PARADISEC’s decade celebration conference

Announcing the conference “Research, records and responsibility (RRR): Ten years of the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC)” Dates: 2nd-3rd December 2013 Venue: University of Melbourne, Australia Keynote speaker: Shubha Chaudhuri Associate Director General (Academic) Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology American Institute of Indian Studies Gurgaon, India For details … Read more

Fieldwork helper – ExSite9

ExSite9 is an open-source cross-platform tool for creating descriptions of files created during fieldwork. We have been working on the development of ExSite9 over the past year and it is now ready for download and use:

ExSite9 collects information about files from a directory on your laptop you have selected, and presents it to you onscreen for your annotation, as can be seen in the following screenshot. The top left window shows the filenames, and the righthand window shows metadata characteristics that can be clicked once a file or set of files is selected.The manual is here:

Researchers who undertake fieldwork, or capture research data away from their desks, can use ExSite9 to support the quick application of descriptive metadata to the digital data they capture. This also enables researchers to prepare a package of metadata and data for backup to a data repository or archive for safekeeping and further manipulation.

Scholars in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) typically need to organise heterogeneous file-based information from a multitude of sources, including digital cameras, video and sound recording equipment, scanned documents, files from transcription and annotation software, spreadsheets and field notes.

The aim of this tool is to facilitate better management and documentation of research data close to the time it is created. An easy to use interface enables researchers to capture metadata that meets their research needs and matches the requirements for repository ingestion.

Read more

Researching child language in the field: October LIP

Ruth Singer recaps some of the interesting points of the last week’sLinguistics in the Pub, an informal gathering of linguists and language activists that is held monthly in Melbourne A number of linguists in Melbourne have recently begun documenting child language in the field. In the November 2011 LIP we discussed what you need to … Read more

Technology and language documentation: LIP discussion

Lauren Gawne recaps last night’s Linguistics in the Pub, a monthly informal gathering of linguists in Melbourne to discuss topical areas in our field.

This week at Linguistics in the Pub it was all about technology, and how it impacts on our practices. The announcement for the session briefly outlined some of the ways technology has shaped expectations for language documentation:

The continual developments in technology that we currently enjoy are inextricably connected to the development of our field. Most would agree that technology has changed language documentation for the better. But while nobody is advocating a return to paper and pen, most would concur that technology has changed the way we work in unexpected ways. The focus is usually on the materials we produce such as video, audio and annotation files as well as particular types of computer-aided analysis. In a recent ELAC post, ‘Hammers and nails‘ Peter Austin claims that metadata is not what it was, in the days of good old reel-to-reel tape recorders. The volume of comments suggests that this topic is ripe for discussion. This session of Linguistics in the Pub will give us a chance to reflect on how our practices change with advances in technology. 

There are a (very) few linguists who advocate that researchers should go to the field with nothing beyond a spiral-bound notebook and a pen, though no one at the table was quite willing to go that far; all of us, it seems, go to the field with a good quality audio recorder at the very least. Without the additional recordings (be they audio or video) the only output of the research becomes the final papers written by the linguist, which are in no way verifiable. The recording of verifiable data, and the slowly increasing practice of including audio recordings in the final research output are allowing us to further stake our claim as an empirical and verifiable field of scientific inquiry. Many of us shared stories of how listening back to a recording that we had made enriched the written records that we have, or allow us to focus on something that wasn’t the target of our inquiry at the time of the initial recording. The task of trying to do the level of analysis that is now expected for even the lowliest sketch grammar is almost impossible without the aid of recordings, let alone trying to capture the subtleties present in naturalistic narrative or conversation.

Read more

Hammers and nails

Back in the old days when some of us were younger and starting out on our language documentation and description careers (for me in 1972, as described in this blog post) the world was pretty much analogue and we didn’t have digital hardware or software to think about. Back then recordings were made with reel-to-reel … Read more

Retrofitting a collection? I’d rather not

I just had a visit from a student wanting to deposit a collection of recordings made in the course of PhD fieldwork in the PARADISEC archive. It is a great shame that they are only just now thinking about how to deposit this material, as it will need considerable work to make it archivable. If they had sought advice before doing all of the research (or looked at the PARADISEC page ‘Depositing with PARADISEC’, or looked at the RNLD pages, e.g, it would have been so much easier for all of us. Why?

Read more

Endangered languages, technology and social media (again)

There has been a little flurry of media stories about endangered languages in the last couple of days with titles like “Digital tools ‘to save languages’” on the BBC News website and “Cyber zoo to preserve endangered languages” in the Sydney Morning Herald (readers who are on Facebook can find a full listing on David … Read more

Making old dictionaries new again

Today’s post is something of a recipe for making old dictionaries new again. I’ll explain how a 35 year old old, single-copy typewritten dictionary is living a new life as a digital database. The language of this dictionary is Kagate – A Tibeto-Burman language of the Central Bodic branch, spoken in Nepal. I met some … Read more

Child language documentation: a LIP discussion

Lauren Gawne recaps last night’s Linguistics in the Pub, a monthly informal gathering of linguists in Melbourne to discuss topical areas in our field.

This month we were joined by Barbara Kelly (The University of Melbourne), who has extensive experience in the fields of language documentation and child language acquisition for a discussion into the why and how of documenting child language. Barb started the discussion by mentioning that many people who work in language documentation have the perception that child language is not relevant to them – but child data is relevant to anyone. Although the general fieldwork model of only working with adult native speakers is the current general practise it is only one way to document a language and documenting child language can also provide useful data.

Child language acquisition data is important for a number of reasons, and the discussion only touched upon a few of the most pressing. One of the most pressing is that language doesn’t occur in a vacuum, to get a full understanding of how the language works and is used it is insufficient to just record adults talking with adults. In language communities adults spend a lot of time interacting with children and so how they talk, and are talked to by the children, are important. It’s also important to understand how the language is acquired. Granted, it’s not possible for a single researcher to work on ever angle, but to even collect data while on fieldwork gives someone else the opportunity to investigate potentially interesting acquisition patterns. We might have a good idea of how English language features develop, but for grammatical features outside of English such as evidential or highly polysynthetic languages there are still some very basic questions that need to be addressed. Also, in terms of language maintenance and revival working with children is paramount. By asking them to share their language with you there’s the potential to help them understand what is special or important about their language, and in reclamation projects the easiest way to figure out materials to teach a child is to listen to what a child sounded like. Finally, working with children can be fun and challenging. It’s an opportunity to throw out the last shred of control you thought you had over a fieldwork situation and just see where a session takes you.

Read more