Collaborative Documentation Projects

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The E-MELD School of Best Practices advises field linguists, community members, archivists, and other interested parties in the recommendations for best practices in digital language documentation. In the projects section of the Case Studies, we briefly present successful language documentation projects that produce archival quality data and give back to the community. If you know of a comparable project, please leave a synopsis and a link to any relevant materials as a comment on this page so that others may access the information as well.

Featured projects

University of Hawai'i at Mānoa Language Documentation Center

The Language Documentation Project, created in spring of 2004, engenders a collaborative effort between graduate students and community members. In the project, graduate students at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa's Linguistics Department instruct volunteer community members in language documentation techniques. The community members design a language documentation project to be presented on the project website.

Language Documentation Center Guidelines [pdf]

Language Documentation Center Lesson [ppt]

Language Documentation Center Website

Dena'ina Archiving, Training and Access (DATA)

The DATA project is a collaborative project between the Alaskan Native Language Center (ANLC) at the University of Alaska and the LINGUIST List program at Eastern Michigan University. Two graduate students from Eastern Michigan University travel to Alaska to collect archival quality data and to train community members in language documentation. Through this project, community members learn to document their own language, and Dena'ina language materials are made more easily accessible online.

Dena'ina Language Institute Course Syllabus [pdf]

Dena'ina Language Institute Course Sketch [pdf]

Dena'ina Case Study

Alaskan Native Language Center Website

Other collaborative projects (collected by the Linguistic Society of America)

Salar-Monguor Project - Arienne Dwyer

(Language Documentation; Archive; Native-Speaker Managed; Northern Tibet)

The Salar-Monguor Project, sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, is a cooperative language documentation project that is fully managed by native speakers, who also conduct the bulk of the documentatation and initial media capture. Materials are archived in northern Tibet, Kansas, and the Netherlands.

Arienne Dwyer

Documentation of an Endangered Language in Azad Kashmir (Pakistani administered Kashmir) - Khawaja A Rehman

(Language Description; Language Shift; Collaboration Between Linguists; Language of Kundal Shahi)

Kundal Shahi is a village that is located in the Neelam valley, Azad Kashmir (Pakistan administered Kashmir) at an elevation of approximately 1,350 meters above sea level, at the point where the Jagran Nallah joins the Neelam River (Kishanganga). The Gazetteer of Kashmir (Bates 1873:174) lists its geographical location as lat. 34º33' N., long. 73º53' E. The place name shown in the Gazetteer is Darral; the location corresponds to a mohalla of present day Kundal Shahi that is called Dullar. The settlements belonging to Kundal Shahi are found on both sides of Jagran Nallah, at a few minutes walking distance from the Neelam Valley highway. The distance from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir , to Kundal Shahi is about 74 kilometers by road. My village, Khawaja Seri, is about 45 kilometers from Kundal Shahi. The tribe living in the village called Qureshi speaks a distinct language "Kundal Shahi" ; however, they share the village with Hindko speakers.

The language had not been documented before our first publication "A First look at the language of Kundal shahi in Azad Kashmir" ( 2005). I started working on the Language on my own in April 2002. Later on through the services of a Pakistani Linguist Dr. Tariq Rahman, I was introduced to Dr. Joan Baart , a Dutch linguist with SIL international. Dr. Joan Baart had been working on several Pakistani Languages for many years. By working together, the first document on the language was produced.

The Qureshi community of Kundal Shahi is shifting to Hindko, a predominant language of Neelam Valley . This language shift is very interesting because our preliminary research reveals that the community kept the language for centuries and did not shift to any other language. During the last forty years, however, the speakers have been shifting to Hindko very rapidly (Rehman and Baart 2005). The future of the language is very much in question. Here the question arises why and how this small community kept their language intact even though they were surrounded by a much larger group of Hindko speakers, and why this is now changing. Unlike the Qureshi community, other minority groups in the region, which were larger and more influential than this tribe, lost their languages.

This is a unique community that has remained unknown to anthropologists and linguists until only recently. If detailed study and documentation is not carried out immediately, this rich cultural heritage may be lost within a few years I am working on the language and has recorded some data. My aim is to prepare a grammar and also determine the causes of the language shift. The both things may be helpful in arresting the speedy language shift. I am working closely with the community and I have noticed that the group has very positive attitude towards their language but there are many other factors at work, which are causing the shift. The community really wants their language to be preserved.

Khawaja A Rehman, Kashmir

Nahuatl of Guerrero, Mexico - Dustin De Felice

(Initial Language Description; Linguist-Informant Model; Language Renewal)

Dustin De Felice, an M.A. student at NEIU, did field work with a native speaker of the Nahuatl language spoken in San Agustin Oapan, Guerrero, Mexico. He has recorded a number of pieces of language and put together a brief language guide with examples of written and spoken language. He is currently writing his M.A. thesis entitled "Living an Endangered Language: Learning Nahuatl and its Vocabulary in Modern-day Mexico." He used my fieldwork experience in San Agustin Oapan as well as fieldwork I did this summer in Tepexcitla, Veracruz, Mexico. De Felice has prepared a CD with examples of the language and a brief language guide with examples of written and spoken language. He would be pleased to provide additional information to those interested in his project.

Dustin De Felice

Irish Language - Brian Ó Curnáin bcurnain(at)

(Language Description; Language Shift; Long-term Study of Language in Decline; Internet Dissemination)

Brian Ó Curnáin works on the description of Irish in Counties Galway and Mayo in Connacht. His forthcoming monograph describes 'The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, Co. Galway'. He has worked with and recorded hundreds of the last traditional and many younger nontraditional speakers, investigating as wide a range as possible of change and variation. He reports that over the last twenty years the final linguistic tip is taking place and Irish is undoubtedly a dying language.

Brian Ó Curnáin,
10 Bóthar Burlington,
Scoil an Léinn Cheiltigh,
Institiúid Ard-Léinn Bhaile Átha Cliath,
Baile Átha Cliath 10, Éire.

Languages/Groups: Alabama and Elwha Klallam Tribe - Timothy Montler

(Collaboration as Co-Author with Native Speaker; Collaboration among Linguists; Long-running Linguist/Native Speaker Collaboration; Linguist-Tribe Collaboration; Language Renewal)

Timothy Motler has engaged in two kinds of collaboration with native speakers in the description and documentation of their languages.

First, as co-author: He and fellow linguist Heather Hardy co-authored the Alabama Dictionary with Cora Sylestine, a native speaker of the language.

Second, in a collaboration somewhere between co-authorship and a field linguist/informant relationship, Motler has worked 15 years with the Elwha Klallam tribe collecting data and creating all sorts of language learning and teaching materials. He recently sent a fairly detailed description of this work to the UNESCO Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation.

Tim Montler

Emai Language - Ron Schaefer

(Collaboration with Native-speaker Professionals; Long-term Collaboration; Languge Renewal; Emai (Edoid group of Benue-Congo family and Niger-Congo phyla))

Ron Schaefer has worked in collaboration with Professor Francis Egbokhare of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, for past 20 years or so. Egbokhare is a native speaker of the Emai language of southern Nigeria. Emai is in the Edoid group of the Benue-Congo family and the Niger-Congo phyla.

The two have completed a two-volume collection of texts, their dictionary is with Mouton de Gruyter, and they have drafted 12 chapters for their Emai grammar, with a few final chapters dealing with verb structure being revised.

Over the past few years they have initiated fieldwork and data collection with regard to the largely undocumented Northern Edoid languages. They are working in concert with Demola Lewis, a doctoral student at The University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and community members seeking to preserve their village vernaculars.

Ron Schaefer
Department of English
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Edwardsville, IL 62026-1431

Mohave (Yuman) and Chemehvi (Numic, Southern Paiute) Projects - Susan Penfield

(Collaboration of University of Arizona team with native speakers of Mohave (Yuman) and Chemehuevi (Numic, Southern Paiute); Balanced Collaboration; Language Documentation; Language Renewal)

Susan Penfield and others from the University of Arizona are collaborating with native speakers of Mohave (a Yuman language) and Chemehuevi (a Numic language, Southern Paiute) who live on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in western Arizona. The University of Arizona team (Penfield, a field linguist, Ben Tucker, ABD in phonology, and Angelina Chtareva, ABD in syntax and doing her dissertation on Chemehuevi) are doing collaborative work and training four core people (2 Mohave and 2 Chemehuevi), who will then train others. This work is a balanced collaboration in the sense that the UA folks have accepted a range of responsibilities, namely to train in data collection and descriptive linguistics, and the tribal group has accepted responsibility for creating a model for communities to use as a guide for issues regarding archiving of materials, electronic or otherwise, and for training other tribal members.

Susan Penfield
Department of English/Linguistics/Second Language
Acquisition and Teaching Program
American Indian Language Development Institute
Phone for messages: (520) 621-1836

Mani Documentation Project - G. Tucker Childs

(Mani is a Bullom language of the Southern Branch of the Atlantic Group of Niger-Congo)

(Language Documentation; Collaboration with Native-Speaker Professional; Collaboration with Local Institutions; Language Renewal)

G. Tucker Childs sent in the following description of a project in West Africa with speakers of the Mani language. The project will run more than two years; the following is based on the just completed first year. He invites those who want more information to write him.

The Mani Documentation Project (MDP) will produce vital records of the dying language Mani spoken in the Samou/Samu region of Guinea (Conakry) and Sierra Leone. Mani is one of the Bullom languages belonging to the Southern Branch of the Atlantic Group of Niger-Congo. The MDP is supported by an award to Tucker Childs at Portland State University (Portland, OR) from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project (HRELP) at SOAS, University of London.

In Guinea the MDP is affiliated with the Centre d'Etude des Langues Guinéennes (CELG) at the University of Conakry, and is physically based in Caton, Guinea. The University established CELG in 1996 with team member Professor Mamadou Camara at its head specifically to perform linguistic research on minority languages. The project also has a satellite research site in Moribaya, Sierra Leone. Within Sierra Leone cooperation has begun with researchers at Fourah Bay College, Najala State College, and with the national program to develop the indigenous languages of Sierra Leone administered by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports and sponsored by a number of foreign donors.

With regard to MDP personnel, Prof. Camara from CELG is the Chef de Mission and Childs is the head of research. Camara is an expert on Malinké (Camara 1999) and the other languages of Guinea, as well as on the French spoken in Guinea. Childs has worked on other Atlantic languages, particularly on closely related Kisi (Childs 1995, Childs 2000). Other members of the MDP team are research assistants Marta Piqueras from the Universitat AutÒnoma de Barcelona (Spain) and Foday JD Camara from St. Joseph's Elementary School in Kiampudie, Sierra Leone. In addition, over seventy-five speakers of Mani have participated in the project thus far.

The project's output will be archived on the national level at CELG at the University of Conakry and at a comparable site in Sierra Leone. At the local level, materials will be kept at the proposed education center described below and at a similar center in Moribaya. Additionally, all materials will be archived at Portland State University and at the University of London following the stipulated HRELP guidelines. There will also be scholarly articles, as well as literacy materials similar to ones developed by CELG for other minority languages. As part of the documentation project there are recordings of everyday activities as well as ritual events, audiovisually where possible; all of these have been previewed with native speakers. These materials will contribute crucially to the revitalization effort.

With the assistance of native speakers, Camara plans on continuing the project in Guinea with a Centre d'encadrement for pre-school-aged children during the day using the project's resources. In the evening the Center will be available to adult members of the community. Piqueras is planning her thesis at the University of California (Berkeley) on the sociolinguistics of language shift and language death in the Samu region of Sierra Leone, and will participate in the language resuscitation effort in Sierra Leone.

References 1. Camara, Mamadou. 1999. Parlons malinké. Paris: Harmattan.
2.Childs, G. Tucker. 1995. A Grammar of Kisi: A Southern Atlantic Language. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
3. ____. 2000. A Dictionary of the Kisi Language. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.

G. Tucker Childs, Ph.D.
Applied Linguistics
Portland State University
Portland, Oregon

Siberian Turkic languages - Marcel Erdal

(Collaboration between Universities; Long-term Collaboration; Collaboration between Speakers and Professionals; Scholarships to Native Speakers for Pre- and Post-graduate Study)

Frankfurt Turcology and the Institute for Siberian Languages and Cultures at Novosibirsk National University (Akademgorodok) have been cooperating for some years, in projects financed by the European Union or the German Research Foundation, for the documentation of Siberian Turkic languages. Researchers, Ph.D. students, etc., who are speakers of these languages / dialects (most of them endangered), are selected from among Siberian village youth by a process they call an Olympiad, the criterion being that the ones who know their language and oral culture best are chosen. They then study Turcological linguistics in Novosbirsk. Several already possessing PhDs have come to Germany with 1-year fellowships given by the DAAD.

Marcel Erdal,
Professor für Turkologie,
Institut für Orientalische und Ostasiatische Philologien,
Fachbereich 9
Postfach 11 19 32,
D-60054 Frankfurt a.M., Germany.
Tel. +49-69-79 82 28 58
Fax +49-69-79 82 49 74

Creek (Muskogee) Language of Eastern Oklahoma - Jack Martin

(Native Speaker-Linguist Collaboration; Creek (Muskogee) Language of Eastern Oklahoma; Long -Term Collaboration; Language Description; Language Renewal; Internet Dissemination)

Margaret Mauldin and Jack Martin ( have collaborated for 14 years on the Creek (Muskogee) language of eastern Oklahoma. Margaret Mauldin is a native speaker of Creek, and Jack Martin is a linguist. Through their work together, Mauldin learned about Creek grammar and became a Creek instructor at the University of Oklahoma. Her daughter Gloria McCarty later joined her so that she could learn the language.

Margaret's half-sister Juanita McGirt also participates. Mauldin's and Martin's collaboration has so far resulted in a dictionary (A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, U. of Nebraska Press, 2000) and a collection of folktales with recordings on DVD (Totkv Mocvse/New Fire, U. of Oklahoma Press, 2004). Martin has a manuscript grammar in preparation, and they are currently editing and translating a large collection of Creek texts by Mary R. Haas and James Hill. They hope someday to prepare pedagogical materials and to do more teacher training. Creek is spoken in 11 counties in Oklahoma, by a portion of Seminoles in Florida, and formerly in Alabama and Georgia. As a result, Martin and Mauldin have used the internet to disseminate some of their research (

Jack B. Martin

Eastern Band Cherokee - Heidi M. Altman

(Linguist-Tribe Collaboration; Collaboration between Academics and Speakers; Language Renewal; Planned Training of Speakers as Language Documenters; Planned Language Description)

Heidi Altman is a linguistic anthropologist currently working with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on language revitalization projects. They have made a number of attempts to launch various projects over the past ten to fifteen years, but the political and economic climates for language revitalization have not been favorable. Recently, however, those conditions have improved, and in 2002 the tribe formed their own language revitalization committee Tsalagi Aniwoni (Everyone speaks Cherokee), and began new projects in earnest. Probably the most successful program at this point is the infant immersion program. Babies from birth to six months enter the immersion daycare program and the results are starting to manifest themselves as the first set of babies that is beginning to speak -- in Cherokee. This is the first group of Cherokee first language speakers in probably over thirty years. The tribe has also mounted the first comprehensive language survey in the community to be completed later this year. The survey will provide an accurate picture of the endangered status of the language with a statistical estimate of the number of remaining speakers.

Altman conducted her dissertation fieldwork in the North Carolina Cherokee community (Cherokee Fishing forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press) and had worked in the community off and on for several years. Upon the formation of Tsalagi Aniwoni, the Cherokee Studies program at the local university, Western Carolina University, invited her to coordinate their language revitalization efforts with those of the tribe. Since late 2004 early 2005, she has been consulting for both groups to produce a comprehensive language revitalization plan. Last May, they presented a community language symposium with invited speakers and linguists and had over two hundred people in attendance.

They just filed our NSF application for a three-year program to train speaker-linguists to widely document their woefully under-documented language.

This project will foster the collaboration between academics and speakers and produce a large corpus of everyday language as well as a morphological database. At this point Cherokee is in a precarious position because although there are still 300-800 speakers remaining - a situation which provides the possibility for documenting such genres as conversational language - in fact, nothing of that sort exists at this point. So unless they act now the language may be lost. In the project they have proposed, documentation will function as a vehicle for revitalization by bringing these issues to the fore and by creating opportunities for speakers to congregate and speak the language.

Cherokee is the only Southern Iroquoian language; it has speakers of various dialects in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas and elsewhere. It is a polysynthetic language, with as yet under-analyzed tone and stress patterns that vary by dialect. Cherokee has a rich written tradition resulting from its status as the only North American language with an indigenously invented writing system, the Cherokee syllabary.

Heidi M. Altman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Georgia Southern University
Box 8051
Statesboro, GA 30460
(912) 681-5723

Isthmus Zapotec and Petapa Zapotec (Oaxaca, Mexico); Shipibo and Cashinaua, Peru) - Paul W. Kilpatrick

(Linguistic Description ; Planned Collaboration between Institutions - Undergraduate University Students, US and Mexico)

Paul Kilpatrick from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pa, wrote that he has been collecting language samples for a couple decades, off and on. He has a Swadish word list on spectogram of Isthmus Zapotec and some other notes and recordings of Petapa Zapotec (Oaxaca, Mexico). He also has some recordings of simultaneous speech (his main interest) from Shipibo and Cashinaua, on the Ucayali in eastern Peru.

Kilpatrick is in the early stages of a proposal that would involve undergrad linguistics students at Geneva with those at a university in Oaxaca to begin language salvage work there with a variety of at risk languages.

Dr. Paul W. Kilpatrick
Geneva College
Beaver Falls, PA 15010 USA
24-847-6820 FAX

Hidatsa and Mandan (Siouan) - John P. Boyle

(Collaboration between Linguist and Native Speakers; Language Description; Language Documentation; Language Preservation and Revitalization)

John P. Boyle is currently working with Hidatsa and Mandan (Siouan) on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. His work on Mandan is just documentation with Edwin Benson the last speaker of Mandan. His work on Hidatsa includes documentation, preservation and revitalization. He works with teachers in Mandare (both High school and elementary school). They are compiling a new updated word list, a book of verbal paradigms, and a sketch for high school students. The last will include exercises. Over the summer they have agreed on a standardized alphabet for writing the language. There are about 75 good speakers of Hidatsa currently on the reservation.

John P. Boyle
Department of Linguistics
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL 60637

Golden Lake Algonquin (dialect of Ojibwe/Algonquin group of Algonquian) - George Aubrin

(Linguist-Native Speaker Collaboration; Salvage Linguistics/Ethnography; Use of Archived Materials by Tribe; Tribe-initiated Language Renewal)

From 1978 through about 1989, George Aubin spent about two weeks each summer, as well as one ten-day winter stay, in Golden Lake, Ontario, under the aegis of Les Musées Nationaux du Canada, from which he received several grants There he did fieldwork on Golden Lake Algonquin (a dialect in the Ojibwe/Algonquin group of Algonquian). The work was considered 'urgent ethnology' by the 'Musées Nationaux' because there were only a few speakers left at the time, all of whom were elderly.

While he was there, there was some interest in language revitalization. A woman from Maniwaki, who was one of his consultants and a speaker of the rather closely related dialect of Maniwaki Algonquin on which he also did a little work, worked on teaching some Algonquin to younger children. Although he has not been back in several years, he reports that it is his impression that the Golden Lake group more recently has engaged in additional teaching and community efforts relative to their language. At one point a few years ago, he was contacted by one of the tribal members who was involved in some of these activities who wanted to be able to copy at least some of the Golden Lake materials he had collected. Although he was unaware of it, one of the archivists at the 'Musées Nationaux' had restricted access to these materials, a situation he was able to rectify rather quickly. So, although he never worked directly with anyone at Golden Lake with a view toward developing teaching materials, he thinks some of the results of his 1978-1989 work may have been used in their revitalization efforts.

Every one of the Golden Lake consultants Aubin worked with is now deceased, and, to the best of his knowledge, there are no longer any native speakers of this dialect.

George F. Aubin
Professor, French and Linguistics
Assumption College
500 Salisbury Street
Worcester, Massachusetts 01609-1296

Language Renewal within a Health Research NGO - N. Louanna Furbee

(Tojolabal Maya, Collaboration between Linguist and Native Speakers; Native-speaker-Initiated Projects; Collaboration between Linguist and Health Researchers)

A health research NGO in Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico (Centro de Investigaciones en Salud de Comitán, A.C. - CISC) has studied health on the southern frontier of Mexico for the past 15 years. As a part of its efforts, it has conducted and published work on Tojolabal communities and their language. CISC has built the major repository of materials on Tojolabal language and ethnography, in addition to health studies. It has published literary works (stories, poetry, life histories) in bilingual editions, produced an instructional booklet on Tojolabal, and engaged in Tojolabal-conducted ethnographic study, all in an effort to understand better the situation of the major indigenous population in their region of concern.

Recently, Furbee cooperated in a Tojolabal-initiated study of bilingual interviews. The Tojolabal team of bilingual interviewers had the impression that the health study interviews they conducted in Tojolabal with Tojolabal bilinguals were better than those conducted in Spanish. Furbee designed a project to test their hypothesis (a balanced Greco-Latin square design that controlled for language and sex of the interviewer and interviewee). The results supported the hypothesis, Tojolabal interviews were better, but there were not a lot better. When the effect of prior acquaintance between interviewer and interviewee were removed, the difference was not significant. These findings led to a second hypothesis, still to be tested, that perhaps interviews between ethnic Tojolabales in Spanish would give more and higher quality information than the same interviews conducted with bilingual Tojolabales by non-Tojolabal Spanish speakers.

CISC and Furbee plan a major language documentation project for this endangered Mayan language.

N. Louanna Furbee
Department of Anthropology
107 Swallow Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211 USA
louanna100(at)yahoo(dot)com, furbeel(at)missouri(dot)edu

Ulwa Language, Karawala, Nicaragua - Andrew Koontz-Garboden

(Linguists-Native Speakers Collaboration; Linguist-Community Collaboration; Language Documentation; Revitalization; Ulwa)

Andrew Koontz-Garboden writes that he and Tom Green are involved in language documentation and revitalization projects with speakers of Ulwa (Misumalpan, 400 speakers, endangered) in Karawala, Nicaragua. Work with the local committee for the preservation of the Ulwa language is primarly on a dictionary and grammar (as well as children's books and other materials). I'm also writing my PhD thesis on Ulwa verb semantics.

Andrew Koontz-Garboden
Department of Linguistics
Stanford University
Palo Alto, CA

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