recognition tools have potential for facilitating language documentation, but in practice these tools remain little-used by linguists for a variety of reasons, such as that the technology is still new (and evolving rapidly), user-friendly interfaces are still under development, and case studies demonstrating the practical usefulness of automatic recognition in a low-resource setting remain few. This article reports on a success story in integrating automatic transcription into the language documentation workflow, specifically for Yongning Na, a language of Southwest China. Using Persephone, an open-source toolkit, a single-speaker speech transcription tool was trained over five hours of manually transcribed speech. The experiments found that this method can achieve a remarkably low error rate (on the order of 17%), and that automatic transcriptions were useful as a canvas for the linguist. The present report is intended for linguists with little or no knowledge of speech processing. It aims to provide insights into (i) the way the tool operates and (ii) the process of collaborating with natural language processing specialists. Practical recommendations are offered on how to anticipate the requirements of this type of technology from the early stages of data collection in the field.