Previously, a linguist controlled the language documentation in order to generate the data needed to address academic questions concerning the structure of languages, their grammars, and systems of phonetics. We saw a need to document the language as it is actually lived so that the documentation could become a record of the values, knowledge of place, identity, and worldview of a people and be of use to them in adapting to a rapidly changing time. At the same time, this contextualized linguistic data turned out to be richer and communicated more about the language, giving linguistic science new avenues for research.

Our first innovation was to adapt documentary filmmaking so it could convene and record facilitated natural group conversation. This speaker-driven approach allowed the documentation to create a path to realizing speaker priorities, such as language learning and revival. We introduced a process of video feedback, presentation, and recording, to further stimulate and contextualize thematic inquiry. Feedback can also address negative attitudes originating in past discrimination and community trauma associated with the language, thus leading to more use of the language.

Daniel Quintanills filming preparations for religious festival in Totontepec.

We have added the Endangered Language Portal (see TECHNOLOGY) as an archive, learning, and access/dissemination resource. Our most recent venture, introduction and consulting for COMMUNITY SELF-DOCUMENTATION, has reformulated all of the above into a training program that prepares the community to take a leading role in documenting its own language in collaboration with outside researchers. This in turn has produced even more valuable documentation (for both community and research) as well as achieving major cost savings.

Working closely with community members, educators, and linguists, this kind of documentation process becomes a foundation for language revival efforts as well as creating more opportunities for scientific research. We are committed to supporting continued experimentation leading to best practices that further create value for the field.

We are grateful to the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, DEL (Documenting Endangered Languages) program for their support and encouragement.

Want more?

For more information watch this video clip below to see a brief explanation of Community Self-Documentation.

Speaking Place (2014)

The Text Team at work transcribing and translating videos.

Linguist Margarita Melania Cortes teaching Mixe orthography (writing system).

Linguist Margarita Melania Cortes teaching Mixe orthography (writing system).