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Beyond time, place, comparability, and searchability: Transdisciplinary apparatus in documentary linguistics

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Item Summary

Title:Beyond time, place, comparability, and searchability: Transdisciplinary apparatus in documentary linguistics
Authors:Seidel, Frank
Contributors:Seidel, Frank (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:Documentary Linguistics is a discipline with a philological-conservatory goal that aims at collecting, organizing, and preserving language records (cf. among others Woodbury 2003, Himmelmann 2012). Metadata and annotation serve to make the collected archival corpus accessible. When dealing with the design and content of metadata and the annotation apparatus much thought has been given to linguistic annotation and basic metadata (cf. among others Himmelmann 2012, 2006) as well as comparability and searchability (cf. among others Pepper 2011, EMELD 2010), but less has been said about the open nature of the apparatus and the varying possibilities of shaping metadata and the apparatus for communicative needs. This undervalues the communicative and contextualizing possibilities of metadata and annotation which are needed to make language archives more attractive and relevant for users beyond the linguistic disciplines. Thus in, to a certain extent, a counterpoint to the topic of this conference, I would like to look at the production of language archives from a more philological point of view, instead of limiting the view on language archives and their role in the complex, albeit, narrow parameters of the linguistic disciplines. In my view archives should be conceived, treated, and created as meaning and narrative generating entities for, among others, communities and future researchers of varying backgrounds and the conception of metadata and annotation should reflect this. While a lot of work has been done on community interaction and instrumentalization of archives, less thought has been given to how to make archives accessible for a wider audience. In this talk I conceptualize the production of language archives as a “communicative act” (cf. Payne 2006) with a transdisciplinary audience and I will try to start answering the following question ”What might a ‘philologist 500 years from now’ want to know in addition to the content of the recordings, in order to tract meaningful narratives from the archive?” In an attempt to partially answer this question I will concentrate here on two interrelated aspects that should be addressed in a commentary on the language recordings/documents: human agency and the non-technical aspects of recording genesis. To underscore the points made in this talk I will use examples from two documentary linguistic projects that I undertook in Africa in order to illustrate how I tried to include information on these two aspects in the apparatus.


EMELD. 2010. Electronic Metastructure for Endangered Languages Data. Available at: (last accessed July, 14, 2014)

Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2006. Language Documentation. What is it and what is it good for? In: Jost Gippert, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, Ulrike Mosel (eds), Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter:1-30.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2012. Linguistic Data Types and the Interface between Language Documentation and Description. Language Documentation and Conservation 6:187-207.

Payne, Thomas E. 2006. A grammar as a communicative act or What does a grammatical description really describe? Studies in Language 30,2: 367-383.

Pepper, Steve. 2011. The Role of Ontologies in Language Documentation. Language Documentation and Description, vol. 9:199-218.

Woodbury, Anthony C. 2003. Defining documentary linguistics. In: Peter K. Austin (ed.), Language Documentation and Description 1. London: School of Oriental and African Studies: 35–51.
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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