LSA 2011 Sessions on Metadata in Language Documentation and Description

At the recent annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Pittsburgh Jeff Good of University at Buffalo and I organised a tutorial session (Friday 7th January, 1.5 hours) and poster session (Sunday 9th January, 3 hours) on the topic of metadata in language documentation and description.

The tutorial talks covered general topics such as how to design a metadata system and what it can be used for, what kinds of metadata researchers are collecting, how linguists’ metadata relates to that developed by anthropologists and archaeologists, and what information archives need for the best description and preservation of language materials. The poster session presented specific case studies from on-going archiving projects.

Jeff and I are able to bring together field linguists, computational linguists, language archivists, anthropologists, and archaeologists to discuss the issue of metadata from an interdisciplinary perspective. The poster session included presentations of a number of archives of endangered languages materials and displayed their approaches to metadata.

One thing that became clear from the presentations and posters was that early work in language documentation starting around ten years ago was heavily influenced by library concepts (eg. Dublin Core), and that key metadata notions were interoperability, standardisation, discovery, and access (see, eg. OLAC, E-MELD, Farrar & Langendoen 2003 [pdf]). Today, however, we see more focus on expressivity and individuality in metadata descriptions that researchers are creating, and increasing emphasis on protocols, meta-documentation (documentation of the documentation itself), greater clarity on stakeholder rights and responsibilities, and more diverse ways in which researchers are creating and manipulating their metadata. There seems to be plenty of interest in the topic now too — over 70 people attended the tutorial session and the posters attracted a lot of interest.

The abstracts, talks and posters are available for download here and there are blog posts about the sessions by Laura Welcher (including a subtitled video) and Ryan Dewey.

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