Socio-linguistic Profiles for Language Documentation

Some researchers in linguistics (in my acquaintance) have been less than excited about the notion of asking for socio-linguistic data or socio-personal data from language informants. The objection has been that it is just bad form. While I am a great advocate of personal privacy (especially in digital formats), I see that one of the most informative parts of the language documentation process is understanding who the speakers being recording or being worked with are. Language variation is fundamentally connected with identity. While crucial elements of how a community segments itself along identity lines may not be known for several years, having a robust socio-cultural or socio-personal questionnaire about the language informants will later help place the documentation data in perspective of the larger waves of variation in the community.

This is to say, I am thoroughly convinced that a socio-linguistic questionnaire is important as part of the language documentation process. It might not need to be done first, but it will help researchers and future users of archived material understand where to place these speech samples in context of that speakers society.

One outstanding question, and one with a variable answer is how to appropriately approach the questions in the questionnaire. Should the questionnaire be approached formally? Or should it be asked in conversational format? Should it be elicited digitally? One of the interesting things about eliciting things digitally is that they may have the appearance to be less intrusive because they are appear less formal. While I have no empirical evidence based on years of cross-cultural work, I do have the Facebook phenomena. That is, minority-language users all over the world are using Facebook. And Facebook is collection (and allowing the users to volunteer) and then verifying the users’ provided data. Granted it is completly probable that many of these minority-language users do not understand or appreciate the impact of Facebook’s data elicitation scheme. So while the fact that Facebook is collectiong personally identifying information about people and their online habbits doesn’t mean that the field of language documentation doesn’t need to grapple with this issue, it does reset the social understanding of what is “normal”.

Facebook User Base Graph from 2010

Facebook User Base Graph from 2010 Credit: Facebook

Below is a list of elements which Facebook is collecting (it is also collecting log-in locations and times). So, some of these questions are certainly in-scope of what language documenters would minimally like to know about their indigenous language speaking informants and collaborators. Others of these questions are certainly not in-scope for the recommended socio-linguistic profile from language documenters or socio-linguists.

FaceBook data catagories on user profiles

Data Facebook Collects about users through their profile and activities. from: on 23 August 2012.

What info is available? What is it? Where can I find it?
About Me Information you added to the About section of your timeline like relationships, work, education, where you live and more. It includes any updates or changes you made in the past and what’s currently in the About section of your timeline. Activity Log
Account Status History The dates when your account was reactivated, deactivated, disabled or deleted. Expanded Archive
Address Your current address or any past addresses you had on your account. Expanded Archive
Alternate Name Any alternate names you have on your account (ex: a maiden name or a nickname). Expanded Archive
Apps All of the apps you subscribe to. Expanded Archive
Birthday Visibility How your birthday appears on your timeline. Expanded Archive
Chat A history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat. Downloaded Info
Check-ins All of the places you’ve checked into. Downloaded Info Activity Log
Connections The people who have liked your Page or Place, RSVPed to your event, installed your app or checked in to your advertised place within 24 hours of viewing or clicking on an ad or Sponsored Story. Activity Log
Currency Your preferred currency on Facebook. If you use Facebook Payments, this will be used to display prices and charge your credit cards. Expanded Archive
Current City The city you added to the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Date of Birth The date you added to Birthday in the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Deleted Friends The people you’ve unfriended. Expanded Archive
Education Any information you added to Education in the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Emails Email addresses added to your account (even those you may have removed). Expanded Archive
Events Events you’ve joined or been invited to. Activity Log
Family Friends you’ve indicated are family members. Expanded Archive
Favorite Quotes Information you’ve added to the Favorite Quotes section of the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Friend Requests Pending sent and received friend requests. Expanded Archive
Friends A list of your friends. Downloaded Info
Gender The gender you added to the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Groups A list of groups you belong to on Facebook. Downloaded Info
Hidden from News Feed Any friends, apps or pages you’ve hidden from your News Feed. Expanded Archive
Hometown The place you added to hometown in the About section of your timeline (profile). Downloaded Info
IP Addresses A list of addresses where you’ve logged into your Facebook account. Expanded Archive
Last Location The last location associated with an update. Activity Log
Likes on Other’s Posts Posts, photos or other content you’ve liked. Activity Log
Likes on Your Posts from others Likes on your own posts, photos or other content. Activity Log
Likes on Other Sites Likes you’ve made on other sites off of Facebook. Activity Log
Locale The language you see on Facebook is based on where you’re located. Expanded Archive
Logins IP address, date and time associated with logins to your Facebook account. Expanded Archive
Logouts IP address, date and time associated with logouts from your Facebook account. Expanded Archive
Messages Archive of messages you’ve sent and received on Facebook. Downloaded Info
Name The name on your Facebook account. Downloaded Info
Name Changes Any changes you’ve made to the original name you used when you signed up for Facebook. Expanded Archive
Networks Networks (affiliations with schools or workplaces) that you belong to on Facebook. Expanded Archive
Notes Any notes you’ve written and published to your account. Activity Log
Notification Settings A list of all your notifications and whether you have email and text enabled or disabled for each. Expanded Archive
Pages You Admin A list of pages you admin. Expanded Archive
Phone Numbers Mobile phone numbers you’ve added to your account. Expanded Archive
Photos Any photos you’ve uploaded to your account. Downloaded Info
Physical Tokens Badges you’ve added to your account. Expanded Archive
Pokes A list of who’s poked you and who you’ve poked. Expanded Archive
Political Views Any information you added to Political Views in the About section of timeline. Downloaded Info
Your Posts Anything you posted to your own timeline, like photos, videos and status updates. Activity Log
Posts by Others Anything you posted to someone else’s timeline (profile), like photos, videos and status updates. Activity Log
Recent Activities Actions you’ve taken and interactions you’ve recently had. Activity Log
Registration Date The date you joined Facebook. Activity Log
Religious Views The information you added to Religious Views in the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Screen Names The screen names you’ve added to your account, and the service they’re associated with. You can also see if they’re hidden or visible on your account. Expanded Archive
Searches Searches you’ve made on Facebook. Activity Log
Spoken Languages The languages you added to Spoken Languages in the About section of your timeline. Expanded Archive
Status Updates Any status updates you’ve posted. Activity Log
Subscribers A list of people who are subscribed to you. Expanded Archive
Subscriptions A list of people you subscribe to. Activity Log
Tag Suggestions Template A unique number based on a comparison of the photos you’re tagged in. We use this template to help your friends tag you in the photos they upload. Expanded Archive
Work Any information you’ve added to Work in the About section of your timeline. Downloaded Info
Videos Videos you’ve posted. Activity Log


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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.