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Friday, December 19, 2014
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Transcribing the obscure

Katie Botkin

In grad school, I had this idea that I would go on to get a PhD in field linguistics. We were doing these projects to figure out the phonetic structure of a language unknown to us based on our own transcriptions from a native speaker, and I picked the most obscure one I could find. There was a girl I knew from Gabon who spoke a language she called Bateke, which was also the name of her minority ethnic group there. The language had no alphabet, she said. Nothing was written down in her language, at least that she knew of. So I recorded her pronouncing a list of 100 words and sentences, transcribed those using the international phonetic alphabet, and attempted to construct a phonetic chart of her language — the starting point for any field linguist’s attempt at creating a working orthography. It was enough to whet my appetite, and I returned to her for later projects in grammar and so on. So when I read about minority languages, I think of that, and try to calculate how much time it would take to come up with an accurate written document in that language — translated or otherwise. . .

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Above taken from the October/November 2012 issue of MultiLingual published by MultiLingual Computing, Inc., 319 North First Avenue, Suite 2, Sandpoint, Idaho 83864-1495 USA, 208-263-8178, Fax: 208-263-6310. Subscribe

October/November, 2012