Participatory methods for language documentation and conservation: Building community awareness and engagement

Truong, Christina Lai
Garcez, Lilian
Truong, Christina Lai
Garcez, Lilian
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Language conservation and revitalization initiatives face the challenge of mitigating or reversing the impact of many powerful sociolinguistic factors which push speakers of minority language communities to shift away from their heritage languages. While practitioners of language documentation are very often concerned about language endangerment issues and value minority languages for their intrinsic worth, many language documentation programs, even when done in collaboration with a few members of the target community, do not engage with larger segments of the community, nor garner sufficient resources to address factors underlying the decline of language vitality. This paper describes three participatory methods developed to engage communities in research, planning, implementation and evaluation of language programs for their own benefit. These methods facilitate investigation of sociolinguistic phenomena to inform and spur planning for effective documentation and conservation initiatives. In a series of guided interactions, members of language communities together build visual representations of collective knowledge about their language and patterns of language use using text, symbols, and pictures. They are then invited to react to the resulting representation and discuss changes they would like to see in their situation. The first of these three tools is designed to investigate language variation, intelligibility and attitudes towards varieties of the minority language, enabling the community to discuss the scope of a language program. In the second activity, patterns of bilingualism among demographic sub-groups are diagrammed and analyzed by the community. In the third activity, the community creates a diagram of language use in various situations and the frequency with which each language spoken in the community is used in these domains. Several pilot tests of the methods have been conducted with groups of minority languages speakers in Sabah, Malaysia and on the island of Java, Indonesia. Applications for these participatory methods include 1) identifying which variety of the language would have the broadest extensibility for use in materials (audio recordings, video, books, literacy efforts), 2) assessment of language vitality and underlying factors, and 3) identifying domains which should be targeted first for documentation or conservation. However, the most valuable impact of using participatory methods is that the process itself builds community awareness and engagement with language conservation issues. The process of thinking critically about their own language situation is a step from passivity towards engagement that creates an opportunity for the community to participate in, shape, and own collaborative documentation and conservation initiatives for their language.
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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
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