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Anthony C. Woodbury, Chair CLA 4.304, Mailcode B5100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-1701

Documentary and Descriptive Linguistics - Research Projects

Students in documentary and descriptive linguistics typically work on a language that has been under-studied and under-described. Although many such languages are also endangered, others have very large numbers of speakers. UT has special strength in Latin American indigenous languages, but students have worked all over the world and are encouraged to work wherever their primary interests take them.

We encourage students to work in teams on documentation projects. These teams may include speakers of the language of study as linguists, leaders, and teachers. Four recent or on-going projects of this kind are: 

  1. Mayan Languages Documentation Project. One faculty member and six graduate students (one of whom has graduated) have worked on Mayan languages recently. Two of the students and the faculty member have worked on a documentation project in four Mayan languages that was administered by a Guatemalan linguistic research institute. The project was carried out in conjunction with speakers of the languages, was directed by speakers of Mayan languages, and provided training in linguistics for community members and supervisors as well as documentation of the languages. Other students are working in other community projects, or are working on their own languages in conjunction with their communities.

  2. Chatino Language Documentation Project. Two graduate students from a Chatino community in Oaxaca, Mexico, one faculty member, and four other graduate students have undertaken a project to document and describe this small group of Otomanguean languages and to work with local authorities, language activists, and school teachers in the Chatino area to support the continued use of the language and to help establish Chatino language literacy. Through these efforts, they hope to preserve local environmental and cultural knowledge, call attention to local oratory and verbal art, and bring wider recognition to Chatino traditions, identity, and human rights.

  3. The Dynamics of Hunter-Gatherer Language Change. This project brings language documentation/description together with historical-comparative research. It has involved one faculty member, three graduate students, and several undergraduates in a comparative study of Amazonian languages. The project investigates language contact and language change among hunting/gathering groups and their neighbors in the northwest Amazon. The work draws both on published sources and on data from project members’ own fieldwork.

  4. The Iquito Language Documentation Project. First conceived of as a voluntary project by two graduate students in Anthropology and members of a local community for the documentation of their language, Iquito, a moribund language of the Peruvian Amazon, this project involved a total of ten graduate students plus several Peruvian students over four years and received major funding. It provided initial fieldwork experience for students and material for their Ph.D. qualifying papers and master's theses. The doctoral dissertations of two students are on Iquito. Alongside documenting the language, the project is producing language teaching materials and project members are training local community language specialists who work year round. Now in its final stages, the project has become a model for graduate student and community cooperation in research, and has stimulated our ideas about the fusion of community and academic agendas around linguistic documentation.

There are also individual student field documentation projects, many of which were initiated and carried out by graduate students who are themselves native speakers of the language being investigated. Recent or current projects include work on Tulu (Dravidian; India), Burushaski (isolate; India and Pakistan), Darma (Tibeto-Burman; India), Yongning Na (Tibeto-Burman; China), Tepehuano (Uto-Aztecan; Mexico), Tepehua (Totonacan; Mexico), Soteapan (Mije-Soke; Mexico), Zapotec (Otomanguean; Mexico), Chol (Mayan; Mexico), Ixil (Mayan, Guatemala), Q’anjob’al (Mayan; Guatemala), K’ichee’ (Mayan; Guatemala), Kuna (Chibchan; Panama), Quechua (Quechuan; Peru), Kakua (unclassified; Colombia), Paresi (Arawak; Brazil), Djeoromitxi (Jabuti/Macro-Jê; Brazil), and Kakataibo (Pano; Peru).

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