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Admission requirements



In response to a growing awareness about language endangerment and language death, language documentation has developed in the last two decades as a new area in linguistics. It encompasses the collection and preservation of primary linguistic and ethnographic data gleaned from Indigenous Peoples around the world. By the end of this class each student will have designed their own documentation project that will be submitted for assessment.

It is important to note that this class is very much discussion-based and full participation of students is mandatory. In this class we look beyond our own ontological boundaries as we focus on the ethics of designing projects and carrying out fieldwork among Indigenous Peoples. It is as much about our western (academic) assumptions about the world as it is about other peoples’ views of the world, and can be seen as a humanizing and confrontational approach to linguistics.

This course will start by clarifying what the differences (and similarities) are between language description and language documentation. Language documentation is a more encompassing, generally interdisciplinary, and often transdisciplinary endeavour. Most importantly, documentation projects should include the Indigenous Peoples themselves and should contribute to the discussion and ameliorization of the living situations facing the Indigenous Peoples we work with. As such students are challenged to think outside the box as regards their methodologies which we will discuss in some detail. We will examine our own ideologies, as humans and linguistic researchers and will train students in issues pertaining to forms of collaboration with indigenous researchers and local experts, optimizing data collection and good conduct in the field.

The topics we will deal with are: Language documentation vs. language description (looking at the goals, procedures, and methodologies of each), Language endangerment (what to expect when working on an endangered language); The fieldwork situation (preparation, implementation, writing up afterwards); Ethics of carrying out fieldwork; Cooperation with communities (what can linguists do); Revitalization/preservation (de-colonization of revitalization efforts); organizing data (how to manage your data, where to store it, and who has access to it); Ethnography & language documentation; Sociocultural context (incl. language genres, oral traditions); Sociolinguistic context; Semantic domains and Cultural Scripts (e.g. ethnobiology; stellar lore etc., MPI tools).
Subject to changes as lecturers deem relevant.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the motivations for and pitfalls of language documentation;

  • Discuss the various ethical questions and good practices involved in different regions.

  • Understand the role of the researcher and the community in language documentation research;

  • Critically reflect on their own conduct, methodologies, and ideologies in relation to language documentation research.

  • Plan a documentation project.


Linguistics BA

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total hours: 140
Hours spent on attending seminars: 26 hours (2 hours a week x 13 weeks)
Hours spent on reading the compulsory literature: 50
Hours spent on completing small assignments: 15
Hours spent on completing documentation project: 49

Assessment method

This course will have four assessment components:

1) 3 small assignments/practical exercises (15%)
2) Class participation (15%)
3) An in-class presentation (20%)
4) Essay ‘My documentation project’ (50%)

Please note that a pass on the presentation is a requirement to successfully completing the entire course.


Re-sit will consist of re-doing the presentation and re-writing the essay ‘My documentation project’.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • announcements only

Reading list

Reading list will be distributed during the first class.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on this website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs


Contact information: Dr. Eithne B. Carlin

Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats

E-mailaddress Education Administration Office van Wijkplaats:

Coordinator of Studies: Else van Dijk