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Ex-situ language documentation and the Urban Fieldstation for Linguistic Research

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Title:Ex-situ language documentation and the Urban Fieldstation for Linguistic Research
Authors:Kaufman, Daniel
Contributors:Kaufman, Daniel (speaker)
Date Issued:14 Mar 2009
Description:It has been fully recognized that the looming loss of the majority of the world’s languages requires rapid direct action in the form of linguistic documentation, description and conservation. However, documentation efforts have thus far been focused on traditional fieldwork largely to the exclusion of working with immigrant groups outside the original speech community. By doing so, an enormous linguistic resource has been overlooked. Here, I explore the advantages, disadvantages and general prospects for “ex-situ” documentation in the context of the Urban Fieldstation for Linguistic Research, a soon to be launched center for language documentation in New York City. The UFLR will operate in collaboration with the the City University of New York Graduate Center with the following goals: (i) to facilitate an ongoing survey of endangered and marginalized languages within NYC, (ii) to produce high quality documentation and descriptive work on languages spoken by local immigrant groups, (iii) to find ways of integrating language documentation into the standard linguistics curricula. Some obvious disadvantages of “ex-situ” documentation are that many of the original speech genres and social contexts are difficult to reproduce outside the original community, localized environmental vocabularies (e.g. fauna and flora) are impossible to document beyond the basics, and the social mobility required to travel outside the speaker’s native country often corresponds to dominance in the national language, which can make finding fluent speakers challenging. Because of all these factors, ex-situ documentation will never be able to replace in-situ fieldwork. Nonetheless, I argue that ex-situ documentation is still feasible, necessary and even has its own unique advantages, the most important of which are the reduction of cost, bureaucracy, time pressure and the affordance of a controlled environment for recording. More importantly, by easing logistic burdens, large-scale collaboration with multiple researchers can be facilitated. I discuss all these issues in the context of two on-going projects in the UFLR, one on the Minahasan languages (Austronesian; North Sulawesi, Indonesia) and the other on Zaghawa (Nilo-Saharan; Darfur, Sudan).
Rights:Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections: 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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