Getting started

Language documentation, description, and revitalization projects can differ greatly from one another in detail, but most projects have the same basic skeleton. Below is a very brief sketch of how a project often unfolds.

  • Familiarization, research, community contact
    • Depending on whether or not you know a lot about the language and the community already, this may take months or even years. Early stages can involve reviewing the existing literature, if any, on the language and the culture; familiarizing yourself with the language, cultural traditions, and taboos; and reaching out to leaders and stakeholders to make sure you and your work are welcome. Contact with the community should come extremely early. This is their language, their culture, their livelihood, etc. If they don’t want you there, you shouldn’t be there. If you are a community member, this may look different–you may not need to get to know the community, but you still need to work with others to ensure shared goals.
  • Project planning
    • Long-term planning, identifying and applying for grants, hiring help. Applying for institutional approval.
    • Continued work with the community: building relationships and trust, helping them identify their proximal and long-term goals.
    • Logistics (most of this you will need to figure out before you apply for a grant, if applicable): Who? (Who is on your “team”? Who are your community contacts? Who will you record?) What? (Will you be recording narratives? Performances? One-on-one interviews? Elicitations?) Where (exactly)? When? How? (What equipment will you use? How will you get to the field site, if applicable?)
  • Recording the language
    • This will likely involve travel to a field site (and/or work via electronic means, usually as a supplement to in-person work).
    • Likely audio and/or video recordings, making written records, etc. You may also find yourself wanting/needing to digitize existing materials: recordings made years ago, pedagogical materials developed only on paper, etc. 
  • Storing the recordings and disseminating the results
    • Your field notes, recordings, and other records of the language should be stored in a dedicated archive (i.e., not just on your computer or a web site). See more on this in the Best Practices section.
    • How accessible these materials are, and to whom, will depend in large part (or entirely) on the desires of the language community.
    • Depending on the community’s goals and yours, you may work on publishing the materials themselves in various forms, writing academic articles using the recordings as data, etc.