Language documentation

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Language documentation is the creation of a sizable multimedia corpus of raw data and primary data of a little-known language. Language documentation became a major concern of linguistics only in the 1990s as a result of the realization that large numbers of languages are threatened with exitinction. (Hence documentation of major languages has not been an issue so far.)


Language documentation is sometimes said to be the object of the new linguistic subfield of documentary linguistics (Himmelmann 1998).

  • "The aim of a language documentation is to provide a comprehensive record of the linguistic practices characteristic of a given speech community. Linguistic practices and traditions are manifest in two ways: (1) the observable linguistic behavior, manifest in everyday interaction between members of the speech community, and (2) the native speakers' metalinguistic knowledge, manifest in their ability to provide interpretations and systematizations for linguistic units and events. This definition of the aim of a language documentation differs fundamentally from the aim of language descriptions: a language description aims at the record of A LANGUAGE, with "language" being understood as a system of abstract elements, constructions, and rules that constitute the invariant underlying structure of the utterances observable in a speech community." (Himmelmann 1998:166)


  • Himmelmann, Nikolaus. 1998. Documentary and descriptive linguistics. Linguistics 36. 161-195.

Other languages

German Sprachdokumentation