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The house the ǂKx’ao-ǁ’ae built: An approach to documenting language & sharing knowledge

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Title: The house the ǂKx’ao-ǁ’ae built: An approach to documenting language & sharing knowledge
Authors: Pratchett, Lee J.
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: ǂKx’ao-ǁ’ae is best described as a dialect of the Ju language-continuum of the Kx’a language family (previously Ju-ǂHoan or Northern Khoisan), spoken by former hunter-gatherers from north-eastern Namibia into western Botswana. The language diaspora is subject to many varying social and environmental factors: inter-ethnic marriage, forced relocation and inhabiting a densely populated township in Namibia; nigh-isolation and different historical contact scenarios in Botswana. Densely populated settlements over-exploit resources, cattle encroach upon ancestral land, and a history of stigmatisation and political injustice contributes to the erosion of the foraging lifestyle and subsequent attrition of knowledge and language, which are still capable of addressing to contemporary needs.

This paper shapes methodology that puts sharing cultural knowledge at the heart of language documentation and conservation. The outlined model is inspired by the passion one group of ǂKx’ao-ǁ’ae women had for building traditional grass huts, and how this transcended into a means of providing other communities access to practical knowledge whilst serving as a culturally sensitive tool for assessing language diversity and language vitality, and an innovative way of gathering data.

By focusing on building linguistic tools inspired by multiple domains of cultural heritage, researchers can achieve richer corpora of language. A thorough observation of an event can offer insights into taxonomy and morphosyntactic features. A sufficient video-documentation will provide further opportunities for speaker narration of the event, and of its cultural significance. As a result, a community experience develops into community documentation, reflecting more knowledge, voices and registers.
By documenting cultural practices, a researcher generates both a greater diversity of instruments for gathering language data, and builds tools which facilitate the sharing of culture, enabling conservation, and potentially stimulating language revitalisation. It may be the neighbouring community who needs the fruits of documentation most. In the context of the ǂKx’ao-ǁ’ae, this includes communities where language vitality is high, but circumstances prevent the transmission of traditional knowledge; or communities who vehemently desire to know more about their past, but where language loss is particularly prevalent. Using the example of M!a du tju, We build a house (Author 2012), a culturally sensitive stimulus for fieldwork, this paper develops ways field researchers can document a wealth of endangered indigenous knowledge and language and redistribute it, simultaneously contributing to the transmission of knowledge at grassroots level, whilst obtaining comparable natural language data from multiple communities.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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