publishing fieldwork data

Peter Austin pa2 at SOAS.AC.UK
Wed Apr 18 10:16:49 UTC 2007

I disagree with David Gil's suggestion that a "collection of  
transcribed texts constitutes a set of complete objects" and is therefore different from a database which is constantly changing.

>From my experience, and that of other researchers I have spoken to, understanding/analysis of a given "text" (in the sense of inscription of a particular linguistic performance) evolves over time and is not "fixed" at any point, not even the point where it is "published" (in whatever version). Secondly, textual annotation (of which the 'traditional' interlinear format is but one particular type) is hypertextual and, these days, multimedia in nature - this is hardly a new insight - see for a discussion of the hypertextual nature of annotation in the Talmudic tradition. Developments in Web 2.0 publishing also mean that multiple annotations of texts by multiple (distributed) contributors is now possible.

There are two excellent papers dealing with these topics that will be coming out in "Language Documentation and Description Vol 4" to be published at SOAS later this month:

Nick Evans and Hans-J├╝rgen Sasse 'Searching for meaning in the Library of Babel: field semantics and problems of digital archiving'

Anthony C. Woodbury 'On thick translation in linguistic documentation'

Both papers emphasise the ongoing, contingent, interpretive, hermeneutical quality of the documentation of languages, especially meaning in texts.

Peter K. Austin

-----Original Message-----
From: David Gil <gil at EVA.MPG.DE>
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 2007 10:35:14 +0200
Subject: Re: publishing fieldwork data

Martin Haspelmath wrote:

> Similarly, typologists don't yet have an e-journal for typological
> databases. I find the reason for this easier to identify: A typological
> database is a much less traditional object of publication than an
> annotated text, so there are no clear models in traditional publication
> practice, and an e-journal for typological databases would have to
> start from scratch in many way.

I think there's another more obvious reason.  One's collection of  
transcribed texts constitutes a set of complete objects, each of which  
could (if there were a willing publisher) stand alone as an electronic  
or hardcopy publication.  Barring the discovery and correction of  
errata, once the text is transcribed, that's it, it's done.  In  
contrast, one's collection of typological databases represents a set  
of ongoing projects, which, hopefully, one would keep on adding to  
indefinitely.  Obviously, this is inconsistent with hardcopy  
publication, but it also poses problems with respect to electronic  
publication, in that such a publication would invariably constitute a  
snapshot, taken at a more or less random point in time, of work in  


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Prof Peter K. Austin
Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics
Director, Endangered Languages Academic Program
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom


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