Research Objective

This research trajectory brings the fields of language archives and user-centered design (UCD) into dialogue, with the goal of improving users’ experiences with language archives and making them more accessible and useful to diverse user groups.

Participants in February 2016 workshop

More than half of the world’s 7000 or so languages are at risk of no longer being spoken by the end of this century. Language archives provide the promise of long-term preservation of basic documentation of these languages. Online language archives facilitate access to these documentation resources by both heritage communities and scholars alike. The information can take diverse forms. These resources include recordings, manuscripts, and field notes which in many cases provide the only surviving record of now faded languages. Archival resources also document broader cultural information, including traditional knowledge.

One of the complex aspects of these language archives is that they cater to diverse user groups. Most importantly, they are a resource for members of the language community. These members may use archives for language revitalization efforts, or more broadly for access to their cultural heritage. In addition, language archives are used by linguists, who often combine linguistic data from multiple archives for the purpose of cross-linguistic comparisons. There may be additional user groups as well. The challenge is to design language archives that accommodate the needs of all user groups.

Principal Investigators

Christina Wasson Gary Holton
Professor of Anthropology
University of North Texas
christina.wasson [at]
Professor of Linguistics
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
holton [at]


As a first step, we convened a workshop with representatives of the main stakeholder groups that engage with archives for endangered languages.  The workshop was funded by the National Science Foundation Documenting Endangered Languages Program.

February 20-21, 2016

University of North Texas
Denton, Texas 76203

Workshop Goals and Outcomes
The goal of the workshop was to map the terrain at the intersection of language archives and UCD by by engaging representatives of key stakeholder groups in dialogue. Some of the key outcomes that emerged from our conversations were 1) mapping the diverse perspectives of different stakeholder groups, 2) mapping types of language archives and their varying relationships with user groups, and 3) identifying current access issues. See Workshop Products for the products emerging from the workshop.

Special Thanks To
Heather Roth, our tireless Research Assistant who made the workshop happen.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. BCS-1543763 and BCS-1543828.