How many hours of recorded speech? - more context

Lindsay Marean lmarean at BENSAY.ORG
Tue Aug 28 14:31:06 UTC 2012

I'm grateful for the many responses I'm receiving to my questions, which 
I've posted to three different listservs that deal with endangered 
language documentation and revitalization.  In a few days I'll compile 
the responses from all three lists (ILAT, RNLD, and 
ENDANGERED-LANGUAGES) and make them available to others who may be 
interested in reading them.

Meanwhile, although I think the question of "what is sufficient?" is 
broadly relevant to language documentation, I'd like to provide a little 
more information about my own situation.

I have an MA in linguistics, a few years of fieldwork experience, and 
some additional training in language documentation.  I'm working on my 
own heritage language, a North American indigenous language that I've 
been studying for 13 years.  Our few remaining fluent speakers are in 
high demand as teachers and consultants for summer language camps, 
master-apprentice programs, community and distance language classes, and 
research and documentation projects.  Recently we have decided to make 
documentation of natural speech one of our priorities.  However, "as 
much as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can" seems too 
naive an approach for us to take, because our documentation time comes 
at the expense of other projects that are also important.  We also don't 
want to leave our language underdocumented by neglecting a particular 
area of language use or by simply not recording enough.

If you write a descriptive grammar or compile a dictionary, there's a 
point where you can say that you are "finished enough" to publish (of 
course there will be aspects of the grammar the you didn't touch on or 
fully account for, and your dictionary will be missing lots of words) 
and move on to a new project.  We won't stop recording our elders once 
our documentation project is over, but we'd like an idea of when we can 
consider our collection "big enough" to shift our focus to other priorities.

Again, thank you for your many and carefully considered responses to my 


On 8/27/12 12:39 PM, Lindsay Marean 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

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