How many hours of recorded speech? - more context

Graziano Sava' grsava at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 28 16:35:42 UTC 2012

Dear Lindsay,

I think that it is your decision to fix the point in which you did enough
description. Each of us have different opinion on this point. Talking about
the first grammatical description of a language, there are 250-pages
grammars with the title "A grammar of X" and there are 500-pages
descriptive works with the title "Towards a grammar of X" or "A grammar of
X part 1: phonology and morphology".

May be in order to have your own idea of what is enough you should consult
several kinds of grammar, short and long, more complete and less complete.
It is also important to get information on how much fieldwork the
researcher has done and how long it took to finish and publish the grammar.

Congratulations for your work and good luck!


2012/8/28 Lindsay Marean <lmarean at>

> 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
> questions!
> Lindsay
> 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

Graziano SavĂ  - PhD Leiden (African Languages and Linguistics)

Postdoc DoBeS-Volkswagenstiftung

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