Defining Documentary Linguistics

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Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Defining Documentary Linguistics
« on: December 07, 2015, 08:12:59 PM »
Defining Documentary Linguistics


1. Preamble
In the last fifteen years, we have seen the emergence of a branch of linguistics which has
come to be called Documentary Linguistics. It is concerned with the making and keeping
of records of the world’s languages and their patterns of use. This emergence has taken
place alongside major changes in the technology of linguistic data representation and
maintenance; alongside new attention to linguistic diversity; alongside an increasing focus
on the threats to that diversity by the endangerment of languages and language practices
around the world, especially in small indigenous communities; and perhaps most
importantly of all, alongside the discipline’s growing awareness that linguistic
documentation has crucial stakeholders well beyond the academic community; in
endangered language communities themselves, but also beyond.
The purpose of this paper is to discuss documentary linguistics, how it has been
emerging, and where it may be headed.

(Tony Woodbury)
« Last Edit: December 08, 2015, 06:04:48 PM by Md. Mostafa Rashel »
Md. Mostafa Rashel
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Afroza Akhter Tina

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2015, 12:17:54 PM »
Nice preamble indeed! Looking forward to receiving responses from the others as well  :)






Afroza Akhter Tina
Senior Lecturer
Department of English, DIU

Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2015, 06:00:04 PM »
Sure Tina.
Md. Mostafa Rashel
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2015, 06:03:09 PM »
2. Documentation is old

Of course there has long been concern for the perspicuous documentation and description
of the world’s languages. We see this in the now century-old tradition of monograph series
and journals of record in which texts, dictionaries, grammars, vocabularies, and other
works have been published.

We can see too that such work has been foundational for the discipline’s more
theoretical endeavors since at least the time of Franz Boas. Dictionaries, grammars, and
texts have informed historical linguistics and the reconstruction of linguistic prehistory, of
genetic language families, and of patterns of prehistoric linguistic contact. They have
informed inquiry into the methods and tools for linguistic description and discovery. And
they have informed the development and testing of theories of linguistic typology and of
universal grammar.

Documentation and description have been foundational too in having kept
linguists in the field, observing language in its social context, and through that it has led
directly to work on the use and function of language in specific speech communities.
Finally, practitioners of documentary and descriptive linguistics have always
operated in an atmosphere of urgency and impending language loss, making lasting records
and in some cases taking part in community efforts at language preservation, teaching,
planning, and revival.


(Tony Woodbury)
Md. Mostafa Rashel
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Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2015, 07:31:55 PM »
3. But a new conception has been emerging
Nevertheless, these antecedent areas of concern have become aligned and focused in a
fundamentally new way in a very short time—perhaps as short as a decade—into a field
that has come to be known as documentary linguistics.

4. Elements of the shift

Perhaps it’s best to start by looking at what has been happening around the emergence of a
documentary linguistics. What new things have become possible? What ideas have been
“in the air”? What is the value of linguistic documentation? To whom? And what do they
want from it? In short, what changes in the general scene surrounding linguistic
documentation in the last decade and a half have set the stage for its reconceptualization?

4.1 Technology
Let’s start with technology because it, more than anything, has changed our thinking about
the physical possibilities for linguistic documentation. Suddenly, with powerful laptops,
digital audio, video, and the worldwide web, it at least seems that we should be able to
capture and store enormous amounts of information; we should be able to search through
this information with unprecedented speed and precision; we should be able to link
transcriptions with audio- and videotapes, and entries and dictionaries or statements in
grammars with large databases of illustrative examples; we should be able to disseminate
around the globe the material now collecting dust in attics or rotting in basements; and we
should be able to keep huge amounts of information safe in perpetuity. While reality has
turned out to be more complex—it’s clear we need to agree on and coordinate our practices
before this can happen—this revolution in both the magnitude and the quality of linguistic
documentation has brought about permanent changes in what people plan and hope for.

4.2 Diversity
A second change in the general scene surrounding documentation is an increasing
emphasis on diversity as a central, organizing question in linguistics. To be sure, the study
of universal grammar has also shed light on the ways languages can differ, but
assomething of a side issue. More recently, work on universal grammar has taken increasing
responsibility for charting and explaining typological patterns; Bruce Hayes’ (1995) book
Metrical stress theory would be just one nice example; the work of Paul Hopper and others
on functional relationships among grammatical categories would be another (Hopper and
Thompson 1980). More radically still, work such as Johanna Nichols’ (1992) book
Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time has placed diversity on center stage by asking how
typological and genetic diversity can be measured, how it can be that world regions differ
markedly in the amount of diversity they show, how areal influence, genetic relatedness,
and universal grammar all affect patterns of linguistic difference, and how different
geographic, social, and population patterns affect linguistic diversity. Naturally, all such
theorizing calls for documentation of the world’s languages.


Tony Woodbury
Md. Mostafa Rashel
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2015, 06:57:14 PM »
4.2.1 Social diversity
Related to this is a focus on diversity in a slightly different sense — the focus by
sociolinguists on social diversity, and on the ways ideology about language and linguistic
practice constitute and embody peoples’ sense of their social, ethnic, personal, and even
spiritual identity. It is perhaps this aspect of ‘linguistic diversity’ that is most directly
relevant to contemporary social and political concerns about diversity within US society,
and diversity as a value affected by globalization and other homogenizing tendencies.

4.2.2 Neo-Whorfian concerns
In a related way, it is increasingly asserted — among linguistic anthropologists (Lucy 1992,
Gumperz and Levinson 1996) and in society more widely — that linguistic diversity has
humanistic value, and that it is critical to intellectual, literary, and aesthetic creativity.
These questions might be called neo-Whorfian although their roots go much farther back.
To the extent this is the case, the study of linguistic diversity — diversity of linguistic
codes as well as of the uses and potentialities of those codes — becomes important.
Md. Mostafa Rashel
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Daffodil International University

Offline Afroza Akhter Tina

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2015, 02:28:46 PM »
...such an important issue to be discussed!Thanks for letting us know Sir  :)





Afroza Akhter Tina
Senior Lecturer
Department of English, DIU

Offline Md. Mostafa Rashel

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Re: Defining Documentary Linguistics
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2016, 02:42:02 PM »
Thanks for showing interest.........
Md. Mostafa Rashel
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Daffodil International University