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Language archives and the history of ethnoscience: The digitization and discovery of early ethnobiological research at the University of Hawai‘i

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Title:Language archives and the history of ethnoscience: The digitization and discovery of early ethnobiological research at the University of Hawai‘i
Authors:Matson, Ivana
Berez, Andrea L.
Contributors:Matson, Ivana (speaker)
Berez, Andrea L. (speaker)
Date Issued:12 Mar 2015
Description:In 2013, personnel in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i discovered more than 11,000 index cards in 21 boxes that had been sitting in storage for close to five decades. The index cards were lexical slip files containing plant and animal names in Indigenous languages of 15 Pacific Islands, with only one typewritten sheet of fairly vague metadata found among them. Clearly these cards were the result of a major research project involving Pacific languages, yet nobody in the Department had any knowledge of the provenance of the cards or the project of which they were a part. They had simply been forgotten to history.

In this poster, we describe the process we undertook to discover the history of the lexical slip files, and to digitize and archive them according to modern standards for digital language data. It turns out the cards were part of a project undertaken in the early 1960s by the (former) Hawai‘i Marine Laboratory to prepare its field researchers to study biota across the Pacific. The cards were used to create “Preliminary Compilations” of plant and animal names from published and unpublished sources. These compilations were essentially field guides to local languages for biologists to use while documenting biological diversity in the Pacific.

In addition to researching the history of the project, we also scanned the cards and archived high- and low-bandwidth versions at the Kaipuleohone University of Hawai‘i Digital Language Archive. The cards are freely available online ( and can be discovered on the OLAC search engine (

In addition to describing a particular example of ethnoscientific research, this poster shows how language archives can play a role in bringing to light the process of scientific discovery itself, and provides an example of how to create digital language documentation from analog relics of former research projects.

Supported by the National Science Foundation.

(This poster is part of a set of poster submissions by language archives.)
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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