Author Archive

Imagine … a world without PARADISEC

Imagine … a world without memories is the evocative and chilling title of a project organised by the National Committee of Australia for the UNESCO Memory of the World.

Memory of the World event

Memory of the World event 14/5/2013 Adelaide

Through the Australian Memory of the World Register, the Committee, mostly volunteers, are building public awareness of the importance of maintaining records and objects associated with events important to many people. It’s harder to burn down a library if the people who see the flames believe the burning contents are valuable to them. [burn down = de-fund].

In 2001, the first items were added to the Australian Register: James Cook’s Endeavour journal, the Mabo case documents, and landmark constitutional documents. Not a bad balance. This year, 11 items were added, bringing the total to 49.

The event of inscribing these items in the register took place on 14 May 2013 in the splendid Mortlock Chamber of the South Australian State Library with its vaulted ceiling and storied galleries of books. Before the ceremony, I wandered past the Treasures Wall, looking at nineteenth century collections of things and their representations: birds’ eggs, illustrations and classifications of beetles, plants and mushrooms, geological maps, diaries, and J B Cleland’s notes from the Taman Shud case.

Master Henry Gilbert's bird egg collection

Master Henry Gilbert’s bird egg collection

These South Australian realia collections made a good frame for thinking about the parallels between them and the kinds of documents inscribed in the Australian Register. Some of the 11 new items were as curious as the pie-dish beetle, others as well organised as the fungus collection, others as decorative as Fiveash’s wildflower paintings, still others — like the records of indentured labourers and convicts — promising stories as sad and sinister as Taman Shud.

Jared Thomas, a Nukunu writer and researcher gave a short speech saying how helpful and important the documentations of the past was — and he mentioned the Norman Tindale collection, one of the 11 new treasures. This has been important for him as a writer, and for him as a Nukunu given the Nukunu native title claims. People could take or challenge the representations given in the early documentation, and could move to the future equipped with a strong understanding of the present and a very strong understanding of the past.

Almost all items come from large state or national institutions with recurrent funding. The items range from sound recordings, the John Meredith folklore collection* of the National Library, to the Holtermann collections of glass negatives taken by Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss of the Hill End, Mudgee and Gulgong goldfields (State Library of NSW) and F E Williams’ photographs of Papua New Guinea (National Archives and South Australian Museum), to individual items like Colonel William Light’s plan of Adelaide (State Library of South Australia), Thomas Burstow’s eyewitness diary of the bombing raids on Darwin (Northern Territory Library), and three diaries of the goldfields (including Edward Snell’s lovely illustrated diary) (State Library of Victoria), to particular types of records (Convict Records of Western Australia 1838–1910 (State Records Office of Western Australia), and Queensland South Sea Island Indentured Labourer Records 1863–1908 (Queensland State Archives)), to the comprehensive records of the first 50 years of the University of Adelaide.

2013-05-14 22.51.12

So it is pretty wonderful that, only ten years after its beginning, and without recurrent fundng, UNESCO has recognised the importance of PARADISEC’s collection through inscribing it on this list. And it follows on PARADISEC’s inclusion in the ‘UNESCO Register of Good Practices in Language Preservation [.doc]’ in 2005. This recognition is a tribute to collaboration — to Linda Barwick and Nick Thieberger and their team, to their universities, and to how much they have achieved on shoestrings. (Note: you can strengthen PARADISEC’s shoestring by sponsoring them — and it’s tax-deductible).

* This award was accepted by Kevin Bradley, and it was a great pleasure to thank him once again for all the help and advice he gave PARADISEC when it was still an egg.

Workshop: Phonetics and phonology of Australian Indigenous languages

Workshop Website
University of Western Sydney/Bankstown Campus
13-14 June 2013

Sponsored by the Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association (ASSTA), the MARCS Institute (UWS) and the School of Humanities and Communication Arts (UWS)

This workshop has a thematic focus on the phonetics and phonology of Australian Indigenous languages. The aim is to bring together specialists in this area to discuss current theoretical issues in order to produce outlines for concrete research projects involving interdisciplinary collaboration on a regional and international level.

This two-day event will involve a first day of presentations and discussions focused specifically on circulating and disseminating ideas and topics that are in need of collaborative investigation as well as initiating possible collaborative projects. Six invited specialists in the field will outline strategic initiatives of priority research in the phonetics and phonology of Australian Indigenous languages. On the second day, these leads will be taken up by smaller project groups with the specific aim to generate viable outlines of proposals which will then be further developed for submission to national and international funding bodies within the following year/funding cycle if possible.

The workshop is open to ASSTA members free of charge. A limited number of PhD student travel awards are also available: For more information please email

Strategic initiatives presented by:

Prof. Andy Butcher (Flinders University)
Dr. Brett Baker (University of Melbourne)
A/Prof. Janet Fletcher (University of Melbourne)
Dr. Mark Harvey (University of Newcastle)
Dr. Erich Round (University of Queensland)
A/Prof.Marija Tabain (La Trobe University)

For further information please email to
See also

OCHRE and NSW languages

NSW Ochre [.pdf] was released on 5 April, and has a pretty amazing set of goals for Aboriginal languages in NSW schools. I quote some relevant passages:

“Language Nests in Schools aim to provide Aboriginal students and their families with a continuous pathway for learning from pre-school to Year 12 and into tertiary education (TAFE and universities) and to offer Aboriginal students a new opportunity to consider language teaching as a vocation.”

“The Ministerial Taskforce on Aboriginal Affairs recommended that Aboriginal Language and Culture Nests be trialled initially in one location each from five Aboriginal language groups: Gamilaraay; Gumbaynggirr; Bundjalung; Paarkintji/Barkindji; and Wiradjuri.”
“based on various pre-conditions for success, including:
• The number of language speakers
• The availability of language teachers
• The availability of language resources
• The level of commitment and activity around language revitalisation within local schools
• Proximity to the resources, infrastructure and support available through local communities and regional AECG networks, TAFEs, universities and schools.
Lessons learned will then be shared with other Aboriginal language groups to support communities aspiring to rejuvenate and revitalise their local Aboriginal language.”

“The Language Nests initiative will serve as a springboard for both school students and community members to access language learning pathways, beginning as early as pre-school and continuing into high school and further education. To achieve this, we need to grow the number of teachers of language – both in the community, at home, in the classroom and at TAFE or university. The NSW Government believes that if we invest in both people and the development of resources we can increase the number of language teachers and speakers.”

International Mother Language Day 2013

Yesterday was UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day. Theme: Books for mother tongue education. Interesting, engaging, pleasurable, informative written material in people’s mother tongues. A great hope, a great challenge.

And Jeanie Bell got to be interviewed on ABC Radio National Drive – they had a lovely peacful lowkey conversation, covering lots of ground – and punctuated by some snippets of different languages, which allowed the interviewer, Waleed Aly, to express pleased surprise that someone was talking about savings accounts in an Indigenous language.

Update: a few other IMLD stories:
in PNG, in South Africa (nice graphs but sad to see the San relegated to “Other”), in Ghana, in Belarus, and in a Crikey post by Aidan Wilson in Australia.

Kalam Language Dictionary Launch

Check here for an account of the launch of the Kalam dictionary – what a feat! 48 years on..there’s hope for all of us with dictionaries in the bottom drawer.

And another new book and conference

Moving from Nigeria to Australia… We in Australia owe thanks to Maïa Ponsonnet, Loan Dao and Margit Bowler, who have shepherded the Proceedings of the 42th ALS Conference – 2011 to publication online on the ANU Research Repository in close to record time. Papers on lesser-known languages (old, new, created) include:

On Australian languages (old and new)
Taking to the airwaves. A strategy for language revival, by Rob Amery

Grammar rules, OK? What works when teaching a higly endangered Aboriginal language versus a strong language, by Mary-Anne Gale

Body-parts in Dalabon and Barunga Kriol: Matches and mismatches, by Maïa Ponsonnet

On created languages
I can haz language play: The construction of language and identity in LOLspeak, by Lauren Gawne and Jill Vaughan

The morphosyntax of a created language of the Philippines: Folk linguistic effects and the limits of relexification, by Piers Kelly

On other small languages
Simplifying a system: A story of language change in Lelepa, Vanuatu, by Sébastien Lacrampe

Non-referential actor indexing in Nehan, by John Olstad

The expression of potential event modality in the Papuan language of Koromu, by Carol Priestley

And language and music
Musicolinguistic artistry of niraval in Carnatic vocal music, by Mahesh Radhakrishnan

And the problems L1 speakers of Australian creoles face
Sad Stories. A preliminary study of NAPLAN practice texts analysing students’ second language linguistic resources and the effects of these on their written narratives, by Denise Angelo

Editing proceedings is an arduous task, but wonderful for the discipline – the world gets to see papers early, people are more inspired to go to the conference, and so there are more opportunities for fruitful collaboration: a virtuous cycle which repeats again at this year’s Australian Linguistics Society conference being held in Perth. Check out the presentations and abstracts – some fabulous-looking papers!

Summer research scholarships!

AIATSIS/ANU Summer Research Scholarship Program 2012/13 CLOSING DATE 31 AUGUST

The ANU School of Language Studies (SLS) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies (AIATSIS) are pleased to announce they will co-host two Summer Research Scholars in the 2012/13 round.

Outstanding undergraduate and honours students working on Australian languages are encouraged to apply, in particular those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. All students will find AIATSIS and SLS welcoming and academically engaging places to be.

A Summer Research Scholarship includes:

  • Return travel from a student’s place of Australian/NZ residence to The Australian National University
  • Accommodation and all meals on campus from 26 November 2012 to 24 January 2013, and a weekly stipend.

Click here for background and projects:

Full details of award conditions, key dates and application processes are available on the ANU Summer Research Scholarships website.

New book and launch

Talk, Text and Technology: Literacy and social practice in a remote Indigenous community by Inge Kral (The Australian National University) has just been published by Multilingual Matters in Britain.

It is an ethnography of language, learning and literacy in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands communities of south-east Western Australia. This study traces the Ngaanyatjarra from the introduction of alphabetic literacy in the 1930s at Warburton Ranges Mission to the recent arrival of digital literacies and new media across the region. This unique work examines changing social, cultural and linguistic practices across the generations and addresses the implications for language and literacy socialisation.

Multilingual Matters is selling it on their website at 20% discount.

For those in Canberra on Thursday August 23 the book will be launched by Professor Gillian Wigglesworth (University of Melbourne) at the ANU Co-op Bookshop at 5.30pm.

Languages and language policy of Timor Leste

Kirsty Sword Gusmão gave a terrific public lecture Language, language policies and education in Timor-Leste on 20th July at ANU. You can watch the talk here. Key points for me were:

  • her passionate commitment to expanding opportunity for Timor-Leste’s children through education
  • her belief that mother tongue medium instruction in the early years is a key to this education
  • the problems faced in a country with 2 official languages, 2 working languages – how to create effective multilingualism
  • the hard question of how you go about mother tongue medium instruction in a small and poor country which has to start from scratch
    1. documenting languages
    2. training teachers
    3. creating school materials

If you had, as I had, ideas about whizz-bangery stuff on computers [1], forget them for the moment in a country like Timor-Leste where kids are lucky to have books.

What to do? This work is supported by some organisations, including the Alola Foundation which Kirsty Sword Gusmão set up, and we can support them. She was also urging linguists to help the work on documenting the languages. And we discussed as well the need for scholarships for people from Timor-Leste to get training in language documentation, language teaching methods, etc. So – over to our readers…

[1] Even happens in Australia – I was astonished to learn from an Australian advocate for community language schools (what we once called Saturday Schools), that you can’t count on access to computers for Saturday Schools. Even if they’re allowed to use school premises, they’re often blocked from using the computers for fear of the horrible things they might do to them.

Very Long Track to the Other Side

Road construction sometimes means new names, new opportunities.. The Kempsey bypass project includes a bridge over the Macleay River and Floodplain which, at 2 kilometres long on completion, will be the longest bridge in Australia.

So Yapang Gurraarrbang Gayandigayigu Very Long Track to the Other Side….

This is the neat name which, so Amanda Lissarague tells me, the Dhanggati Language Group has come up with, supported by the Macleay Valley Tourist Association Inc, Kemspey Aboriginal Land Council, Dunghutti Elders. Dhanggati Language Group are a group of Elders who are involved in language revival, and currently doing the Certificate 1 in an Aboriginal Language (Dhanggati) at Kempsey TAFE, taught by Aunty Esther Quinlin, with Amanda’s support (Muurrbay Regional Language Centre). The Elders are also informing the ongoing research and development of the second edition (yes!) of the Dhanggati grammar & dictionary. Aunty Esther Quinlan, Uncle Graham Quinlan and Aunty Cheryl Blair are teaching Dhanggati in Kempsey primary schools.

There’s an alternative proposal from the local RSL, for the name of a fallen soldier from the region. The final decision rests with

The Hon. Duncan Gay MLC
Minister for Roads and Maritime Services
Level 35 Gov. Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place
Sydney NSW 2000