How many hours of recorded speech?

Steffen Haurholm-Larsen shaurholml at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 27 20:49:31 UTC 2012

Dear Lindsay,

You are raising a question that is relevant for most all linguists working
with endangered languages, no matter wether they consider themselves
"documentary linguists" or not. As you are implying, and as is well know to
us all, the work that you are doing on this language right now might be the
last, and in some cases the only record of the language.

Regarding the amount of hours or recordings that is "enough" I think that
there is just no way of answering that - the easy answer would be to say
"as much as possible" withing the limits of your budget and time frame of
the project. However, it will be helpful for you to have a goal to work
towards, so, the practical way of going about setting the limit would be to
first make a small pilot project where you run the whole process from
recording through archiving with all of the steps in between to see how
long it takes you to process, say 10 minutes of conversation. This will
give you some kind of hint as to how long you may expect things to take and
thereby how much you can afford to document. But you don't want to limit
your recordings to what you will be able to transcribe - perhaps the bulk
of your record will just be provided with a "rough transcription" that will
tell the user what is going on in it. So, record as much as you can and
then select the stuff you find the most interesting to transcribe; another
bonus of this approach is that you will likely have different genres to
choose from when you decide what to transcribe and gloss in detail.

In terms of choosing speech genres I think you should go out into the
community and find out how people interact; in other words, let the speech
genres show themselves - this is of course easier said than done, but on
the other hand, you (or somebody) will have to be present in order to
record the speech event anyway. This brings me to my final point - it might
be worth considering providing a number of speakers with solid state
recorders and have them record to whatever extent they and their fellow
community members feel comfortable. This will eliminate, to whatever extent
possible, the influence of you as outsiders on the record. This of course
has its drawbacks because you loose control almost completely of the
recording process and equipment placement, but if you have funds for it and
if speakers like the idea, it certainly couldn't hurt.

Good luck with your project and enjoy your fieldwork experience!

Steffen Haurholm-Larsen
Phd. student - University of Zurich

On Mon, Aug 27, 2012 at 9:39 PM, Lindsay Marean <lmarean at> wrote:

> I'm helping to document a language with few first-language speakers
> living.  We want to record them speaking naturally (and transcribe and
> translate the recordings), and we hope to use this documentation as the
> basis for more language description in the future.
> I'm looking for people's opinions, experiences, and citations - how many
> hours of recorded speech are minimally "enough" to most likely represent
> the grammar of the language?  Are there particular discourse types that we
> should be certain to record, besides narratives and conversations?
> Best regards,
> Lindsay
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Endangered-languages-l mailing list