Transcription and Elicitation Priorities
Documentary methodology is outside the domain of E-MELD. However, one working group on annotation during the E-MELD Workshop 2003 consisted of a number of prominent field linguists who made suggestions about priorities in the field. We present the suggestions here for your perusal.
The first priority in language documentation is translation. The second priority is transcription. From a transcription, linguists can make inferences about language structure that may lead to other forms of annotation, and eventually to full documentation.
Transcription and elicitation priorities differ from situation to situation and often are dependent on the amount of time allotted. The following is a list of recommended language documentation priorities collected from E-MELD Advisors Johanna Nichols, Baden Hughes, Jeff Good and Heidi Johnson:
Overarching requirement: Work out the phoneme system and make sure to get an accurate transcription, both phonetic and phonemic. Also, if at all possible, get at least one audio recording.
- A standard list of core vocabulary appropriate to the national or regional setting (e.g. the Swadesh list), especially full paradigms of all the forms of personal pronouns.
- Some text material; as much as the speakers can provide, starting with whatever they consider most important for preserving some record of the culture.
- Fully interlinearized examples designed to show how the essential morphosyntax works: intransitive, transitive, ditransitive, and other clauses; verbs with agent, patient, and experiencer subjects; possessive noun phrases with a range of possessed nouns (kin terms, body parts, things very unlikely to be inalienables) and both pronoun and noun possessors; constructions with numerals; noun phrases with attributive adjectives. All examples should use both noun and pronoun arguments.
- Essential verbal lexical information: Motion clauses including manner and path ('the bottle floated into the cave', 'the bat flew out of the cave', etc.); Verb pairs that will reveal some of the basic valence-related derivational devices ('sit' and 'seat, have sit', 'see' and 'show', 'learn' or 'know' and 'teach', 'burn = catch fire' and 'burn = set afire', etc.; 'laugh' and 'laugh at', 'cut' and 'cut with knife', and others likely to elicit applicatives if they exist).
- Examples likely to reveal relativization, complementation, adverbial subordination, coordination, cosubordination, serialization.
- Try to transcribe and translate at least one relatively long text that is likely to have most of the forms of the grammar in it. A historical or personal narrative, 45-60 minutes long, is a likely suspect. This way, there's at least a basis for someone else in the future to be able to do the rest of them.