Seven dimensions of portability for language documentation and description

Steven Bird, Gary Simons

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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The process of documenting and describing the world's languages is undergoing radical transformation with the rapid uptake of new digital technologies for capture, storage, annotation, and dissemination. While these technologies greatly enhance our ability to create digital data, their uncritical adoption has compromised our ability to preserve this data. Consequently, new digital language resources of all kinds - lexicons, interlinear texts, grammars, language maps, field notes, recordings - are proving difficult to reuse and less portable than the conventional printed resources they replace. This article is concerned with the portability of digital language resources, specifically with their ability to transcend computer environments, scholarly communities, domains of application, and the passage of time. We review existing software tools and digital technologies for language documentation and description, and analyze portability problems in the seven areas of CONTENT, FORMAT, DISCOVERY, ACCESS, CITATION, PRESERVATION, and RIGHTS. We articulate the values that underlie our intuitions about good and bad practices, and lay out an extensive set of recommendations to serve as a starting point for the community-wide discussion that we envisage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-582
Number of pages26
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2003
Externally publishedYes


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