Add language documentation to any ethnographic project in six steps

Alexander D King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


All anthropologists should take to heart Dell Hymes' frequent quip: ‘Language is too important to leave to linguists and linguistics is too valuable to ignore’. This century will see the disappearance of hundreds of languages and a significant reduction in the use of thousands of others, at the very least. Documenting endangered ways of speaking (in any language) is part of producing sophisticated and ethically robust anthropology. Most indigenous communities want their knowledge documented and many are enthusiastic about collaborative projects with anthropologists. Producing language documentation has never been easier with the recent proliferation of computer software and inexpensive quality audio equipment. Collaborative anthropology need not eclipse theory-driven anthropology or divert junior scholars from the production of PhD dissertations and journal articles critical for professional advancement. This article provides anthropologists with a six-step programme to add a language documentation element to their current ethnographic research practices. Documentary linguists preach to their colleagues that people speak in a context, and this context needs attention. Anthropologists know that, of course, but they need to be reminded of the importance of form in expression and the documentation of specific, original forms leads to a richer and deeper anthropology. It is also a vital part of ethical research practices, good relations with source communities, and an easy way to make a significant impact now and forever. A small investment in time and money produces anthropology that makes a difference in people's lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-12
Number of pages5
JournalAnthropology Today
Issue number4
Early online date3 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


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