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A Scalable Method for Preserving Oral Literature from Small Languages

By Steven Bird


Abstract. Can the speakers of small languages, which may be remote, unwritten, and endangered, be trained to create an archival record of their oral literature, with only limited external support? This paper describes the model of “Basic Oral Language Documentation”, as adapted for use in remote village locations, far from digital archives but close to endangered languages and cultures. Speakers of a small Papuan language were trained and observed during a six week period. Linguistic performances were collected using digital voice recorders. Careful speech versions of selected items, together with spontaneous oral translations into a language of wider communication, were also recorded and curated. A smaller selection was transcribed. This paper describes the method, and shows how it is able to address linguistic, technological and sociological obstacles, and how it can be used to collect a sizeable corpus. We conclude that Basic Oral Language Documentation is a promising technique for expediting the task of preserving endangered linguistic heritage.

Year: 2011
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