Documentary linguistics and ethical issues
AuthorThieberger, N; Musgrave, S
Source TitleLanguage documentation and description
PublisherHans Rausing Endangered Languages Project
AffiliationFaculty of Arts, Languages and Linguistics
Document TypeJournal Article
CitationsThieberger, N. & Musgrave, S. (2007). Documentary linguistics and ethical issues. Language documentation and description, 4, 26-36.
Access StatusOpen Access
This is a pre-print of an article published in Language documentation and description 2007 published by Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project. This version is reproduced under the journals author licence agreement.
In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis on documentary linguistics within our discipline. This change of emphasis has been motivated by our concern over the pace of language loss, and has been facilitated by coincidental technological changes. Within this developing field, and especially as a result of the technological resources now available, we suggest that new ethical challenges arise in the professional practice of the linguist. The issues which we wish to raise in this paper stand outside of the area covered by existing institutional ethics procedures. The practice of documentary linguistics has a greater impact in a community than traditional data collection practice. There are two aspects to this impact. Firstly, a good documentation attempts to record as wide a range of language events as possible, in many genres and in many settings. This implies that the researcher’s presence in the community will be more intrusive than if the sole aim is to record sufficient material to prepare a grammatical description. Secondly, the nature of the data captured is also more intrusive, with video recording common and high quality audio recording more or less standard. Language documentation also implies the existence of archival data, that is, high quality data which is intended for persistent storage, which is accompanied by metadata sufficient to allow for the discovery of the resource, and which is under the control of a third party. Both of these aspects of documentation raise ethical issues. What procedures are appropriate to obtain informed consent to the type of data collection discussed above? What sort of rights and responsibilities does an archive have as another interested party in the negotiation of agreements between researchers and speakers / communities? Given the technological possibilities for dissemination and reproduction, how can ownership rights in recorded material be handled? How far should communities’ concepts of ownership be taken into account? How can ownership and access rights be negotiated so that they hold over the time frame which archiving assumes? What may be the consequences for a community when material is returned to them by researchers or archivists, given that the research and archiving process will inevitably have changed the nature of the material and its status in the community? We suggest that it is time for linguists to engage with these issues. We will discuss who the interested parties are in these processes, what responsibilities and rights each party may have, and some of the areas of potential conflict between those rights and responsibilities
Keywordsethics; language documentation
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