Documenting and Revitalizing Austronesian Languages (2007)

front cover

Language Documentation & Conservation Special Publication No. 1
is now available online

University of Hawai‘i Press
ISBN 978-0-8248-3309-1

Documenting and Revitalizing Austronesian Languages

edited by D. Victoria Rau and Margaret Florey

Front cover
Front matter
Table of contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: Documenting and revitalizing Austronesian languages
Margaret Florey

This chapter provides an overview of the issues and themes which emerge throughout this book. It begins with a brief description of language revitalization activities which are taking place in the Pazeh, Kahabu and Thao aboriginal communities in the mountains and plains of Taiwan. The activities of elders in these communities exemplify the growth of language activism. These case studies lead to a discussion of changes in the field of linguistics and the alliances which are being built between linguists and community language activists. The 11 chapters in the book are then reviewed within the key themes of international capacity building initiatives, documentation and revitalization activities, and computational methods and tools for language documentation.


Chapter 2. The language documentation and conservation initiative at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Kenneth L. Rehg

Since its inception in 1963, the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) has had a special focus on Austronesian and Asian languages. It has supported and encouraged fieldwork on these languages, and it has played a major role in the development of vernacular language education programs in Micronesia and elsewhere. In 2003, the department renewed and intensified its commitment to such work through what I shall refer to in this chapter as the Language Documentation and Conservation Initiative (LDCI). The LDCI has three major objectives. The first is to provide high- quality training to graduate students who wish to undertake the essential task of documenting the many underdocumented and endangered languages of Asia and the Pacific. The second is to promote collaborative research efforts among linguists, native speakers of endangered and underdocumented languages, and other interested parties. The third is to facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas among all those working in this field. In this chapter, I discuss each of these three objectives and the activities being conducted at UHM in support of them.

Chapter 3. Training for language documentation: Experiences at the School of Oriental and African Studies
Peter K. Austin

Since 2003 the Endangered Languages Project at SOAS has been involved in various types of training for documentation of endangered languages, ranging from one-day workshops through to MA and PhD post-graduate degree programmes. The training events have been attended by specialists, research grantees, students, and members of the general public, and have covered a wide range of topics and involved delivery in a range of contexts and delivery modes, including hands-on practical sessions and e-learning in the Blackboard framework. We have covered both theory and practice of language documentation and endangered language support, including the development of multimedia and curriculum materials for language teaching, some of it experimental and, we think, quite innovative.

In this chapter I discuss some of our experiences in developing and running these training workshops and courses, reporting on the models, and successes (and failures) over the past three and a half years. My goal is to share our accumulated knowledge and experience with others with similar interests, and in doing so to advance our understanding of the possibilities for language documentation training.

Chapter 4. SIL International and endangered Austronesian languages
J. Stephen Quakenbush

SIL International has been partnering with Austronesian language communities in language development for over fifty years. This chapter briefly reviews that history, situates it in the current environment of international concern for the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages, and looks at ways in which SIL might assist endangered Austronesian language communities of today. Two aspects of language development are considered—one more “academic” in nature, focusing on products primarily of interest to linguists and other researchers; the other more “development” in nature, focusing on language resources and competencies of greater interest and relevance to language communities. The chapter summarizes some recent studies related to language endangerment/vitality, and considers how language development relates to language revitalization and documentary linguistics. SIL can continue to learn from and link with others in describing and documenting endangered Austronesian languages, in providing consulting and training at the request of language communities and others, and in designing and developing affordable language software to help accomplish related tasks.


Chapter 5. Local autonomy, local capacity building and support for minority languages: Field experiences from Indonesia
I Wayan Arka

This chapter discusses the complexity of language/cultural maintenance and revival, highlighting the significance of building and supporting long-term local capacity. These complex issues are discussed in the current context of rapid political change towards greater local autonomy in Indonesia. After some background on aims and regulations of decentralization, the Balinese in Bali and Rongga in Flores are compared and discussed based on the author’s field experiences. It is argued that capacity building and support must include more than simply developing human resources. Strengthening, reforming, and/or restoring relevant institutions, particularly in relation to customary adat systems, are equally important. While a macro perspective must be adopted, priority must be given to a community- based approach and to long term capacity building and support at the most local level. The comparison of the Rongga and Balinese helps clarify how a range of inter-related socio-political and economic variables at the local and regional levels play a significant role in providing and/or inducing good conditions for bottom-up community-based initiatives in language/cultural maintenance and revival.

Chapter 6. Documenting and revitalizing Kavalan
Fuhui Hsieh and Shuanfan Huang

The purpose of this chapter is to provide a two-dimensional approach to language documentation (Hi mmelman 1998). In addition to building a database, we also conducted a sociolinguistic survey des igned to document the state of health of a language in a particular spatio-temporal frame. Our goa l is to share our fieldwork experience of documenting Kavalan, a seriously endangered language in sou theastern Taiwan now spoken by fewer than just a few dozen speakers. We first discuss our field exp eriences in working with speakers of Kavalan in Sinshe village, the only significant Kavalan set tlement left in Taiwan, and the state of the Kavalan language, based in part on Huang and Cha ng’s (19 95) earlier sociolinguistic survey, and in part on a recent more in-depth village-wide survey of lan guage use in the community.

Next, we introduce the NTU Corpus of Formosan Languages, part of which incorporates our corpus data in Kavalan. The NTU Corpus of Formosan Languages aims to establish a standard for the creation of linguistic corpus databases through the application of information technology to linguistic research. The creation of this linguistic database enables us both to preserve valuable linguistic data and to provide a systematic recording of these languages, for the benefit of future linguistic research.

Chapter 7. E-learning in endangered language documentation and revitalization
D. Victoria Rau and Meng-Chien Yang

This chapter analyses the application of e-learning in the revitalization of endangered languages. It outlines the areas in which e-learning is efficacious, the attitudes of the indigenous language teachers to e-learning, the feelings of the Yami community toward this kind of pedagogy, and the reactions of the users, mostly young and adolescent learners of Yami.

The findings are based on the results of surveys and in-depth studies in the Yami community and also on surveys made in a nation-wide seminar that enrolled teachers of the majority of the still-spoken aboriginal languages in Taiwan. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to gather empirical data to address questions in the following three areas: (1) the contexts of developing e- Learning materials for endangered indigenous languages in Taiwan, (2) the indigenous language teachers’ perceptions of e-Learning in Taiwan, and (3) the attitudes of the Yami community on Orchid Island toward e-Learning.

This chapter provides a model for the many language revitalization projects underway in Taiwan and worldwide to take advantage of e-Learning. It also provides guidelines that enable each project to better understand the kinds of e-Learning that workto make e-Learning acceptable and efficacious.

Chapter 8. Indigenous language–informed participatory policy in Taiwan: A socio-political perspective
Yih-Ren Lin, Lahwy Icyeh, and Da-Wei Kuan (Daya)

This chapter highlights the importance of incorporating indigenous language and its daily practice in the local context of newly transformed indigenous policy in Taiwan. Currently, the official indigenous people’s language policy is relatively confined to curriculum development and certification of indigenous peoples’ language abilities with little consideration of language practices in real socio- political situations. This chapter questions whether the revitalization of endangered indigenous languages can rely only on language policy per se. The participatory action research (PAR) methodology is employed as a main research method in inhabited Atayal communities. This chapter is divided into three main parts: firstly, a brief socio-political history of indigenous people in Taiwan is provided; secondly, two socio-political official projects related to traditional territory sovereignty are analyzed: their failure is revealed due to the neglect of indigenous language and local participation; thirdly, a case from an Atayal village, Smangus, is provided to show how indigenous languages can be revitalized through combining the villagers’ daily practices and participation. In conclusion, this chapter argues for a combining of language policy with other socio-political policies so as to create environments in which indigenous peoples can speak their own languages.

Chapter 9. Teaching and learning an endangered Austronesian language in Taiwan
D. Victoria Rau, Hui-Huan Chang, Yin-Sheng Tai, Zhen-Yi Yang, Yi-Hui Lin, Chia-Chi Yang, and Maa-Neu Dong
This chapter provides a case study of the process of endangered language acquisition, which has not been well studied from the viewpoint of applied linguistics. It describes the context of teaching Chinese adult learners in Taiwan an endangered indigenous language, the teachers’ pedagogical approaches, the phonological and syntactic acquisition processes the learners were undergoing, and applications to other language documentation and revitalization programs. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to address the research questions.

This study demonstrates cogently that language is a complex adaptive system. In phonological acquisition, the trill was the most difficult phoneme to learn. Systematic variations for the variables (ŋ) and (s) were found to be constrained by both markedness and interference. Furthermore, learners also tended to interpret Yami orthography based on their knowledge of English. In word order acquisition, learners performed much better than expected, partially because the present tense, coded by the SV word order, is the norm in Yami conversations. However, students still inaccurately associated word order with sentence type rather than with tense distinction.

The Yami case provides an integrated model for endangered language documentation, revitalization and pedagogical research, which would be of interest to people working with other languages and the language documentation field in general.


Chapter 10. WeSay, a tool for engaging communities in dictionary building
Eric Albright and John Hatton

This chapter introduces WeSay, an open source software application designed to involve language community members in the description and documentation of their language. Intended for rugged, low-power hardware, WeSay’s simplified user interface removes many barriers that typically prevent the direct involvement of community members.

In this chapter, we describe the dictionary-building features of WeSay that allow a linguist to tailor a sequence of language documentation tasks to engage community members. These tasks reduce a production step to its simplest form, enabling focused training and division of labor. Word gathering tasks use semantic domains, word lists, or patterns of likely words to build up the dictionary. Successive tasks add specific content, such as glosses and example sentences, to the entries. In addition, the program can prepare simple paper publications designed to promote community support for the effort and can transfer the raw data to the linguist for further processing with tools that are more powerful.

Chapter 11. On designing the Formosan multimedia word dictionaries by a participatory process
Meng-Chien Yang, Hsin-Ta Chou, Huey-Shiuan Guo, and Gia-Pyng Chen

Digital archiving is important work for an endangered language, because if an endangered language disappears, associated cultural assets will disappear altogether. Several digital archiving projects are being conducted in Taiwan. Many tribal teachers are now involved in these projects. Based on the needs of these tribal teachers, this chapter presents an easy-to-use system for digitally archiving Formosan Languages. The proposed approach takes advantage of the Internet and the newly launched Web 2.0 sharing platform. This chapter gives details of the development and structure of the online dictionary system. Currently, several archiving projects in Taiwan are using this system to teach tribal teachers how to develop their own language resources and online dictionaries.

Chapter 12. Annotating texts for language documentation with Discourse Profiler’s metatagging system
Phil Quick

This chapter introduces a systematic and robust way to annotate (or ‘tag’) texts with discourse information. To date there has not been a method for annotating texts for language documentation with discourse-text information. This is the first paper to systematically describe the capabilities and the annotating methodology of the Discourse Profiler’s metatagging system as a means of annotating endangered languages’ texts in a Toolbox database. Since there is a division of labor between Toolbox and Discourse Profiler, the Toolbox database can be the basis for the archival tasks, whereas the Discourse Profiler software is a computer assisted discourse-text analytical tool that mines the Toolbox discourse-text annotated database in order to produce two primary capabilities: (1) to create a representative interactive compressed representation or ‘map’ of the structure and elements of a text, and (2) to quantify texts based on this special metatagging system with an array of sixteen different possible statistical outputs (including both referential distance and topic persistence statistics).

Although the main focus of this chapter is on the multipurpose annotation system, I will introduce the basics of the Discourse Profiler software in order to illustrate the range of analytical possibilities that this annotation system incorporates.


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