5.1 Language documentation and description

So far, we have covered how to gather language data, how to organize your data and structure your metadata, and how to properly transcribe your data for analysis. Now it’s time to explore language description and linguistic analysis. Language description and analysis is documenting how language is actually used. To do this, you’ll need to understand and gather data on key linguistic features. 

To walk through the exercise of language description, we will focus on the Tibeto-Burman language family as an example. This module will highlight prominent features of Tibeto-Burman grammar then discuss how to collect language data about those features and, ultimately, how to analyze them using a language description software called FLEx. While we are focusing on features of Tibeto-Burman languages, many of these concepts exist in languages from all around the world.


  1. To understand prominent linguistic features of Tibeto-Burman languages
  2. To understand what activities comprise linguistic analysis
  3. To understand how to use naturalistic texts for linguistic analysis
  4. To learn how to use the software FLEx

After this module, you will have:

  1. Collected language samples through a variety of methods
  2. Performed a basic analysis of a text using FLEx


Coupe, A. (2007). Converging patterns of clause linkage in Nagaland. In M. Miestamo & B. Wälchli (Authors), New challenges in typology: Broadening the horizons and redefining the foundations (Vol. 189, pp. 339-361). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Genetti, C. (2011). The tapestry of Dolakha Newar: Chaining, embedding, and the complexity of sentences. Linguistic Typology, 15. 5-24.