Book review: Why Language Documentation Matters (Chelliah 2021)

It looks like Shobhana Chelliah’s recent book on langdoc hasn’t been mentioned here yet. The 2021 publication Why Language Documentation Matters is a non-specialist introduction to the language documentation movement:

I bring it up because I’ve written a short review of this (very useful) book. I’d particularly recommend it to anyone teaching about language documentation or who wants to bring the topic into any type of Intro to language/linguistics course.

Here’s the review:


Here’s the PDF of the review if you’d like to avoid academia dot edu:
SWPL21_Lovestrand revised 2022-12-14.pdf (191.1 KB)


Sure looks like a useful source for readings for classes with interdisciplinary participants. (Computer scientists, anthropologists, historians, etc.) This chapter description in particular seems relevant:

Chapter 6 “Methods in Language Documentation and Description” is a 16-page overview of the recording and annotation process with examples of possible outputs and other materials included in a
documentation project.

I find it surprisingly difficult to explain to folks with no exposure to the field what exactly language documentation is. Even bearing in mind the questions of balance you point out about this chapter (and they are significant), it’s nice that there’s anything at all with a newcomer-friendly framing.

It really is a bummer that a book like this, which could serve as a useful class text, is so expensive. So I’ll hope to find a copy of this in a library at some point!

Thanks for sharing this! I had missed it too.

PS. I have changed our “papers” category to a #publications category with #book and #paper subcategories. Trying to tidy up our metadata a bit around here, now that we have a fair amount of content. Go team! :medal_sports:


I just saw that Chapter 4 and the short conclusion (Ch 8) are on Shobhana’s academia page:

And she told me she is hoping to re-work this material for an open access publication on the same topic, so keep a lookout for that as well.