Language Documentation and Conservation

January 14, 2010

The most recently released issue of Language Documentation and Conservation contains an interesting article by Gary Holton on the difficulties of applying “universal” ideas of ethical research practices in very different cultures. He compares research in Indonesia and Alaska and discusses some of the factors that lead to different experiences for the researcher, different expectations for the researcher’s behavior, and different views of language and linguistic data. It is a nice example for why ethics is not a ‘one size fits all’ proposition.

I disagree with Holton’s criticism about the definition of ethics as “standards which are appropriate to the community in which one works”. I agree that this is somewhat vague, but his article is a very good illustration of why it is difficult to be specific when writing guidelines which cover many different cultures. We could have an interesting discussion here about the ethics of relativity — Holton’s example where he behaved “inappropriately” in the community by not being seen to make material gains from a project in Indonesia is a nice example of how to reconcile ethics standards across countries and communities. Perhaps readers have suggestions on how one might reconcile the need to appear to make money from a project while still keeping within the guidelines of US federal funding.

Language Documentation And Description

December 3, 2009

[from the announcement by Peter Austin to the Endangered Languages mailing list; reproduced here since the volume includes several articles related to ethics topics. CB]

Language Documentation and Description Volume 7 is a special issue containing lectures on topics in language documentation and description from the 3L Summer School held at SOAS in June-July 2009. The lectures have been revised and expanded for publication, with added examples, diagrams, tutorial questions and exercises, and suggestions for further reading. Additional papers, by Peter Austin (practical advice on applying for a research grant) and David Nathan (on the role of audio, based on a paper published in the International Association of Sound Archives journal), will make the volume particularly useful to aspiring language documenters.

The lectures and papers represent state-of-the-art discussions of the theory and practice of language documentation and description by leading exponents, and the volume will be of interest to anyone teaching or learning about documenting and describing languages. The volume will be published in early 2010.

The price for LDD 7 is normally GBP 10 however until 31 January 2010 only, we are offering a special pre-order price of GBP 7.50 (plus P & P), a 25% discount. To order use the discount order form [.doc], or visit our website (


Editor’s Introduction – Peter K. Austin
Current Issues in Language Documentation – Peter K. Austin
Communities and Ethics in Language Documentation – Peter K. Austin
Research Methods in Language Documentation – Friederike Luepke
Documenting Sign Languages – Adam Schembri
Language Documentation and Language Policy – Julia Sallabank
Language Documentation and Archiving – David Nathan
Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory – Peter Sells
Language Documentation and Typology – Oliver Bond
Roles and methods for audio in language documentation – David Nathan
Applying for a Language Documentation Research Grant – Peter K. Austin
List of resources

Volumes 1 to 6 of Language Documentation and Description are also available for purchase from our website. Orders for multiple copies to the same address attract a discount – contact elap -AT- for details.

Anthropology and Ethics Update

September 3, 2009

The most recent edition of Anthropology News features articles on codifying ethics. Much here is of relevance to linguists (and the LSA is mentioned a few times in the articles). The articles are available online and comments can be made via the AAA blog.

Podcast on Ethics

June 16, 2009

Nancy Dorian’s paper at the recent University of Hawaii meeting on language documentation and conservation is now available as a podcast. (Link opens in a new window.) From the site:

In the documentation of endangered languages a researcher’s responsibility to scholarship, to the sources who supplied the material, and to the study community overall may be in conflict. The opposing ethical claims of such responsibilities are discussed in the light of long field experience with a variety of Scottish Gaelic.
The presentation at the conference was made by Pamela Innes reading Nancy Dorian’s paper.