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A Human Rights Based Elicitation Tool for Linguists

Updated: Feb 21

This elicitation tool is based on the GCLR statement on understanding and defending language rights. It is intended for use by documentary linguists, but could also be used by sociolinguists and others. 

The tool aims to simultaneously elicit linguistic data while also enabling the linguist to obtain a systematic understanding of the local political context as it pertains to the use and transmission of languages. It is partially based on domain analysis (attempting to ascertain the social situations in which a language is likely to be used), but will also aid in eliciting information about language ideologies (local understandings of and attitudes about languages), as well as language policies and linguistic discrimination. 

This elicitation tool includes questions that overlap with the information collected for documentation of the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS) status of a language, which is often observed and reported during language documentation projects. The questions in this tool will help linguists establish the EGIDS status of a language, but also situates this in the larger social and political context, while also providing a semi-structured way to document people’s own assessment of language status. 

This tool will most likely be useful once a linguist has established some initial contact with the community and obtained formal consent to proceed with research, but before more extensive data-collection begins. Using this tool at that stage allows the linguist to make certain that their work within the community avoids potential risks, such as inadvertently breaching sensitive socio-cultural boundaries and ethics, which may not be readily discernible from an external perspective. It thus ultimately aims to help inform linguists’ ethical practice.  

Researchers will need to check if specific ethics approval is required to use this tool in any given community. 

The Questions 

Question 1. Can you use your language wherever and however you want?

Question 2. Can you use your language at school? Which languages are used in local schools? Why are those languages used? Would you like to use your language at school?

Question 3. Can you use your language in hospitals and with doctors? Which languages are used with doctors and in hospitals? Why are those languages used?

Question 4. Can you communicate with the government in your language? Which languages are used to communicate with the government? Why are those languages used? 

Question 5. Can people use your language at work? With who? Which languages do people use for different kinds of work? Why are those languages used? 

Question 6. Can you hear and see your language on TV, radio, books, newspapers, and the internet? Which languages can you hear and see on TV, radio, books, newspapers, and the internet? 

Question 7. Can you use your language in religious settings, and with religious practitioners? Is your language used in any religious rituals? Does anyone consider your language sacred?  

Question 8. Do you feel that you can freely pass your language to future generations? 

Question 9. Can you use your language without worrying about how other people will treat you? Do people ever insult or attack you because of how you speak, sign, or write?

Question 10. Do people ever say that your language is worse or better than other languages? What kind of things do other people say about your language? Do people ever say your language is not a real language? 

Question 11. What names do other communities call your language? How do you feel about those names? What names do you have for your language? How do you feel about those names? 

Question 12. If you want to protect and support your language, can you do the following things safely? 

  • Work by yourself to defend your language rights.

  • Work together in a group secretly to defend your language rights. 

  • Work together in a group publicly to defend your language rights. 

  • Protest in the streets to defend your language rights.

  • Talk about your language rights on social media. 

  • Speak to government officials about your language rights.

  • Speak to national media about your language rights.

  • Speak to international media about your language.  

Question 13. Are some people already doing these things? If they do these things, how will your community think and react? How will the government react? 

Question 14. If a person does not speak language X, can that person still belong to community/ clan/ group X? Does speaking language X make someone part of X group? 

Question 15. Do you think your children will speak your language? Do you think your grand-children will still speak your language? Do you think people will still speak this language in 100 years? Do you think more or fewer people will speak your language in 100 years? 

If no: what does the community need to help keep the language?

If yes: What is the community doing that will help them keep it? 

Question 16. Is there anything else that I need to know to continue working with this community? If there have been previous researchers, have they made any mistakes I should avoid? What are your expectations from this work? How do you feel about other people researching your language? 

Tool created by: Anujeema Saikia, Clara Rosina Fernández, and Gerald Roche

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Lauren Gawne, Ayesha Kidwai, Anna Belew, and Aron Zahran for feedback on earlier drafts of this tool.

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