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Sharma, Narayan P., SOAS, University of London, UK,

The audio-visual documentation of endangered language provides multi-dimensional data which can effect outcomes of research such as understanding the complexities of linguistic diversity and transmitting memory and knowledge. Audio-visual documentation also allows for observing the unique cultural heritage embedded in the culture, and also for understanding the environmental, multilingual and socio-cultural context of the speech community.

This study investigates how the digital audio-video capturing can record several types of information simultaneously and how it has become a successful method for not only documenting the language but also observing the cultural uniqueness.

Linguists such as Daniel L. Everett (2001) prefers monolingual field method for studying the languages, but others like George Cowan (1975) claims that the monolingual approach is a serious barrier to maintaining the good-will of the community members. A common obstacle that linguists face needs to understand the lingua franca, which is essential for practical and administrative purposes of studying a language (Newman & Ratliff 2001). As most of the speakers in this study are multilingual, the language of elicitation and the medium of interview are also influenced by this factor and multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon among Pumas. The medium of conducting interview and the elicitation for this study are in a ‘lingua franca’, Nepali language. Interviewees in the study speak Nepali as a second or first language. The findings reveal that monolingual research is only contextual and it is not sufficient to study endangered languages.

In 2010 field research was conducted in Nepal to study the ‘Morpho-syntax of Puma, which is an endangered language. During eight months in the field site, a total of 45 informants both male and female were selected and interviewed from all Puma speaking Village Development Committees. A total hour of audio and video recording was 08:35:03 in the natural settings. The recorded corpus is divided into 83 different sessions and all of them have been transcribed in Puma, mostly by native speakers and then translated into Nepali, and English by the researcher. The software/ digital tools and major recording equipments used in this work are as follows:

(a) Software

  • Transcriber (for transcription from audio and/or video data) .trs file
  • Toolbox (for glossing/segmenting, adding sound files into texts and creating a dictionary) .txt file
  • ELAN (for linking audio-visual data with texts; video annotation) .eaf
  • Handbrake to convert original video format (MTS/ AVCHD) into MP4
  • Kigo Video converter to convert original video format (MTS/ AVCHD) into MP4

(b) Recording equipments

  • Zoom-4Hn Recorder for audio recording
  • Canon Legaria HF S200 for video recording
  • Audio-Technica AT8022 stereo microphone
  • Audio Technica Pro 70 Lavalier
  • Rod NTG2 microphone
  • Canon Powershot Digital Camera

WAV, MP4 and text files of the data have been created and can be archived and disseminated for use. In the case of many endangered languages, such materials are essential for developing pedagogical materials in mother tongue education and language revitalization. Csató and Nathan (2003) emphasize that whereas linguists working in the community earlier contributed through traditional academic publishing, linguists in recent years create multimedia resources to highlight their relationships with the community.

This paper attempts to explore fundamental questions of direct elicitation.

Based on complex verbal morphology and paradigms in Puma, without direct elicitation, it is not possible to gather authentic data on verbal paradigms, deixis, compound verbs and among others. Identifying morphemes and their multiple usages are challenging in the Puma language. Using questionnaires and basic sentences are still the most widely and commonly used method for linguistic research. Dixon (2010) states that the only way to understand the grammatical structure of a language is to analyse recorded texts but not elicited sentences. The findings in the study pose that elicited sentences are quite essential and significant especially for eliciting Puma verb paradigms and figuring out deictic categories. We can never neglect direct elicitation, and the established questionnaires and basic sentences (i.e Dahls’ 1985 questionnaire) can be recorded in Puma.

The recording of speech from different genres such as narratives, conversations, myths and stories, life histories, songs, poetry and daily accounts is the core of linguistic fieldwork. Both recording of text and direct elicitation are essential tools that have their own variety of uses. Since none of them are sufficient for all linguistic analysis, both of them should not be overlooked (Mithun 2001). The text collection, its transcription and translation, and glossing are important tools for understanding and learning languages.

Metadata is the additional but essential information needed for archiving and managing language documentation and can be referred to as meta-documentation, which includes information about the identity of stakeholders, the attitudes of language contributors and the methodology (Austin 2010; Nathan 2010). The linked-metadata should be kept and all files name such as text file, WAV file, MP4 file, ELAN file and transcriber file must be the same otherwise there would be great problem not only for future researchers but also for archiving.

Linguists cannot avoid cultural aspects of speakers while studying their language, as culture is an integral part of the language community. The study shows evidence that certain unique genres of ritual speech, like the hopmacham, a chant praising the forces of creation during marriages (CPDP 2004-2008), are still well-known and in practice in the Puma community while it has already disappeared in other neighboring ethnic groups. In this study hopmacham was initially recorded like other texts but its cultural heritage and uniqueness was unknown until it was glossed and translated into Nepali. The recordings allowed for deeper analysis of culture in the community.

Integrating linguistic and cultural resources is a crucial endeavour for documentary linguistics. The audio-visual data include many different types of information which can record several types of information simultaneously such as linguistic and cultural diversity, ethnography of speaking traditions of both everyday and ritual language, socio-cultural aspects of the community such as rites and rituals. It also captures some anthropological considerations such as religion, settlement, clans, emigration, and the socio-linguistic aspects, and most importantly videos and photographs of informants and local features. Thus, the analysis of the study makes clear that digital audio-video method is the best method for documenting endangered language and integrating linguistic and cultural data for archive, dissemination, and mobilization in the humanities.


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