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  • Documenting endangered languages: Achievements and perspectives ed. by Geoffrey L. J. Haig et al.
  • Dmitry Ganenkov
Documenting endangered languages: Achievements and perspectives. Ed. by Geoffrey L. J. Haig, Nicole Nau, Stefan Schnell, and Claudia Wegener. (Trends in linguistics: Studies and monographs 240.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2011. Pp. ix, 344. ISBN 9783110260021. $140 (Hb).

This volume is a tribute to Ulrike Mosel on the occasion of her retirement, and a sign of respect for her significant contribution to the field of language documentation. The volume is conceived of as a milestone, summing up experience, most important achievements, and future perspectives a decade after the launch of the language documentation program Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen (DoBeS) funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The volume opens with a preface written by Geoffrey Haig and Nicole Nau that summarizes Ulrike Mosel's contributions to language documentation, in which the list of her publications is the best evidence.

In Ch. 1, 'Introduction: Documenting endangered languages before, during, and after the DoBeS programme', the editors of the volume outline the history of what is now called 'documentary linguistics', highlighting the most important innovations that distinguish it from its precursors, and provide an overview of the papers in the volume. [End Page 366]

The first part of the book, 'Theoretical issues in language documentation', contains three chapters. In Ch. 2, 'Competing motivations for documenting endangered languages', FRANK SEIFART identifies four possible motivations for documenting endangered languages: (i) documentation to preserve human cultural heritage, (ii) documentation to enhance the empirical basis of linguistics, (iii) documentation by and for the speech community, and (iv) documentation to study language contact. Without being mutually exclusive, these motivations have specific requirements for the content and apparatus of language documentation, so that no language documentation 'in general' is possible, and priorities in each particular documentation project should be set.

Ch. 3, 'Evolving challenges in archiving and data infrastructures' by DAAN BROEDER, HAN SLOETJES, PAUL TRILSBEEK, DIETER VAN UYTVANCK, MENZO WINDHOUWER, and PETER WITTENBURG, provides a state-of-the-art overview of technical issues related to handling large amounts of data, including data formats, organization of data, versioning, access restrictions, legal and ethical issues of data archiving, tagging, and annotation tools, as well as access to archived resources.

In Ch. 4, 'Comparing corpora from endangered language projects: Explorations in language typology based on original texts', GEOFFREY HAIG, STEFAN SCHNELL, and CLAUDIA WEGENER advocate and promote the idea of typological investigations based on original textual data from endangered language documentation projects. They claim that the method of original text comparison should be an integral part of the typologist's toolkit and demonstrate the viability of the method by comparing how core arguments are realized in four languages from different families and geographical areas—Awetí (Tupí-Guaraní), Gorani (Iranian), Savosavo (Papuan isolate), and Vera'a (Oceanic). For the comparison, they apply a system of syntactic annotation, GRAID, developed by Geoffrey Haig and Stefan Schnell. They show that original texts from four different endangered languages are remarkably similar with respect to certain properties, such as the ratio of transitive to intransitive clauses, which is suggestive of the fact that monologic narratives, as a text type, have enough commonalities to make cross-language comparison feasible and meaningful. The proposed methodology is powerful enough to discover areas of cross-language variation and test hypotheses explaining this variation. The case study investigating the distribution of pronouns across different syntactic functions demonstrates this.

Documentation work always raises questions about the structure of the language being documented. Five case studies investigating various aspects of language structure are reported in the chapters of Part 2, 'Documenting language structure'. JOHN PETERSON's contribution in Ch. 5, ' "Words" in Kharia—Phonological, morpho-syntactic, and "orphographical" aspects', explores the notion of 'word' in the Munda language Kharia from the phonological and morphosyntactic points of view, showing that there is a class of clitics that attach to a host both in the phonology and the syntax. The author then describes an experiment that reveals the intuitions of native speakers with regard to such elements...


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