Jeff Heath explores new frontiers in language documentation


By Andries W. Coetzee
Oct 27, 2012 Bookmark and Share

Professor Jeff Heath

Professor Jeff Heath

Jeff Heath has been working on the documentation of the Dogon and Bangime languages of Mali for several years. His research has been funded with awards by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Program, and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. As with all of Jeff's previous documentation projects (ranging from Aboriginal Australian languages to several varieties of Arabic to Berber languages), Jeff and his research team have been very productive. 

They have produced several extensive grammatical descriptions and dictionaries of various Dogon languages. They are also cataloging the fauna and flora of the Dogon region of Mali, and they are working with the LLMAP project housed at Eastern Michigan University to create a linguistic map of the Dogon and Songhay villages of Mali.

Jeff is a leader in developing this multi-faceted approach to language and cultural documentation. And he and his research team are taking this even one step further. They are now also adding photographs to and integrating videos into their documentation work. These visual materials are used both to illustrate linguistic concepts, and also for the documentation of cultural events and practices.

In addition to the more traditional venues for communicating the results of the research (journal articles, monographs, etc.), Jeff and his research team are moving their reporting onto the Internet. This not only makes it easier to incorporate different media, but it also makes the research more readily and immediately available to both the research community and the local communities whose languages are being documented. Jeff is leading the field in these innovations in terms of how language and culture are being documented, and in how to disseminate the results of the documentation activities.

The Dogon and Bangime Linguistics website is well worth visiting. Jeff notes that "the documentary videos (many of which work native vocabulary into subtitles) are perhaps of greatest general interest". Though these videos are certainly interesting, the rest of the website is equally impressive as an example of the new frontiers in language documentation.