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Why cultural meanings matter in endangered language research

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Title:Why cultural meanings matter in endangered language research
Authors:Dobrin, Lise
Sicoli, Mark
Keywords:participant observation
language loss
cultural meanings
Date Issued:01 Dec 2018
Publisher:University of Hawai'i Press
Citation:Dobrin, Lise and Mark Sicoli. 2018. Why cultural meanings matter in endangered language research. In McDonnell, Bradley, Andrea L. Berez-Kroeker, and Gary Holton. (Eds.) Reflections on Language Documentation 20 Years after Himmelmann 1998. Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication no. 15. [PP 41-54] Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.
Series:LD&C Special Publication
Abstract:In this paper we illustrate why it is important for linguists engaged in endangered language documentation to develop an analytical understanding of the cultural meanings that language, language loss, and language documentation have for the communities they work with. Acknowledging the centrality of cultural meanings has implications for the kinds of questions linguists ask about the languages they are studying. For example: How is age interpreted? What reactions are provoked by accented speech or multilingualism? Is language shift experienced as a painful loss, or a source of newfound freedom, or both? It affects the standards we set for what counts as a satisfying explanation for language endangerment, with prediction necessarily limited in sociogeographic scope. It has implications for the research methods employed, calling for serious engagement with the particular histories and interpretive practices of local linguistic communities. Analyzing cultural meanings can help us see how language use and changes in language use are experienced and therefore acted on by people whose communicative behavior we are concerned with. It can help us interpret why language shift is taking place in a particular community, guide the practices of language documentation and preservation that linguists engage in with that community, and contribute to effective revitalization.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License
Appears in Collections: LD&C Special Publication No. 15: Reflections on Language Documentation 20 Years After Himmelmann 1998

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