Beyond the ancestral code: Towards a model for sociolinguistic language documentation

G. Tucker Childs, Jeff Good , Alice Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Most language documentation efforts focus on capturing lexico-grammatical information on individual languages. Comparatively little effort has been devoted to considering a language’s sociolinguistic contexts. In parts of the world characterized by high degrees of multilingualism, questions surrounding the factors involved in language choice and the relationship between ‘communities’ and ‘languages’ are clearly of interest to documentary linguistics, and this paper considers these issues by reporting on the results of a workshop held on sociolinguistic documentation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over sixty participants from Africa and elsewhere discussed theoretical and methodological issues relating to the documentation of language in its social context. Relevant recommendations for projects wishing to broaden into the realm of sociolinguistic language documentation include: a greater emphasis on conversational data and the documentation of naturally occurring conversation; developing metadata conventions to allow for more nuanced descriptions of socio-cultural settings; encouraging teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration in order to extend the scope of sociolinguistic documentation; collecting sociolinguistic data which can inform language planning and policy; and creating opportunities for training in sociolinguistic documentation. Consideration of sociolinguistic language documentation also raises significant questions regarding the ways in which Western language ideologies, which have been especially prominent in shaping documentary agendas, may be unduly influencing documentary practice in other parts of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168–191
Number of pages34
JournalLanguage Documentation and Conservation
Early online date29 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014


  • language documentation
  • sociolinguistics
  • Sub-saharan Africa
  • sociolingustic documentation


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