Let's Revise

Let's Revise - Languages in Danger

Language documentation


1. What are the main purposes of language documentation?

The main purposes are the documentation of language behaviour, language traditions, and the knowledge of speakers about their own language. Language documentation involves both collecting information about the language's vocabulary or structure and everything else that happens during linguistic communication: gestures, face expressions, artefacts, the presence of third person, etc.

2. What is the difference between data and metadata?

Data is the main material of study (e.g. the acoustic speech signal for a phonetician) while metada can be defined as data about data (e.g. the information about the speaker's name, the date and location of the recording, microphones used, etc.).

3. What does annotation of speech recordings include?

Annotation of speech recordings includes time alignment of transcription to the sound file - similarly as it is done when adding subtitles to a film. Annotation also involves segmentation of speech into various units, for example phrases, words, syllables or individual speech sounds (phones). Thanks to annotation it is possible to know what the speaker says at a particular moment of the recordings.

4. Why is it sometimes necessary to make a compromise between technical quality and spontaneity or naturallness of speech recordings?

The best technical quality can be obtained when recordings are made in a recording studio, however, in language documentation it is not always possible and the recordings are often made in fieldwork conditions. On the other hand, documenters need to take care of the technical quality, that is why it is important to choose the appropriate recording equipment, to pay attention to the choice of the location for the recordings, to eliminate background noises (such as a clock ticking, radio playing), etc.

5. Can you think of 3 reasons why it is sometimes difficult to document languages of certain communities?

Some of the reasons are:

- language differences (when the documenter does not fluently speak the documented language);
- cultural differences (when the documenter does not know the customs, traditions or history of the community);
- geographical differences (different climate, landscapes, fauna and flora in various regions of the world may cause differences in the ways of perceiving and describing the world which also results in differences in word inventories and language structures);
- inhibitions or stress caused by participation in a recording session (speakers can be stressed when they speak in front of a microphone or video camera, even if they actually wish to participate);
- protection of personal information (the rules can differ across various countries);
- organizational and technical reasons (journey planning, travels, carrying equipment, funding problems).