Language documentation is a process where a variety of speech genres are recorded, transcribed, annotated, and archived. These segments of speech can then be used for a variety of purposes. They often include traditional stories and conversations in languages which are under-described, this includes rarely spoken (endangered languages) or where in the coming generation will be rarely spoken (moribund).
Language Documentation is important for several reasons:
- Often by recording with video we get a greater understanding of the communicative events – the whole communicative process: gesture, posture, expression, and articulation (vocalization) of the language. Language and culture and identity are closely interwoven concepts.
- By transcribing the texts we can use the patterns in the transcription to learn things about the grammar where these patterns are difficult to transcribe consistently we can learn things about the phonology. These things we learn about the phonology can help linguists and community members in their approach to developing an orthography (writing system).
- Annotations add additional tiers of information like grammatical information (noun, verb, article, etc.) or translations which help researchers to compare texts and understand patterns in the communication systems which people use.
- Language documenters deposit their materials in archives. We do this for several reasons. One reason is because life is short. If we do work and it can benefit someone else, then they should be able to find it in a place which is not on the language documenter’s computer. Another very important reason is because the communicative events being documented are snapshots of the language speakers’ culture and language. As documenters we want to encourage the use of the documented language by indigenous speakers. By putting these materials in the archive we are providing the speakers a place where they can go and obtain resources which can be used in the creation of language teaching materials.