The Language Documentation Quartet

  • Simon Musgrave Monash University
  • Nicholas Thieberger University of Melbourne


As we noted in an earlier paper (Musgrave & Thieberger 2012), the written description of a language is an essentially hypertextual exercise, linking various kinds of material in a dense network. An aim based on that insight is to provide a model that can be implemented in tools for language documentation, allowing instantiation of the links always followed in writing a grammar or a dictionary, tracking backwards and forwards to the texts and media as the source of authority for claims made in an analysis. Our earlier paper described our initial efforts to encode Heath’s (1984) grammar, texts (1980), and dictionary (1982) of Nunggubuyu, an Australian language from eastern Arnhemland. We chose this body of work because it was written with many internal links between the three volumes. The links are all encoded with textual indexes which looked to be ready to be instantiated as automated hyperlinks once the technology was available. In this paper, we discuss our progress in identifying how the four component parts of a description (grammar, text, dictionary, media, henceforth the quartet) can be interlinked, what are the logical points at which to join them, and whether there are practical limits to how far this linking should be carried. We suggest that the problems which are exposed in this process can inform the development of an abstract or theoretical data structure for each of the components and these in turn can provide models for language documentation work which can feed into hypertext presentations of the type we are developing.