ELAR Occasional Seminar Series

When: 4PM, Friday 15 March, 2013
Where: Room 467, SOAS, Russell Square, London ... location information

Recording shamans
Recording shamans Miss Chen (陳) and Mr Huang (黄) in Fan Zai Tian, Guan Tian, southern Taiwan. Photo: David Nathan

Community Control and the Open Archive: Sources of language and authority in documentation and revitalisation of Siraya, Taiwan

Meili Fang & David Nathan

Ochanomizu University & ELAR, SOAS

Recent discussions in documentary linguistics and language archiving have distilled two related issues: (a) a call for ethical and collaborative relationships between the documenters and the documented (e.g. Czaykowska-Higgins 2009, Linn 2011, Yamada 2011), and (b) a push for openly accessible language data. Ethical behaviour now goes beyond ‘fairness’, and urges community control of the conception, conduct and outcomes of projects. This talk describes fieldwork with two village shamans and their local networks within the wider Sirayan community in the Tainan area (south western Taiwan). About 10 hours of interviews, discussion, and shamanic ritual were video recorded. The Sirayan language has been extinct for over 100 years, but a jointly formulated plan proposed that the shamans might channel language knowledge from their god (Alizou) while in trance. This notion of revitalisation through god-sent knowledge threw together a potent mix of documentation methods, language ideology, community identity, and local politics. Reflecting apparent tensions between these shamanic and nearby Christian communities, each of these two groups identifies its own - different and competing - sources of linguistic authority.

In our brief documentation work, the weaving of language with religious themes at many levels meant that community (or divine?) participants were in significant control of the activity; we had little access to the religious domain. However, community relations seemed fragile and fluid, so that ethical thoughts turned towards the prevention of potential harm to individuals. In turn, although permission has already been given for recordings to be archived and made accessible, we feel that much of the documented content could be sensitive and that further consultations are necessary before setting access to ‘open’. This situation showcases ELAR’s ability to cater for nuanced access management. It also presents a documentation scenario which contrasts with documentation aimed at collecting data for describing a language system, where researchers inevitably have greater control, methodology is less risky, elicited materials less contentious, and there are fewer barriers to open access to the outcomes.



Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa. 2009. Research models, community engagement, and linguis­tic fieldwork: Reflections on working within Canadian Indigenous communities. Language Documentation & Conservation 3(1). pp. 15-50. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/4423

Linn, Mary. 2011. Living Archives: A Community-Based Language Archive Model. In David Nathan (ed.) Proceedings of Workshop on Language Documentation and Archiving. London: SOAS. pp 59-70.

Yamada, Racquel-María. 2011. Integrating Documentation and Formal Teaching of Kari’nja: Documentary Materials as Pedagogical Materials. In Language Documentation and Conservation, Vol. 5 (2011), pp. 1-30. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/4486

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