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Documentation de langues - Axe 4
Nick Evans (CoEDL, Australian National University)
Many field linguists face the difficult challenge of documenting a language just on the basis of what is known from one or two surviving speakers. Under favourable circumstances it can be possible to produce magnificently perceptive and detailed descriptions of a language, from such work: Dumézil on Oubykh, Dench on Martuthunira, Zavala on Oluteco. In many other cases, the work is plagued by frustration, incompleteness of failure for a range of reasons. In this talk I will discuss a number of factors which contribute to the success or otherwise of such enterprises, drawing both on my own experiences in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and on that of colleagues engaged in similar endeavours. Among the factors I will discuss are: problematics of language ‘ownership’, sociolinguistics of multilingualism and how this helps or hinders language retention, personal factors influencing language use in last speakers (biographical, health, familial setting, attitudes to cultural transmission), the unexpected survival of stretches of language in multilingual narrative and song, and the vital role of ‘last hearers’ in assisting with the transcription and translation of previously-recorded materials.