Crafting the next generation of language documentation tools

Bettinson, Mat
Bettinson, Mat
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The mobile phone ‘app’ has been suggested to offer ‘revolutionary’ potential for crowdsourcing linguistic data (Birch et al., 2013). Some genres such as collaborative dictionary apps have been widely adopted. However, the reality is that despite the proliferation of general mobile apps, mobile software development is challenging and there is much to yet to learn (Wasserman, 2010). Fortunately, web technologies have recently emerged as a viable ‘native’ mobile app development, with a range of benefits including developing for one universal platform. The great potential for mobile software is precisely that it is used by laypersons but this demands a focus on usability, user interface and workflows. We will need simple, usable software in line with common expectations. There is also increasingly realisation of the need to invest in new collaborative software (Thieberger, 2016). We argue that linguists can and should help by using their knowledge of workflows and user expectations to participate in the design of new software tools. Furthermore, the new capabilities challenge stakeholders from language researchers to revitalization communities to have the vision to imagine new ‘apps’ to address their aims. To aid this discussion and raise awareness of the possibilities we present two new software tools resolving from a ‘skunkworks’ research project into emerging mobile and web technologies for linguistic applications. These projects deliver new capabilities to the field and provide evidence of the need to conceive of tools beyond discreet mobile ‘apps’. The two applications, Aikuma-NG and Aikuma-Link, are very different, reflecting the range of audience and their use-cases. Aikuma-NG is an offline ‘Chrome app’ that was crafted to help community-based language revitalisation activists document, transcribe and translate their own language with a focus on mobilising output to social media. This software illustrates key issues such as participatory design, internationalisation and software interoperability. The second tool Aikuma-Link was motivated by the observation that many linguists return from fieldwork with data that requires additional work by participants. The tool allows a researcher to upload media and specify a set of activities. The result is a sharable URL which may be opened on mobile device, inviting the recipient to participate in a range of activities such as providing consent, respeaking, translating, answering metadata prompts and more. Finally, we report on experience of participatory design and field testing of these applications with speakers of endangered Formosan languages in Taiwan. References Birch, Bruce, Sebastian Drude, Daan Broeder, Peter Withers & Peter Wittenburg. 2013. Crowd-sourcing and apps in the field of linguistics: Potentials and challenges of the coming technology. Thieberger, Nick. 2016. Language Documentation Tools and Methods Summit Report. Wasserman, Anthony I. 2010. Software engineering issues for mobile application development. Proceedings of the FSE/SDP workshop on Future of software engineering research (FoSER '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 397-400.
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