Course:FNEL 380/Using Video in Language Documentation

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Video has been used extensively for research in language acquisition, phonetic studies and conversation analysis, for the documentation and research of sign language, as well as in the development of language elicitation and stimuli tools.[1] For the purposes of language documentation, multimedia recordings (audio and video) have been recommended as the basis for any documentary corpus. [2] In part, the uptake of video is a response to the diverse aims and outcomes of language documentation.[3]

This page will cover the use of video for language documentation and outline the technological accessibility and archives for video as well as the benefits and downfalls of video.

Standard Practice

There is no standard practice for using video in language documentation and its usage varies across researchers. When video is used it is because it suits the needs of the community, the researchers, or the particular language, although how much video is being used for language documentation is changing as technology develops and people become more comfortable with it.

In 2006/7 a questionnaire was completed by 39 linguists and fieldworkers (over the course of language documentation training workshops held at the Endangered Languages Archive) about their use of video for language documentation work.[4]

The responses showed that:

  • 9 participants always used video for fieldwork
  • 20 often or sometimes used video
  • 4 never used video
  • 5 indicated that although they had not yet used video they intended to use video in the future
  • One respondent indicated that they had tried video (but had subsequently ‘dropped’ it as it had too great an effect on the speech situation)

Roles of Video for Language Documentation

The decision to use video in language documentation depends on the needs of the community, the researcher, and the particular documentation work that is being done. Some roles of video for language documentation are:

  • to produce a record of a cultural and linguistic event (video-as-record)
  • as a tool to assist with transcription and analysis
  • to produce material to elicit commentary
  • to produce resources for language learning and cultural heritage work (e.g. an edited story or multimedia resource). This could include the particular role video material may have to develop language resources without using a writing system [5]
  • as a tool to stimulate performance
  • to engage EL communities in language documentation work (e.g. on the basis that communities often seem to prefer working with and watching video [6]

Annotation Technology

Annotation software such as ELAN is used to assist with managing and analysing video data [7]. Use of this kind of software can decrease the time between the documentation and when the resulting resources are given back to communities by facilitating the transcription process.

ELAN screenshot
ELAN screenshot
ELAN screenshot

In a 2006 interview fieldworker Anthony Jukes talked spoke about how he was able to use ELAN software in his work with Toratán in Indonesia to more easily give resources back to the community. [8]

Using Video For Language Documentation

Video can be a powerful tool for language documentation, but the disadvantages must be considered before the decision to use video in language documentation can be made.

Advantages

  • identifies speakers in multiperson conversation;
  • captures the environment and objects in it;
  • renders paralinguistic expressions;
  • records sign language;
  • shows signs that alter propositional meaning;
  • shows gesture elucidating force;
  • is preferred by the community as a record;
  • costs less and less to store as technology improves [9]

Disadvantages

  • inappropriate for certain circumstances
  • uncomfortable for some speakers (results in altered speaking habits)
  • more difficult to set up than other documentation methods (ex. audio or transcription)
  • requires familiarity with technology being used, which is more complicated than methods used in other forms of data collection
  • results in video large files that need to be archived
  • takes time to edit

Using Video For Language Revitalization

Video can be used to create indigenous language films, or video data can be used to create documentaries. In these ways video can also be used for language revitalization.

Film

Indigenous filmmakers such as Helen Haig-Brown and Kevin Lee Burton who are both students Dana Claxton’s and Loretta Todd’s at IMAG and at Capilano College[10] have created short films using their indigenous languages.

Haig Brown's (Tsilhqot’in Nation) 2009 short film "The Cave" is a Sci-fi retelling of a story originally told by Haig Brown's uncle, and recorded by her mother in the 70s about a Tsilhqot’in man who accidentally crosses over into the spirit world. It was named one of Canada’s top ten short films of 2009. Many indigenous crew members were involved in the production of the film. [11]

Lee Burton's 2007 short film Nikamowin was shot almost entirely in Cree. Lee Burton says that his purpose with the film is to disturb and unsettle his viewers, in attempt to “haunt his peers and encourage them to start learning and speaking their languages”[12]. The film communicates a message about language loss and how it contributes to displacement and loss of identity.

Spirit World woman film still from E Anx: The Cave (2009)
Film still from Nikamowin (Song) (2007)

Documentary

David Harrison a linguistic who has worked with language communities In Central Asia and Siberia uses records video for language documentation with attention to cinematic quality, and his video recordings are often essentially contrived events which restricts the use of video recording to performative genres. [13] "Harrison, rather than attempting to produce a record that is multipurpose, is making informed decisions about framing and angle choice, choosing to omit the rest of the body to get a better quality image in terms of the limited natural light available and within the context of the performance" [14].

The documentation done by Harrison is not useful to other researchers who could be interested in extra-linguistic material such as gesture, but does result in work that is achieves high aesthetic standards and is easily watchable by non-researchers.

References

  1. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 79
  2. (Himmelmann 2002:12; Lehmann 2001:9; Wittenburg 2003:124; McConvell 2003, 2007:2)
  3. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 78
  4. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 81
  5. (Hinton 2001:265)
  6. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 91
  7. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 77
  8. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 83
  9. (McConvell 2007:2)
  10. Dowell, K. L. (2013). Visual sovereignty in aboriginal experimental media. In Sovereign Screens: Aboriginal Media on the Canadian West Coast (pp. 156). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
  11. Dowell, K. L. (2013). Visual sovereignty in aboriginal experimental media. In Sovereign Screens: Aboriginal Media on the Canadian West Coast (pp. 165). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
  12. Dowell, K. L. (2013). Visual sovereignty in aboriginal experimental media. In Sovereign Screens: Aboriginal Media on the Canadian West Coast (pp. 163). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
  13. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 86
  14. Louise Ashmore (2008). The role of digital video in language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description, vol 5. London: SOAS. pp. 89