The social lives of linguistic legacy materials



Documentary linguistic data may be acquired not only firsthand, but by consulting materials that were produced by scholars, missionaries, speakers, and others in the past. Such linguistic legacy materials may reside in an archive or in an individual’s private collection, or they may be embedded in published literature that was created for purposes other than linguistics. In this introduction to a special issue of Language Documentation and Description, we explore some of the reasons why linguistic legacy materials, while potentially treasure troves of evidence and insight, are nevertheless challenging to use. The main challenge, we argue, is inherent in the very nature of such materials: inasmuch as they are the products of past human meaning-making activity, they are invested with the goals, knowledge, points of view, and circumstances of those who were involved in their creation. To that extent, legacy materials can be said to possess social lives that originate in the past and that continue to unfold over time as they are accessed, analyzed, or put to new uses. The articles published together here tell the “biographies” of linguistic legacy materials in particular instances, drawing lessons for all who revisit and recirculate data from the past and offering perspective for documentary linguists working now to create the legacy collections of the future.

  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 21
  • Page/Article: 1-36
  • DOI: 10.25894/ldd12
  • Published on 31 Dec 2021