From technical to teachable: Tone and vowel length

Hirata-Edds, Tracy
Hirata-Edds, Tracy
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Language documentation and description in their many forms (e.g., word lists, dictionaries and grammars, discourse representations, or audio/visual recordings) often for academic purposes of research, in and of themselves cannot save a language. They do, however, comprise a critical facet of the revitalization enterprise. Challenges come when these sources of information are overly technical and inaccessible to communities working to revitalize the language (Penfield & Tucker 2011; Rice 2011; Hinton 2001) and are perceived as only preservation oriented. This presentation discusses ways in which meeting community needs for teaching can be addressed through documentation designed to be mutually beneficial. Examples come from a revitalization effort focused on tone and vowel length in Cherokee. Understanding the distinctive features of tone and vowel length in the Cherokee language without available resources has been challenging for second language learners whether in the classroom or studying on their own. With no corresponding audio and written examples for the learners, teachers, or researchers to refer to, learners felt limited. Responding to this community need, documentation served to specifically feed into teaching through a close interface between the different foci of documenting and creating educationally helpful tools. The collaborative aspect of the project brought together speakers, second language users, linguists, educational specialists, and others with a vested interest in taking documentation beyond preservation to facilitating teaching. Documentation and acoustic analysis resulted in data about pitch and vowel length including visual representations (AUTHOR submitted). This technical info contributed toward a better understanding of the nature of Cherokee tone and vowel length. To convert this information to a useful form for language learning, we built on the idea that improving ability to receptively identify tones can generalize to production (Wang et al. 1999). Research indicates that the complexity of and confusion about input associated with tones can be lessened by providing visual pitch contours with written forms accompanying audio materials (e.g., Liu, et al. 2011) and also by presenting tones in pairs (e.g., Wang et al. 1999). The resulting “teachable” component kept linguistics jargon to a minimum and incorporated visual representations in PowerPoint lectures with embedded audio that could be used by teachers plus allow learners to practice on their own. Constant input from teachers and learners helped guide the documentation process so it would result in information valuable to revitalization efforts – thus, teaching needs helped determine the direction the documentation work. REFERENCES AUTHOR. Submitted. “Collaborative Documentation and Revitalization of Cherokee Tone.” Language Documentation and Conservation. Penfield, S.D. & Tucker, B.V. 2011. “From Documenting to Revitalizing an Endangered Language: Where do Applied Linguists Fit?” Language and Education, 25(4), 291-305. Rice, S. 2011. “Applied Field Linguistics: Delivering Linguistic Training to Speakers of Endangered Languages.” Language and Education, 25(4), 319-338. Hinton, L. 2001. “Audio-Video Documentation” In L. Hinton and K. Hale (Eds.), The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice, 265-271. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Wang, Y. Spence, M., Jongman, A., & Sereno, J. 1999. “Training American Listeners to Perceive Mandarin Tones.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 106(6), 3649-3658. Liu, Y., Wang, M., Perfetti, C.A., Brubaker, B., Wu, S., & MacWhinney, B. 2011. “Learning a Tonal Language by Attending to the Tone: An In-Vivo Experiment.” Language Learning, 61(4), 1119-1141.
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