From technical to teachable: The role of texts in documentation and pedagogy

Sammons, Olivia
Sammons, Olivia
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Language documentation and language pedagogy share a common interest in the development and use of texts. In language documentation, the creation of annotated texts serves as one of the primary means by which the linguistic practices and knowledge of a speech community are represented, and provides examples of grammatical phenomena (e.g., prosody, discourse markers, evidentials) that may be difficult to obtain through other methods (Buszard-Welcher 2010, Mithun 2007, Woodbury 2003). In language pedagogy, texts provide learners with critical exposure to natural, connected language use that models the target of acquisition. Whereas traditional pedagogical materials tend to focus on decontextualized wordlists or isolated phrases translated from a dominant language, textual materials often provide more realistic and culturally relevant instances of language use that can be adapted to serve as resources for all levels of language instruction. Despite the seeming compatibility of these interests, documentary texts are often not used to their full potential in endangered language education—and, conversely, textual materials developed for the classroom often do not contribute directly to the aims of documentation. One reason for this lack of exchange is the significant gap that exists between the methods and goals associated with gathering and using texts in each area. While language documentation often proceeds with long-term preservation and linguistic uses in mind, the development of pedagogical materials is driven primarily by learners’ immediate needs, ideally resulting in materials that introduce concepts thoughtfully and purposefully designed with respect to both scope and sequence. Consequently, texts produced for language documentation are often viewed by educators as being too complex or unsystematic to be easily or effectively adapted for language learners. This paper identifies ways of bridging this gap between language documentation and language pedagogy in the development and application of texts, underscoring opportunities for productive interplay between both fields. These approaches promote a mutual responsibility on the part of documentary linguists—to produce documentation that is also pedagogically adaptable—and educators—to contribute meaningfully to the direction of the documentary record. Drawing on case studies from the author’s experience with Michif and Sauk language initiatives, as well as comparisons with similar efforts across North America, this paper offers several recommendations for developing reciprocal relationships between educators and documentary linguists in which text development enriches both language teaching and the documentary record. REFERENCES Buszard-Welcher, Laura. 2010. Necessary and sufficient data collection: Lessons from Potawatomi legacy documentation. In Lenore A. Grenoble & N. Louanna Furbee (eds.), Language documentation: Practice and values, 67–74. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Mithun, Marianne. 2007. Linguistics in the face of language endangerment. In W. Leo Wetzels (ed.), Language endangerment and endangered languages: Linguistic and anthropological studies with special emphasis on the languages and cultures of the Andean-Amazonian border area, 15–35. Leiden: Publications of the Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (CNWS), Leiden University. Woodbury, Tony. 2003. Defining documentary linguistics. In Peter Austin (ed.) Language documentation and description, Vol. 1, 35-51. London: SOAS.
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