Design, software, and language documentation
Language documentation is a data-intensive field: in our era of readily available digital recording devices and powerful computers, documentary corpora can grow fast. Linguists who deposit their research in a language archive must provide not only significant quantities of linguistic data, but also detailed parallel metadata. But despite such evolving constraints on the lifecycles of documentary data, there has been comparatively little recent innovation in the design of user interfaces for the day-to-day of creating and using documentary data during fieldwork and analysis. Rather, a small suite of software tools is marshaled for use in essentially every digital documentation task. While highly productive within their niches, these venerable tools were not designed for all the uses to which they are sometimes put, and their incompatibilities can incur baroque input/output regimes that can complicate both collection and analysis.
In this talk I will discuss how the powerful, ubiquitous, and yet to some extent poorly understood Web Platform can provide a reliable medium for not only distributing the “documents” of language documentation in flexible and usable new ways, but also for creating fully interactive applications which help to edit and analyze the data behind those documents. Students in LING350 have been familiarizing themselves with this approach, designing interfaces that meet their own needs, and learning the skills necessary to begin implementing those designs. I will argue that the Web Platform is the most logical target for building the kind of modular software ecosystem language documentation will need moving forward if it is to meet the needs of linguists, speakers, and learners.