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Language Documentation


Admission requirements



In response to a growing awareness about language endangerment and language death, language documentation has developed in the last two decades as a new area in linguistics. It encompasses the collection and preservation of primary linguistic and ethnographic data gleaned from Indigenous Peoples around the world. By the end of this class each student will have designed their own documentation project that will be submitted for assessment.
This course will start by clarifying what the differences (and similarities) are between language description and language documentation. It is important to note that this class is very much discussion-based and full participation of students is mandatory. In this course we will focus on various aspects such as the ethics of designing projects and carrying out fieldwork among Indigenous Peoples. We will discuss our assumptions about the world and how they sometimes are conflict with other peoples’ views of the world. We will examine our own ideologies, as humans and linguistic researchers and will train students in issues pertaining to forms of collaboration with indigenous researchers and local experts, optimizing data collection and good conduct in the field.
The topics we will deal with are: Language documentation vs. language description (looking at the goals, procedures, and methodologies of each), Language endangerment (what to expect when working on an endangered language); The fieldwork situation (preparation, implementation, writing up afterwards); Ethics of carrying out fieldwork; Cooperation with communities (what can linguists do); Revitalization/preservation (de-colonization of revitalization efforts); organizing data (how to manage your data, where to store it, and who has access to it); Ethnography & language documentation; Sociocultural context (incl. language genres, oral traditions); Sociolinguistic context; Semantic domains. Subject to changes as lecturers deem relevant.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the motivations for and pitfalls of language documentation;

  • Discuss the various ethical questions and good practices involved in different regions.

  • Understand the role of the researcher and the community in language documentation research;

  • Critically reflect on their own conduct, methodologies, and ideologies in relation to language documentation research.

  • Plan a documentation project.


The timetable is available on the MA Linguistics website

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total hours: 140
Hours spent on attending seminars: 26 hours (2 hours a week x 13 weeks)
Hours spent on reading the compulsory literature: 50
Hours spent on completing small assignments: 15
Hours spent on completing documentation project: 49

Assessment method

This course will have three assessment components:
1) 3 small assignments/practical exercises (15%)
2) An in-class presentation (25%)
3) Essay ‘My documentation project’ (60%)

Please note that:
*a pass on the presentation is a requirement to successfully completing the entire course.
Active participation is a prerequisite for this course. Students who miss more than three classes and who do not participate in the in-class discussion can be excluded from the course.

Re-sit will consist of re-doing the presentation and re-writing the essay ‘My documentation project’.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • information on the course and on assignments

  • notifications

  • submission of assignments and the final paper through turnitin.

Reading list

Reading list will be distributed during the first class.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof for questions.

The coordinator of studies is Else van Dijk