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Email: miromaa@acra.org.au 

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3.5 Documentation Team Tasks

- Your Language Journey Workbook -

Acknowledge > Protect > Access > Use > Create > Share

On the following pages is a list of tasks your team can work through in your community language documentation. Following this we give examples of the types of people and skills who would best do each task and then we discuss consultants you may bring in along the way.

As we all know our language journey is not always linear and tidy, we are working in complex situations and trying our best to make our way through it. When you are looking at the steps we have listed in your documentation tasks we know that in some cases it will not be a simple start at 1 and finish at 10. There are some of the tasks that logically need to happen before others can, but also know that many of these tasks can be happening at the same time and in fact encourage that to happen. It would be great if the library person is working on the cataloguing while the tech person is editing the sound files and the language person is running recording sessions with the speakers ready to give to the data person to enter into your database!

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Existing documentation

  1. Look at the Miromaa documentation tree and the accompanying exercises and plot your language history on this tree.

  2. Gather and digitise all of the known sources of your language. You could look at these sources in three separate categories:
    - Written
    - Audio visual
    - Other (such as maps, photos and newspaper articles)

  3. Create your digital library in Miromaa.

  4. Consider how best you want to acknowledge all previous contributors to your language. You may decide to create a bigger version of the documentation tree and display it in your language centre. Another option may be to create a booklet or print out that people can access.

  5. Safe house the original copies of all of the documents, tapes, pictures and any other form your language sources come in. Getting a lockable filing cabinet to put your items in is a good idea. You will also need to create a system for numbering, finding and labelling your sources just how the public libraries do.

    Community Documentation

  6. Now that you have rightfully acknowledged your language history, journey and have access to existing materials of your language, it is time to convert the materials into usable formats. What does this mean? Well it means two things...

    The first part is acknowledge and protect which you have done in the phases above. You have digtisied the materials, safe housed the originals and then created a library in which you can find them easily. For materials such as maps it is ok to stop there with them, you now have access to them through your digital library and the originals are safe-housed.

    When you have items such as grammars and wordlists this is where you will want to extract the language from them and create entries for each word in your Miromaa database so you can include them in your documentation. This will mean you move to the new phase of being able to properly access and use these materials. On a practical level what this means is going through each of them front to back, entering the data into Miromaa and acknowledging the source it came from. This is heavy on the data entry side of things but is well worth the time

  7. Now that you have a range of language sources and language entries in Miromaa you will need to decide which words, spelling and documentation you are happy with and want to continue using in your main house in Miromaa to create resources with and teach others. You will not get rid of the rest instead you will move them to another area in Miromaa called the archive.

  8. This next stage is where you will create audio visual materials for your existing documentation. Imagine you have a word list only with no audio, what you will do in Miromaa is create an entry for each word in the list and then go through and create audio, video and images for these entries so that they really come to life.

    Note: You would only want to do this for the ones you have decided will stay in your Main House and be used in your language resources and for learning.

  9. If you have existing audio visual recordings you will want to make sure they are in the best quality and format for use in your language work. So in this step you would be doing things like digitising old tapes and editing recordings into smaller parts and files.

    Important: You would effectively now have 3 versions of the recording
    1) The original which is protected and safe housed and not edited
    2) A digital copy of the original in full
    3) Then you would have excerpts of the digital copy that you have edited and cut up into smaller files using a program like Audacity

    You would NEVER edit the original and would ALWAYS keep a full copy of the digitised version of the original UNEDITED.

  10. This is the most exciting and empowering phase of this journey, it is where you begin your new community documentation. Our Elders and speakers are our most precious asset. Here you would be working with them to document their language and knowledge. The documentation could occur in many different parts: sounds, words, sentences, grammar, cultural practices, song, dance, stories. You and your speakers would then be contributing to the next phase of your language tree and would be acknowledged as the source of this language. Inspiring stuff!


Below is a list of possible people who may form part of your documentation team. Have a look at the links and the flow of this chart and start to think about the way you would look at viewing and organising their roles.

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The types of skills each of these roles would play in your documentation team and the tasks their skills sets would logically match is further outlined below. Just like in any employment situation it’s best to try to match people’s skills and interests to tasks they are good at and are trained to do. Up-skilling our people and mentoring them into other roles is always encouraged.

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What is a linguist and how do they fit in with community run language documentation?

Linguistics Definition: The scientific study of language and its structure (Oxford Dictionary).

A linguist studies the science of language. Just like a chemist studies chemicals, a neurosurgeon studies the brain or a geologist studies rocks, a linguist when they go to university study the patterns in language and learn how to analyse the structure and rules each language has in all the different systems (sounds, sentences, words, grammar).

After completing their university degrees linguists get employed in a range of roles in different fields. Some work in education, others in speech pathology, some become lecturers and professors, some write publications and some choose to work in the Indigenous and Endangered Languages area, which is where we generally encounter them.

Linguists who work in our area generally come to it with a desire to record our diverse languages before they disappear. It is well known that our languages are all at risk. Some we will encounter recording our languages for an academic publication like a PhD thesis and through this they can become involved in other tasks in language work. They, just like you and I, have to skill themselves in using equipment such as computers and audio recorders, how to best administer language programs and make resources. These are not necessarily skills they have studied in their degree. Their main speciality is knowing the scientific study of language.

When you are looking at the role and place for a linguist in your community controlled and directed language work, you would look at employing them as a consultant who would come in for the following tasks:

  • Helping you understand the structure of your language
    A good idea is to ask them to create resources with this information so you can remember it and also help others understand this.
  • Analyse the patterns in your language (if you are unable to get this from your speakers)
  • Organising the parts of the language
  • Teaching you grammar labels and simplifying them
  • Sharing their knowledge and experience of working with other language communities


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Having an IT person on hand is always helpful. They are there to make sure you are getting the help and support you need with your computers, laptops, software, internet access, cloud syncing, server set up, back up systems etc.

They would not do the actual work for you but just make sure that you are supported in this area. This particularly applies to those of us that are working in an existing organisation or department. These are often employees of the bigger organisation who’s job it is to approve or assist your access to software computers and internet.


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You can bring in outside help in any of the skills you need help with. This could be through a TAFE course in audio-editing or video recording software programs, computer training, language based training, Miromaa program training or linguistics training.