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Language Documentation



Not applicable


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 data. This course, focusing on the indigenous languages of the Americas, will introduce the concept of language documentation and will train students in issues pertaining to optimizing data collection and good conduct in the field. Some topics we will deal with are: The differences between Language Documentation and Descriptive linguistics; Language endangerment (what to expect when working on an endangered language); The fieldwork situation (preparation, implementation, writing up); Ethics of carrying out fieldwork; Cooperation with communities (what can linguists do); Revitalization/preservation (de-colonization of revitalization efforts); Ethnography & language documentation; Sociocultural context (incl. language genres, oral traditions); Sociolinguistic context; Semantic domains and Cultural Scripts (e.g. ethnobiology; stellar lore etc., MPI tools).


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 working with Native Americans.

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

  • Plan a documentation project.


Linguistics bachelor




The course load for this course is 140 hours.

Hours spent on attending seminars: 28 hours (2 hours a week x 14 weeks)
Hours spent on reading the compulsory literature: 50
Hours spent on completing small assignments: 15
Hours spent on completing documentation project: 47


This course will be assessed on three components: active participation based on small weekly assignments, an in-class presentation and a documentation project.

  • The small weekly assignments and active participation are collectively worth 20% of the final mark,

  • the presentation is worth 30%

  • the final essay laying out the documentation project is worth 50% of the total mark.

Resits will consist of re-writing the essay.

Exam review

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 wordt gebruikt voor:

  • Announcements


In addition to the set readings per week, students are required to read additional literature pertaining to their own documentation project.
Readings (per week)

Week 1:
Himmelmann, Nikolaus 2002: Documentary and descriptive linguistics (full version). In Osamu Sakiyama and Fubito Endo eds. Lectures on Endangered Languages: 5 (Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim, Kyoto, 2002)

Week 3:
Dobrin, Lise & Josh Berson (2011). Speakers and language documentation. In: Austin, Peter K. and Julia Sallabank (eds.) (2011). The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Pp. 187-211.

Week 5:
Bowern, Claire (2008). Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Chapter 2.

Week 6:
Majid, Asifa. (2012). A guide to stimulus-based elicitation for semantic categories. In: Nicholas Thieberger, The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic fieldwork. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Pp. 52-71.

Week 8:
Haviland, John B. (2006). Documenting lexical knowledge. In: Jost Gippert, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel (eds), Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, Pp. 120-162.

Holbrook, Jarita (2012). Cultural astronomy for linguists. In: Nicholas Thieberger, The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic fieldwork. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Pp. 345-367.

Week 9:
Rice, Keren. (2006). Ethical issues in linguistic fieldwork: an overview. Journal of Academic Ethics 4: 123-155.

Week 10:
Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa (2009). Research models, community engagement, and linguistic fieldwork: Reflections on working within Canadian Indigenous Communities. Language Documentation and Conservation 3(1): 15-50. PDF available at:

Week 11:
Bowern, Claire (2008). Linguistic Fieldwork: A Practical Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Chapter 10.

Week 12:
Austin, Peter K. (2010). Applying for a language documentation research grant. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 7: 285-299. London: SOAS. PDF available at:


Inschrijven via uSis is verplicht.

Studenten die niet ingeschreven staan voor de bachelor Taalwetenschap en dit vak willen volgen dienen eerst contact op te nemen met de studiecoördinator, mw. E.A. van Dijk

Aanmelden Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Informatie voor belangstellenden die deze cursus in het kader van Contractonderwijs willen volgen (met tentamen), o.a. over kosten, inschrijving en voorwaarden.

Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to apply.


For questions about the content of the course, please contact the teacher:
Eithne Carlin

Onderwijsadministratie van Wijkplaats:

Studiecoördinator: Else van Dijk