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Resurrecting the Dead (Languages): Documenting, archiving, and teaching at the Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas

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  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Education
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy


This poster presents a unified ecosystem for the documentation and teaching of dead languages at the Linguistics Research Center at UT Austin. It discusses how the lexicon, lesson plans, and texts from a variety of Indo-European languages are connected and used for research and teaching. Most research in documenting and archiving languages over the past decade has focused on endangered languages (Himmelmann 1998, Bird & Simons 2003, Seifart et al. 2012). While some researchers are interested in determining the best methods for collecting, managing, and archiving data, others are concerned with ethical issues, revitalization, and teaching/learning small languages. This poster presentation offers an in-depth discussion of a very different kind of documentation project, one that focuses on Indo-European (IE) languages that have already gone extinct. In presenting ongoing research at the Linguistics Research Center (LRC) at the University of Texas at Austin ( this talk aims to highlight specific issues arising from documenting languages that are no longer spoken (but which are partially documented by different types of resources). Section 1 outlines the goals of the Indo-European archiving efforts at the LRC. Among other activities, the LRC currently focuses on the assembly and annotation of a significant IE Lexicon consisting of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) etyma (lexical roots) indexed using Carl Buck’s (1949) semantic fields. The lexicon contains a wide array of reflexes in languages more modern than the original, with an emphasis on English words and their etymologies, which span thousands of years. Linguistic and Semantic indices provide complementary windows through which to view the information and explore the reconstruction and transmission of ancient, pre-literate culture. Section 2 discusses the workflow of the LRC. First, it addresses problems in assembling the lexicon based on a wide variety of existing resources (print and manuscript form; e.g. Fick 1890; Pokorny 1959; Lehmann 1986, Watkins 2000). Specifically, it shows some sample PIE etyma, which exemplify the treatment of PIE phonemes. Next, we present how semantic fields index PIE roots by category and how they can be linked in the future to word uses in IE texts as well as lessons texts in the Early Indo-European OnLine (EIEOL) project. Finally, we discuss some issues related to producing electronic materials for extinct languages (character sets, indexing, formatting, meta-data). Section 3 presents how the IE Lexicon dovetails with the lesson series contained in EIEOL ( to provide a unified ecosystem for historical linguistic study, allowing users a point of entry at any stage of interest and expertise, beginner and specialist alike. Each series provides a complete introduction to the study of a particular ancient IE language, including original texts with word-by-word grammatical analyses and contextual translations, and accompanied by a complete glossary, a base-form dictionary, and an English meaning index. Each lesson in a series situates the language and text in its historical and cultural context. Finally, we highlight a number of valuable insights we have had while assembling online IE materials, which we hope are helpful for colleagues engaged in documenting yet living endangered languages.

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