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Language documentation and revitalisation - partners or just good friends?

by Professor Peter Austin, Marit Rausing Chair Professor in Field Linguistics, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and Visiting Research Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Hong Kong

Humanities Lecture Series
Date                  31 March 2015
Time                  10:30am
Venue                Room AG710, PolyU
(The talk will be conducted in English.)


Around 20 years ago a new sub-field of linguistics emerged called Language Documentation (or Documentary Linguistics) with the goal of “compiling a representative and lasting multipurpose record of a natural language or one of its varieties” (Himmelmann 1998). Language documentation involves creating archivable audio, video and textual recordings of language use in its social and cultural context, and translating and annotating them, paying proper attention to relevant contextual metadata. This approach emphasises transparency and multifunctionality, arguing that the recordings and analysis should be available and accessible to a wide range of users for a wide range of functions, including community members. There is a growing theoretical and applied literature on language documentation.

Language revitalisation is concerned with increasing the number of speakers of a language and the range of domains within which it is used. This often involves collaboration between researchers (linguists, applied linguists, educators) and community members to create relevant materials and curricula as well as contexts within which the language can be used. The origins of language revitalisation are older than language documentation; however it has not attracted the same level of funding or recognition. It has also been undertheorised and is often seen as a waste of time by mainstream linguists (Dimmendaal, Blench), while also failing to engage mainstream applied linguists.

We explore through two case studies the relationship between language documentation and revitalisation (Nathan & Fang 2013). We argue that work on both documentation and revitalisation has failed to pay proper attention to local ethnographies and management of language use, and the crucially important but poorly researched beliefs and ideologies about language and language use held by both speech communities and researchers (Austin and Sallabank 2014).

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