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Learning from Serrano documentation: A century of best and not-so-best practices

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Title: Learning from Serrano documentation: A century of best and not-so-best practices
Authors: Henderer, Joseph
Smith, Marcus
Siva, Ernest
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: As the population of native speakers of a language declines, the opportunities for new data decline as well. Documentation and revitalization efforts must increasingly rely on the work of previous documenters. Such is the situation of revitalization work on Serrano (California, Uto-Aztecan). The authors, including one of the few remaining fluent listeners, are collecting and interpreting material from a wide range of sources to gain a more complete understanding of the language and culture for revitalization purposes. These materials vary in aim, methodology of collection, and quality of storage. The purpose of this talk is to show the practical consequences for language revitalization of best and not-so-best practices as found in these sources.

The data can be divided into three categories: material collected from fluent speakers by people trained in language documentation; material collected by community members based on their direct experience; and material collected by people not trained in linguistic methodologies. The data ranges across raw field notes, audio recordings of texts and interviews, and published formal analyses. Each of these sources has unique strengths and weaknesses, and no type of source can present a complete picture on its own. The most extensive texts come from linguists. The best audio to teach pronunciation comes from a Hollywood videographer. Biologists’ notes have allowed us to correctly correlate Serrano words with particular species. Our understanding of musical language comes from musicologists and community artists. Records from community members often show the language as it was used amongst family.

The data collected from a variety of experts allows us to crosscheck the various sources, increasing the overall quality of the documentation. There are irresolvable issues and topics that will never be completely understood due to incomplete collection methods and degradation of improperly stored data. Including a fluent listener in this crosschecking has proved invaluable in teasing apart ambiguities and filling in missing information. Although collaborative documentation would have provided a much richer source of material for revitalizing Serrano, we show how the particular strengths of differing data sources can still be used for this task.
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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