Language documentation

Language documentation is an emerging discipline of linguistics which aims for the long-term archiving of a language and its usages, and of the culture of its speakers. The first objective of the discipline is to collect basic data, documenting the language practices of a community. This implies collecting linguistic and cultural information related to the people and its language. Language documentation should ideally cover a maximum of features of the language, richly annotated, and ultimately, accompanied by linguistic analyses.

There are two possible effects of language documentation. It can help maintain and revitalize a language by providing detailed linguistic data and it can inform future generations about the linguistic and cultural diversity of humankind. In this sense, language documentation is beneficial for studies in linguistics, anthropology, history, literature and other related disciplines.

According to the theoreticians of this discipline, language documentation is minimally based on a large quantity of oral recordings presenting the phonetic and suprasegmental features of the language. Video recordings are also highly useful since they provide information on the communicative context and on the non-verbal attitudes of the speaker.

Thus, a complete language documentation of a language will include the following types of data:

  • Transcribed oral and video recordings, translated in an internationally accessible language (such as English or French) and linguistically analyzed;
  • Metadata describing the location and date of the recordings, information about the participants (informant, interviewer, etc.), about the equipment used for the recordings, about the transcriber and the translator, etc.;
  • A grammatical description of the language, a description of its typological characteristics, of its genetic affiliation and of the sociocultural context of the language community.

The sections on this page contain important information on the recognized techniques of language documentation and which are applied to the documentation of the Innu language.