Course:FNEL 380/Digital Delivery and Digital Return

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Digital Delivery refers to the means by which content in various media forms are distributed or shared[1]. In terms of language documentation and revitalization projects, this often means the handing off of materials in the form of video, audio, website, software, apps, and so on. The hand off can occur between different hands, not just between a community and a researcher, it could be, for example; a team of developers and a linguist, or a community and external language learners. Delivery eludes to the means by which digital content is shared, exchanged, and spread. Digital Return is concerned with the relationships between parties involved in digital delivery. For example, Digital Return, a research network and online resource that focuses on digital return of cultural and linguistic materials to Indigenous communities globally by providing an online community for all parties to connect and communicate[2].

Shifts in Approaches

In considering digital delivery and digital return, many researchers may have limited themselves to established conventions based on repatriation, cataloguing, etc. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that these practices do not necessarily fit the needs of all language communities nor stand from their perspective–after all, most of the methods in place currently still have a colonizing lens in their approach. The gaining dialogue in the past few years, bolstered by new waves of technology, encourages all groups involved in language documentation and revitalization to reassess conventional methodologies and "best practices". The dialogue centres around the fact there is hardly one set of rules that can be applied to all language documentation and/ or revitalization projects. They are all different in their needs and requirements, and as such, the method of digital return to communities should be specific to each community's needs. Shifting the viewpoint to focus on community needs displaces colonial established systems.

The shift is an ongoing process that brings about other considerations such as that “giving and receiving are rarely monodirectional or linear, and have to be thought of as reciprocal and cyclical ongoing processes”[3]. It is important to build a relationship with the community as it not only lends strength to the project, it can also create more opportunities. For example, one way of paying back to communities is by training community members to digitize and/ or create their own digital materials, adding continued and deeper value than simply handing over digital materials as an one time act.

Connectivity and Collaboration

Archiving to digitization

Where it used to be commonplace for researchers to enter a community, gather the required data, leave with it, and store the data and findings in places inaccessible to communities, the movement increasingly is collaborative research efforts that rely heavily on community involvement and aim to increase community access. Technology has increased the range of accessibility but it can also assist in filtering access. Different levels of access can be considered by who, when, what, how, and where. Who, for example, covers not only the members of the language community, but also the researchers, external academics, and other interested parties. Of course, it is also important to note that “[d]igital technologies and the Internet have combined to produce both the possibility for greater indigenous access to material collections held in collecting institutions, as well as a new set of tensions for communities who wish to control these materials and thereby limit their access and circulation”[4]. While researchers and archivists used to be the gatekeepers of language materials, now that role is returning to communities but as we are in a transition period, there are conflicting views over language material ownership. However, as more people in the field shift away from traditional archiving approaches, languages can be unlocked and activated by communities on their own terms, providing their language communities with deeper cultural ties that bring about socioeconomic change and linguistic revival.

Roles and Responsibilities

In speaking of more collaborative research efforts between communities and researchers, Munro lists the "three sets of [information technology] skills that will be required by all language documentation projects"[5]. These skills speak to the nature of digital delivery and how technology has become a crucial part to digital language documentation and revitalization projects.

  • Consultation and elicitation: how a documenter obtains knowledge about a language and the communities in which it is spoken[6]
  • Media management: how a language documenter records speech acts and the participant’s knowledge of a language[7]
  • Data management: enables documenters to share the recordings and their knowledge[8]

While individuals with these skills outside of communities are working on language content, the key is that language ownership always belongs to the community. Pension discusses IP (intellectual property) rights in detail from the perspective of Indigenous materials and content[9], debunking any content ownership to outside parties.

Collaborations between communities, IT skilled individuals, and researchers are becoming increasingly key to the future of digital delivery and return. By combining knowledge and skill sets across multidisciplinary fields, technology can better support language documentation and revitalization efforts.

Digital Longevity and Sustainability

As technology continues to develop at an increasing rate, it is difficult to keep up with the constant changes and updates. For digital delivery in particular, files may be delivered in one format but a few years along, that format may not be accessible any longer. As such, digital language documentation and revitalization projects need to keep in mind sustainability in the act of storing and accessing digital content. This includes, but is not limited to, considering:

  • Formats - will others be able to open these files after software and/ or operating systems update over the years
  • Storage - is content stored in an archival database, backed up on drives, stored in the Cloud, and so on

There are many other issues that could span from hardware (different ports between devices needing adapters) to simply what if the technology just fails and content gets corrupted and lost. Technology can be new and exciting but if a project only follows trends, the outcome will not last long and will not be able to contribute to supporting language communities effectively.

Language Apps

Nazko-Dakelh Southern Carrier First Voices app screenshot

Language apps, if not planned out for the long term, can be a part of trending and passing fads in technology. Not all language apps, but some may lose traction because there is a lack of resources to keep the app updated. Usually, apps have a limited life span of less than five years before they become obsolete, mainly because they are not updated. It also depends on device compatibility as device operating systems update and apps end up being incompatible. There is also the split between Android and iOS, with some apps available only one or the other, leaving groups of the other operating system out of experiencing the app.

Data Management

In order to ensure the longevity of digital content, it is important to keep many copies–copies of copies and stored in different locations in case one is corrupted then the others remain as a backup. In the end, it is still up to the community's requirements and those with the IT skills to consult on what are the best data management options for their needs. Sometimes it is best to stick to analog formats because they are not as susceptible to becoming unreadable or corrupted, but they are not as accessible as digital counterparts.

Practicing good data management ensures accuracy of data and accessibility of the project. Otherwise known as:

  • Data integrity: correctness of the data and the correctness of the references between pieces of information[10]
  • Data portability: the data’s reliance on specific software and computing environments[11]

With these key components in mind, structuring an accessible database where information is stored in a consistent and easy to find manner, ensures that "it will be easier for a later archive or digital publication to explicitly represent the links between the relevant items and to facilitate the development of rich searching and navigation capabilities”[12].

Adopting Emerging Technology

Examples of Digital Applications

Indigitization Transformation logo by Alison O. Marks

Through collaborations, communities have started to gain access to networks and resources to explore how new technology can support their language documentation and revitalization needs. Here are only a few examples of language documentation and revitalization projects supported by emerging technology as well as technology assisting preservation, and exploring the nuances of digital delivery and digital return.

References

  1. Digital distribution. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March 25, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_distribution
  2. Digital Return. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2018, from http://digitalreturn.wsu.edu/
  3. Bell, Joshua, Kimberly Christen and Mark Turin. 2013. ‘After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge’, in Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Volume 1, pp. 195-6.
  4. Bell, Joshua, Kimberly Christen and Mark Turin. 2013. ‘After the Return: Digital Repatriation and the Circulation of Indigenous Knowledge’, in Museum Worlds: Advances in Research, Volume 1, pp. 196-7.
  5. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 145
  6. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 145
  7. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 147
  8. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 147
  9. Penfield, S., Cash Cash, P., Galla, C. K., Williams, T., & Shadowwalker, D. (Eds.). 2006. Technology-enhanced Language Revitalization (2nd ed.). Tucson, AZ: Arizona. 28-9
  10. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 149
  11. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 149
  12. Munro, Robert. 2005. ‘The digital skills of language documentation’, Language Documentation and Description, Volume 3. SOAS. 147-8