Language documentation

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Linguistic theories direct scientific inquiry. They propose testable inventories of universal categories, properties, relations, and interactions that may constitute a language; for a particular language, they define sub-inventories of these that are legitimate expressions of the general design. To say that the emerging field of language documentation has a “theory” is premature, as evidenced by current definitions that stress the conduct of documentation as much as its contents. Instead of theory-building, practitioners often urge exemplary ethical and best practices. Importantly practice-first approaches improve collaborations between speakers and investigators, encourage community participation, create a genuine indigenous linguistics, and provide paths for constructing a true linguistic documentation theory. This chapter offers examples of work within practice-based orientations and its relevance for theory-building.


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