CoPAR Bulletin 8
Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records
Dedicated to helping anthropologists,
information specialists and others preserve and provide access to the
records of human diversity and the history of the discipline.
The Special Nature of Linguistic Records
The records accumulated by anthropological linguists are often of a special
nature, and their preservation and archiving must be addressed in special ways. These
records in many cases constitute an important part of the primary documentation of extinct
or severely endangered languages, and are thus of value to several constituencies beyond
those ordinarily concerned with anthropological records, in particular those with a stake
in the retention or revival of the languages concerned. The creators of linguistic records
should be sensitive to the uses to which their materials may eventually be put and, where
possible, should minimize the difficulties that will confront future users.
In comparison to most anthropological records (see Bulletin No.2,
Taking Stock of Your Records), linguistic records are typically
extensive and quite complexly organized. They tend to accumulate incrementally
and are often layered and cross-referenced. This information is not
normally documented in a systematic way because the user is fully
aware of the materials complexity and is frequently the only
user of the data. An annotated inventory of materials will be essential
to future users, and should contain the following information at a
- An identification of the body of materials associated with each language or dialect you
have worked on.
- A chronology of your work on each language, giving as much detail as possible about: (1)
the academic circumstances of your work (including institutional settings, funding
sources, and the names of mentors and assistants); (2) the sources of your linguistic
information (consultants, interpreters, other linguists, publications); (3) any resulting
manuscripts or publications that may not form a part of the primary collection.
- An inventory of the major categories of data contained in each body of material, such as
original field notes, file slips, tape recordings, secondary manuscripts, and
Special Concerns with Linguistic Records
In addition to an overall synopsis of the organization of your records, certain
information is often crucial to the understanding of specific types of records. This
Linguists typically create documents in which the order of the materials is a vital
part of the record (e.g., the sequence of slips in a lexical file). Wherever possible, you
should make such ordering explicit by page-numbering or other devices. If this is not
feasible (as in a large slip file) you should attach instructions to the record making
clear what order needs to be preserved.
The orthography used in written records of a language must be identified. Since it is
normal for linguists to use different orthographic systems and conventions at different
times and in different contexts, you should take care to be precise and exhaustive. This
concern is particularly acute for field notes transcribed phonetically. You should
identify the phonetic orthography you used, and any modifications you introduced to a
standard orthography should be fully explained.
If you have arranged a group of materials (such as a lexical file) in an alphabetical
order based on a special orthography, that order should be explicitly described.
Use of other materials
Anthropological linguists often use word lists, questionnaires, and other materials to
elicit data, and in some cases the resulting records cannot be fully understood without
this framework. Any records that you have created in this fashion should be identified and
the elicitation guides referenced (ideally, copies should be included with the
collection). You should also pay careful attention to identifying all abbreviations and
other symbols in your data that are keyed to an elicitation guide (e.g., the numbers of
In some records you may have re-elicited data from published and unpublished work of
other linguists, and this may have involved the incorporation of transcriptions other than
your own into your data or to cross-referencing of various sorts. In addition to
identifying such external documents, it would be desirable to have a description of your
re-elicitation procedures (e.g., was the material read aloud to a consultant?).
Linguists also quite frequently use their own earlier data in later work. For example,
you might scour your primary notes for examples to cite in an analytic document, or you
might play a tape recording that you had made earlier in order to elicit new data from
another speaker. You should make sure that these cross-references are clearly noted in the
Audio and video recordings
In addition to general concerns about the preservation and archiving
of electronic records (see Bulletin No. 15, Managing Electronic
Records), special considerations apply to audio and video recordings
of language data. During the past half century electronic records
have become a central component in the documentation of unwritten
languages, and in the case of languages now extinct these recordings
are important cultural documents in their own right.
Unlike written documents, electronic recordsparticularly audio tapesare
often difficult to identify and to associate with the collection of which they form a
part. Labels should always be affixed to the reel or cassette itself as well as to the
container, giving the date, language, speaker, collector, the circumstances of collection,
and the position of a tape in a sequence. In addition, technical information should be
provided about the equipment used to make the recording, the recording speed, sound
specifications (such as stereo, mono, Dolby, etc.), and format: beta videotape, four-track
stereo cassette, etc.). Where possible, tape recordings should also have introductory
remarks directly on the tape.
Logging the contents of audio and video recordings in a simple outline is highly
recommended. In addition to the information noted above, a log should also summarize the
contents of each recording in the order in which it is recorded on the tape. A consistent
numbering scheme should be developed to facilitate cross-referencing.
It is of great importance to know how an audio or video recording is connected to other
records in a collection, in particular to know whether full or partial written
transcriptions exist. Since practical considerations often lead to the archival separation
of audiovisual materials from written documents, you should make the linkages between
these as clear as possible.
The widespread use of computers for word-processing and data basing has serious
implications for the preservation of all anthropological records, but digital linguistic
records raise several specific concerns.
Your digital linguistic records may use non-standard character sets that you have
specially designed or that you share with a small group of collaborating researchers.
Copies of these fonts must always be included with the documents themselves.
You may have created complex secondary records (lexicons, text collections, comparative
dictionaries, etc.) in database formats that allow interlinkage of files. If your database
software was specially created or tailored for your project, you should provide a copy of
that specific database together with documentation.
As a matter of general principle, e-mail correspondence you may have transmitted or
received that is relevant to your records should be preserved as part of your collection,
preferably in paper format. If you have developed any conventions for citing linguistic
forms or analysis in e-mail correspondence these should be made explicit (e.g., the use of
@ for schwa).
Department of Native American Studies
Humboldt State University
Arcata, California 95521
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