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Prioritizing community involvement in collaborative language documentation: The Iquito case

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Title: Prioritizing community involvement in collaborative language documentation: The Iquito case
Authors: Beier, Christine
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: This paper focuses on the strategies developed by the Iquito Language Documentation Project (ILDP) to involve community members in the documentation and revitalization of Iquito, a highly endangered language of Peruvian Amazonia. As a five-year, team-based project, the ILDP was designed around a central goal: to involve members of the heritage language community in both documentation and revitalization work. To meet this goal, the ILDP deployed various strategies. First, the research team included several Community Linguists (CLs), literate adults trained by the ILDP’s coordinators in basic linguistic description, text transcription and translation, and lexicography. The CLs became active participants in the research process; made concrete decisions about orthography and other aspects of language policy; and played an active role in language teaching and the design of pedagogical materials. These CLs (literate, but not fluent speakers of Iquito) worked year-round with a core group of older Language Specialists (LSs), all native speakers of Iquito. The CLs and LSs were paired together from the outset to give the project local continuity and stability; and to enable them to contribute consistently to the project’s concrete documentation goals. The longer-term goal was to create independent local experts who could serve the community beyond the life of the ILDP. Second, the ILDP developed mechanisms for accountability to the community at large. These included making periodic reports at public meetings and establishing a supervisory committee, which, for example, chose the CLs and LSs. Third, the ILDP's products include pedagogical and textual materials designed for local use. Some of these materials are already in use by the community’s school teachers; in addition, the CLs and LSs have participated in Iquito language teaching in the classroom. This paper describes and evaluates the ILDP’s strategies in terms of their degree of success and their potential replicability in other language documentation contexts. These strategies were most successful at the level of language revalorization within the community. In addition, the CLs developed lasting skills in text transcription and translation, and lexicography; while the LSs greatly increased their fluency. The greatest challenges were cultivating individual long-term commitments to documentation beyond the ILDP; and developing the CLs’ skills in grammatical description. In hindsight, the CLs needed more focused training; however, the participants’ low level of literacy became a serious obstacle as the difficulty of their work increased. Synthesizing these observations, this paper concludes with concrete recommendations for improving upon the ILDP’s strategies.
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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