North-South relations in linguistic science: Collaboration or colonialism?

Colette Grinevald, Chris Sinha

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter, we attempt to unmask the ideological bias inherent in influential conceptions of the methods, motivations and practices of endangered language documentation research (ELDR). We highlight the extent to which common justifications for ELDR suppress the sociocultural and historical relations within which its practices are situated. We review the historical evolution of language documentation research, and its relationship to language preservation and revitalization. We ask what it is that makes ELDR scientific, critically analysing the models of "language"and of "science"that are frequently deployed in arguments for its importance, and question the value-neutrality of the notion "scientific community"in this context. We suggest that the conjunction of dominant concepts of "language"and "data"generates an ideological construction of unequal competence that operates to justify unequal North-South exchange relations. We document this claim of unequal and at times abusive North-South exchange with brief, anonymized case studies. We conclude by noting that, in comparison with other social science disciplines, linguistics seems resistant to reflexive and self-critical analysis of its ideological dimension; and suggesting possible ways of raising awareness and generalizing models of good practice.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage, Culture and Identity: Signs of Life
PublisherJohn Benjamins
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9789027205483
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2020

Publication series

NameLanguage, Culture and Identity – Signs of Life
ISSN (Print)1879-8047


  • endangered languages
  • ideology of linguistics
  • language documentation
  • language preservation
  • language revitalization

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