Recording and using video in language documentation

Mandana Seyfeddinipur and Ben Levine

This course will provide in depth video training which focuses on why video is the default recording device in language documentation and how video can be used to immerse speakers in their own production prompting much richer descriptions and deeper knowledge representations.

The course will begin with an introduction to the fundamental nature of face-to-face conversation as the basic mode of language use. Video training is often limited to the technicalities of how to use a video camera and microphones but does not provide a theoretical framework for the features of language use. What is missing is an understanding of the social, linguistic and cognitive foundation of language use so that it becomes clear what needs to be captured how.

This is because language use is fundamentally multimodal. When we speak we point to places, we nod to signal our understanding, and we outline our thoughts with our hands. Moreover, we coordinate our actions with our conversational partners. The way we talk, the words we use, the information we include depend on the common ground we share with our interlocutors and different social and contextual dimensions. Language documentation projects as well as any linguistic research project documenting and investigating dimensions of conversational language use should record video.

We will provide detailed guidelines of how to video record and training involving hands-on practice. Participants will collect natural language use data of different types and learn how to use video equipment.

In the second part of Ben Levine’s training sequence participants will employ techniques adapted from documentary filmmaking and community outreach to enable documentation of spontaneous, speaker-driven exchange (and shared activity)—language use as it is actually and naturally lived. Trainees will learn the basics of convening and supporting speaker-driven group conversation/activity or Facilitation; and how to present previous documentation to participants to trigger and record further dialog that can contextualize linguistic analysis: Feedback Documentation.

Trainees are further introduced to Linguist-Guided Community Self-documentation and the Endangered Language Portal. In the former, we demonstrate how teams of speakers trained and guided by the linguist/filmmaker team actively participate in documentation of their language and dictionary building; the special characteristics that make this data so valuable; and how this approach reduces obstacles and costs. We’ll then show how this documentation becomes part of a language portal with its interoperable multiple databases (dictionary-video-audio) offering increased access to researchers and community, especially those in diaspora.

Lesson Plan

Class # 1 MS &BL: Theory of multimodal nature of language use and the importance of gesture documentation and analysis & Commentary on Natural Group Conversation as an example of the multimodal perspective. Students discuss reasons for documenting language

Class # 2 MS: Theory of multimodal nature of language use and the importance of gesturedocumentation and analysis; BL–Students discuss specific issues in projects

Class # 3 – MS&BL Introduction to basic video technology and camera methods for language documentation. Exercise – Natural Group Conversation documentation - Discussion of gesture data – MS – integrating Elan, data analysis. Students: specific issues in projects

Class #4 – MS&BL – Discussion of exercise results and problem solving; BL- Introduction toFacilitation; Facilitation exercise as part of further camera documentation practice. Students: specific issues in projects

Class # 5 – BL - Introduction to Feedback Documentation using previous exercises, recordingfeedback, Feedback loops. MS – discussion: Varieties and levels of gesture data from Facilitation, Natural Group Conversation, and Feedback Documentation Students: specific issues in projects

Class # 6 – MS – Archive issues... BL - Continued camera practicum and documentation exercise and review. Students: specific archive issues for projects

Class #7 BL – Introduction to the Endangered Language Portal with Demonstrations from the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet and Mixe (Ayöök) Portals. Archive and access issues. Class discussion: documenting diasporas, special problems

Class #8: MS and BL – Advancing the field with better documentation, data, archives and access, opportunities for the future. And with class discussion: feedback on the methods, next steps.