Cultural and linguistic documentation refers to a permanent and representative compilation of the linguistic and cultural practices of a community. Primary data comprises the core of documentation and includes audio and video recordings, photographs, and field notes. This data is compiled in a structured corpus containing annotations and comments and is translated and transcribed by the native speakers (Himmelmann, 2006: 3).

Himmelmann stresses the importance of documentation as a multi-objective resource, in that the material compiled is essential for the scientific community in terms of future research and its provision of accountability–the verification of scientific theories and studies. It is also a source of information for the speech community which can use the material to create educational materials and programs as well as satisfy other needs.

The linguist Connie Dickinson (2011), points out that a documentation project does not directly create pedagogic material. However, one of its objectives is to generate a corpus of primary data that can be used by educators to create bilingual and integrated educational programs. According to Dickinson, most languages in Ecuador only boast basic dictionaries or lists of words -from two hundred to around two thousand words-; this corpus is therefore essential for the elaboration of professional and comprehensive dictionaries which can include information on different connotations and usages of the words.

Documentation, for the most part, ensures the preservation of indigenous languages in danger of becoming extinct; consisting of the compilation of a variety of material, not only focused on a specific research project but also including a variety of activities occurring within a community: from a routine conversation to traditional practices and rituals, from political speeches to the babbling of a baby. It also includes the solving of problems or disputes, the expression of humor as well of contempt, and interaction among the family or with neighbors and foreigners. What is being recorded is the verbal as well as non-verbal communication:  signs, visual contact, or simply the physical space between interlocutors (Himmelmann, 2006: 5-8).

The hope of documentation is to obtain an inclusive and varied database, taking into consideration the perspectives and interests of both the community and the researcher. Aguavil, Aguavil and Calazacón (2011) argue that the best way to attain this variety is through collaborative documentation in which the material is elected, recorded and processed by the members of the community and not by outside researchers. They believe that very often minority cultures are “romanticized” by the majority cultures, meaning that the future generations usually receive distorted knowledge due to the biased perceptions and conceptions of outside parties, mainly journalists, researchers or the tourism industry. Collaborative documentary allows the community to determine which aspects of its culture will leave the most profound footprints. Through this process of collaborative documentation the young speakers also conduct interviews, launch research, translate, transcribe, and consequently learn about their own culture throughout the whole project (Aguavil, Aguavil and Calazacón, 2011).

To make the compiled material accessible to all, it is necessary, according to Himmelmann, to catalogue it, or in his own words to turn it into an “apparatus”, meaning to develop a series of metadata formats in order to organize it. In the case of the language archive of  FLACSO, the agreement with Max Planck enables us to use various open-access programs and technologies which were entirely developed for this purpose. We will use, among others, programs such as: IMDI Editor, which can create metadata regarding the contexts of language recording; ELAN, to transcribe, translate and make annotations; and LAMUS, to load the audio and video archives. The options provided by the current available technology ensure the long-term preservation of the material, and its easy access. The access to the material is entirely free but the intellectual and privacy rights have to be respected.

According to Arienne Dwyer it is necessary to negotiate the terms by which the documentation is to be carried out before starting the whole process, explaining to all the speakers (community, documentators, researchers, etc.) how their rights will be respected, how the material will be disseminated, who will have access to it and under which conditions (Dwyer, 2006: 32, 43).

In the case of the language archive of Flacso, the system permits the creation of different levels of access: totally open, partially open, and totally closed. The people in charge of deciding which material will have what level of access are the speakers themselves, who will determine this when they place the material in the archive. Nevertheless, the material can be accessed with the corresponding authorization, and the system itself contains information as to who interested parties can contact to obtain access.

Aguavil, Francisco, Aguavil, Alfonso and Milton Calazacón. (to appear). Counterweight—the documentation of the culture and language of the Tsachila. In Foundation for Endangered Languages (eds.), Endangered Languages – the Voices they Project, and the Images they Present.
Himmelmann, Nikolaus; Gippert, Jost; Mosel, Ulrike (Eds). (2006). Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Dwyer, Arienne (2006). Ethics and practicalities of cooperative fieldwork and analysis. En Nikolaus Himmelmann, Jost Gippert, Ulrike Mosel (Eds.), Essentials of Language Documentation. (pp: 31-66). Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Dickinson, Connie. (2010). Quand les Tsachila (Equateur) eux-mêmes documentent leur langue et leur culture. In Grinevald, Colette and Michel Bert (eds.) Linguistique de terrain sur langues en danger: Locuteurs et linguists. Paris: Éditions Ophrys.
Johnson, Heidi (2009).  The archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America: Goals and Visions. Artículo no pubicado, University of Texas at Austin, United States.

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