Digital Materiality for Language Artifacts

Several years ago while writing a portion of a paper which related to the use of certain keyboard layouts I started down the literature trail of “materiality studies”. The broad idea is that humans are impacted by the things in their environment and form special “attachments” or relationships with those things. So my question was what sort of relationship do minority language users create with their language and how does the tool of a keyboard layout affect that relationship? We know that the kind of shovel available to someone digging a trench impacts how they approach the crafting of the trench, so in the same way what is the impact of one keyboard layout as opposed to a different one? The same question can be pose about two other “objects”. For example, consider a language’s orthography many would not consider this an “object” in the traditional sense, but yet people engage with it as if it were an object. I think this is significant not just for materiality studies but also social anthropology and the social use of language artifacts. The second object or set of objects was the content of a “language archive”. That is, the materiality of language artifacts. We see that these artifacts are important and do have social relationships as evidenced by the nature of relationships that indigenous communities in the USA have with various archives and speech related artifacts. It is not only these communities, it is broader than that. For example Mukurtu a CMS solution for digital engagement with cultural heritage artifacts has some wide spread uptake among indigenous communities outside of the USA. One implication of materiality considerations is that the relationships and specific attitudes about relationships are communicable without actually having material artifacts move across communities. This then has significant relevance for language development and language revitalization studies.

The following bibliography is a list of sources I started to collect on the topic.


Allen-Robertson (2018)
(). Critically assessing digital documents: materiality and the interpretative role of software. Information, Communication & Society, 21(11). 1732–1746.
Allen-Robertson (2017)
(). The materiality of digital media: The hard disk drive, phonograph, magnetic tape and optical media in technical close-up. New Media & Society, 19(3). 455–470.
Appadurai (1986)
(). Introduction: commodities and the politics of value. In Appadurai, A. (Eds.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in cultural perspective. (pp. 3–63). Cambridge University Press.
Balbi, Delfanti & Magaudda (2016)
, & (). Digital Circulation: Media, Materiality, Infrastructures. An Introduction. Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies, 7(1). 7–15.
Barad (2003)
(). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3). 801–831.
Edwards (2002)
(). Material beings: Objecthood and ethnographic photographs. Visual Studies, 17(1). 67–75.
Feenberg (2003)
(). Modernity Theory and Technology Studies: Reflections on Bridging the Gap. (pp. 73–104). MIT Press.
Gosden & Marshall (1999)
& (). The Cultural Biography of Objects. World Archaeology, 31(2). 169–178.
Neff (2015)
(). Learning from documents: Applying new theories of materiality to journalism. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, 16(1). 74–78.
Wajcman & Jones (2012)
& (). Border communication: media sociology and STS. Media, Culture & Society, 34(6). 673–690.
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Hugh Paterson III
Hugh Paterson III
Collaborative Scholar

I specialize in bespoke research at the intersection of Linguistics, Law, Languages, and Technology; specifically utility and life-cycle management for information products in these spaces.