Music, song and endangered languages

In her classic 2005 paper entitled “A musicologist’s wishlist: some issues, practices and practicalities in musical aspects of language documentation”, ethnomusicologist Linda Barwick noted that linguists commonly find that “[r]ecording of musical traditions is often a priority for minority communities wishing to preserve their heritage” (Barwick 2005: 54), and as a consequence the recordings that communities encourage linguists to collect and deposit in archives frequently contain instances of musical performances. For example, the Paradisec Archive houses the Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu collection of the late Tom Dutton in which “51 of his 295 recordings (17%) include song and/or instrumental music” (Barwick 2005: 54). The same trend holds for “born digital” audio files, with the catalogue of ELAR at SOAS showing 1,318 items that include music, and TLA at MPI Nijmegen showing 1,131 music items in their archival catalogue.

Since 2005 a number of researchers have entered the field of language documentation who combine training in both ethnomusicology and linguistics, and there is now a growing interdisciplinary literature coming out of the intersection between these two academic domains. This is evidenced by the papers and book chapters which have appeared in works produced by us at EL Publishing and available for open access free download. A search of our online catalogue reveals the 32 references below that deal with music and song, and that may be of interest to readers looking at the interactions between language studies and studies of music and song traditions and performances.

In addition to these academic papers, EL Publishing has produced an interactive multimedia app called Hearing Voices that features recordings by sound artist John Wynne in collaboration with visual artist Denise Hawrysio and linguist Andy Chebanne, conducted with speakers of highly endangered Khoi and San languages in the Kalahari Desert in 2003. The audio includes 10 original song recordings and interviews with 8 speakers of 5 different Khoi/San languages. These are all high quality professional recordings which highlight the extraordinary audio features of the languages and the polyphonic choir singing traditions. All are accompanied by English translations. The app is available for free download for Macintosh and Windows computers.

Language, music and song at EL Publishing

Barwick, Linda. 2005. A musicologist’s wishlist: some issues, practices and practicalities in musical aspects of language documentation. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 3, 53-62. London: SOAS. link

Benjamin, Geoffrey. 2012. The Aslian languages of Malaysia and Thailand: an assessment. In Stuart McGill & Peter K. Austin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 11, 136-230. London: SOAS. link

Blench, Roger & Fredeliza Campos. 2010. Recording oral literature in a literate society: A case study from the northern Philippines. In Imogen Gunn & Mark Turin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 8, 49-65. Special Issue on Oral Literature and Language Endangerment. London: SOAS. link

Coelho, Gail. 2005. Language documentation and ecology: areas of interaction. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 3, 63-74. London: SOAS. link

Coulter, Neil. 2012. Assessing music shift: adapting EGIDS for a Papua New Guinea community. In Niclas Burenhult, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Håkan Lundström & Jan-Olof Svantesson (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 10, 61-81. Special Issue on Humanities of the lesser-known: New directions in the description, documentation and typology of endangered languages and musics. London: SOAS. link

Csató, Eva A. & David Nathan. 2003. Multimedia and documentation of endangered languages. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 1, 73-84. London: SOAS. link

Curran, Georgia. 2016. Travelling ancestral women: connecting Warlpiri people and places through songs. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 403-418. London: EL Publishing. link

Dobrin, Lise. 2005. When our values conflict with theirs: linguists and community empowerment in Melanesia. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 3, 42-52. London: SOAS. link

Edwards, Catherine. 2009. Filming languages: implications of indigenous video production for language maintenance in Mexico. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 6, 213-235. London: SOAS. link

Fast, Anicka. 2009. Managing linguistic diversity in the church. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 6, 161-212. London: SOAS. link

Finnegan, Ruth. 2008. Data – but data from what?. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 5, 13-28. London: SOAS. link

Florey, Margaret. 2004. Countering purism: confronting the emergence of new varieties in a training program for community language workers. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 2, 9-27. London: SOAS. link

Garrett, Edward. 2014. Participant-driven language archiving. In David Nathan & Peter K. Austin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 12, 68-84. Special Issue on Language Documentation and Archiving. London: SOAS. link

Hendery, Rachel. 2016. ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’: integration of multimedia into linguistic and anthropological publications. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson. (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 115-130. London: EL Publishing. link

Holton, Gary. 2014. Mediating language documentation. In David Nathan & Peter K. Austin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 12, 37-52. Special Issue on Language Documentation and Archiving. London: SOAS. link

Karyolemou, Marilena. 2018. Language revitalization, land and identity in an enclaved Arab community in Cyprus. In S. Drude, N. Ostler & M. Moser (eds.) Endangered languages and the land: Mapping landscapes of multilingualism, Proceedings of FEL XXII/2018 (Reykjavík, Iceland), 14–18. London: FEL & EL Publishing. link

Lambert-Brétière, Renée. 2018. Landmarks and Kwoma identity. In S. Drude, N. Ostler & M. Moser (eds.) Endangered languages and the land: Mapping landscapes of multilingualism, Proceedings of FEL XXII/2018 (Reykjavík, Iceland), 19–25. London: FEL & EL Publishing. link

Laughren, Mary, Georgia Curran, Myfany Turpin & Nicolas Peterson. 2016. Women’s yawulyu songs as evidence of connections to and knowledge of land: the Jardiwanpa. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 419-449. London: EL Publishing. link

McCaul, Kim. 2016. The making of a Simpson Desert clever man. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 344-357. London: EL Publishing. link

McGill, Stuart. 2011. Aspects of deixis in Cicipu: evidence from real-time video commentary. In Julia Sallabank (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 9, 121-168. London: SOAS. link

Morey, Stephen & Jürgen Schöpf. 2012. Tone in speech and singing: a field experiment to research their relation in endangered languages of North East India. In Niclas Burenhult, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Håkan Lundström & Jan-Olof Svantesson (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 10, 37-60. Special Issue on Humanities of the lesser-known: New directions in the description, documentation and typology of endangered languages and musics. London: SOAS. link

Nathan, David. 2014. Access and accessibility at ELAR, an archive for endangered languages documentation. In David Nathan & Peter K. Austin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 12, 187-208. Special Issue on Language Documentation and Archiving. London: SOAS. link

Oppitz, Michael. 2010. The Parched Grain Chant: Parallel verse and simultaneous action in Magar rituals. In Imogen Gunn & Mark Turin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 8, 83-124. Special Issue on Oral Literature and Language Endangerment. London: SOAS. link

Pegg, Carole. 2010. Re-sounding the Spirits of Altaian Oral Epic Performance: Kai throat-singing and its repercussions. In Imogen Gunn & Mark Turin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 8, 125-139. Special Issue on Oral Literature and Language Endangerment. London: SOAS. link

Roche, Gerald, Ban+de mkhar, Bkra shis bzang po, G.yu lha, Snying dkar skyid, Tshe ring rnam gyal, Zla ba sgrol ma & Charles Kevin Stuart. 2010. Participatory Culture Documentation on the Tibetan Plateau. In Imogen Gunn & Mark Turin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 8, 140-158. Special Issue on Oral Literature and Language Endangerment. London: SOAS. link

Sasse, Hans-Jürgen & Nick Evans. 2007. Searching for meaning in the library of Babel: field semantics and problems of digital archiving. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 4, 58-99. London: SOAS. link

Seifart, Frank. 2008. On the representativeness of language documentations. In Peter K. Austin (ed.) Language Documentation and Description 5, 60-76. London: SOAS. link

Turpin, Myfany. 2012. Song-poetry of Central Australia: sustaining traditions. In Niclas Burenhult, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Håkan Lundström & Jan-Olof Svantesson (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 10, 15-36. Special Issue on Humanities of the lesser-known: New directions in the description, documentation and typology of endangered languages and musics. London: SOAS. link

Turpin, Myfany, Jennifer Green & Jason Gibson. 2016. Mustering up a song: an Anmatyerr cattle truck song. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 450-467. London: EL Publishing. link

Tuttle, Siri G. 2012. Language and music in the songs of Minto, Alaska. In Niclas Burenhult, Arthur Holmer, Anastasia Karlsson, Håkan Lundström & Jan-Olof Svantesson (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 10, 82-112. Special Issue on Humanities of the lesser-known: New directions in the description, documentation and typology of endangered languages and musics. London: SOAS. link

Wafer, Jim. 2016. Why Waway? The Proctor map and the getting of song in New South Wales. In Peter K. Austin, Harold Koch & Jane Simpson (eds.) Language, land & song: Studies in honour of Luise Hercus, 287-303. London: EL Publishing. link

Wynne, John. 2014. Hearing Voices: Research and creative practice across cultures and disciplines. In David Nathan & Peter K. Austin (eds.) Language Documentation and Description 12, 120-150. Special Issue on Language Documentation and Archiving. London: SOAS. link