Author Archive

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
office@gay.minister.nsw.gov.au

Book launch: Kaytetye Dictionary

At the Aboriginal Languages Workshop at North Stradbroke Island last month, as usual there were things to celebrate. I had the honour of helping launch the Kaytetye Dictionary*. Book launches are a lovely way of thinking about and celebrating people’s work and ideas. Here’s what I said, more or less.

Things I love about this dictionary

1. it’s alkenhe (big) and contains elperterre (hard language).

2. It has lots of audiences: community members, linguists, scientists, teachers, people who want to learn the language. And the compilers, Myfany Turpin and the Kaytetye linguist, Alison Ross, have done their best to help all of these audiences. This is a dictionary that we will all learn from, not just for the encyclopaedic knowledge of Kaytetye it embodies, but also for how to present dictionary information.

3. I was trying to think of a metaphor to describe the Kaytetye Dictionary project. And I came up with the quandong tree (not a tree from Kaytetye country but not far off…).

Quandong tree: fruit
The bright red fruit looks pretty and it’s delicious. So I dip into the Kaytetye dictionary anywhere and I find things I love, I just keep on eating. Here are some:

Pronunciation: Arandic languages have a spelling system which takes a lot of getting used to – but the introduction to the dictionary is a real winner. It explains the system, demonstrates how sounds are made, gives respellings that will help English speakers, and even fuzzy spelling search clues. One thing I really like is the cross reference to words that sound similar arerre ‘collarbone’ and ararre ‘white bread’ are cross-referenced to help you distinguish between them.

Words: The dictionary includes not just traditional words but words for new things, words which show Kaytetye as a living language, one that a speech community uses to talk about things like batik wax, atnkere, and not-so-everyday things like guardian angels, arremparrenge. It also includes placenames, and a map with around 100 place names including country names. Yes!

It includes words for things which are very hard to elicit without the wholehearted deep involvement of native speakers. The clitic =akwele is glossed as:
“Of course, certainly; shows you are sure that what you are saying is true because you are speaking from your own knowledge, experience of authority” and then as a second sense:
When someone is repeatedly telling you something, akwele shows that you have heard what the person is saying and suggests that they don’t need to keep on about it.

ayntengarrenke is glossed as “Crawl back to someone after rubbishing them”. Not the kind of word that comes up in elicitation sessions..

And the gloss leads to another thing I like: Myf and Alison have used a lot of everyday language from Central Australia which will make it more useful to Kaytetye people. So, – you’ll find mpwarle arlwar-atnenke glossed as ‘busting for the toilet’.

Quandong tree: roots and branches
Like a quandong tree,the roots and branches are what produce the dictionary – and that is the fieldwork, and the resulting collection of tapes, transcriptions and linkages between example sentences and speakers that underlies the dictionary. This dictionary is just a fraction of what’s contained in that collection, which has already produced the Kaytetye Picture Dictionary. If you find something missing, it’s almost certainly in the massive underlying collection – e.g. following the practice of the other Arandic dictionaries, examples are not sourced, but that information is in the underlying files.

Quandong tree: root sustaining
A special thing about quandong trees is that, to start growing in the first place, they have to have initial sustenance from the roots of trees growing around. And for dictionaries, that sustenance is generosity. This generosity has manifested in many forms.

First are the more than 70 Kaytetye speakers who gave their time and enthusiasm to work with Myf and Alison on the dictionary. Many have since died, and the dictionary honours their work.

Second are the earlier researchers on Kaytetye and on Arandic: Ken Hale, Harold Koch, Grace Koch, and Gavan Breen, who freely added the material they’d collected to form the basis of the Kaytetye dictionary.

Third is the community of Alice Springs, an amazingly collaborative place, where Myf was able to collaborate with natural scientists who have worked to identify plants, animals, reptiles. (but she did say in her speech that some insects had proved hard to label, and the best they could suggest for witchetty grubs was that she let them hatch to see what they turned into..)

Fourth is the wonderful Alice Springs collaboration on picture dictionaries, learners guides and reference dictionaries published by IAD Press. A whole grove of them has grown up since the early 1980s. Through the efforts of Gavan Breen, Veronica Dobson, Cliff Goddard, Jenny Green, John Henderson, Robert Hoogenraad, Jim Wafer, David Wilkins and many others, there are materials such as picture dictionaries, learners guides and reference dictionaries for Mparntwe Arrernte, Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri…. and each dictionary compiler has built on the dictionaries of the past, so that the Kaytetye Dictionary draws on the information and good ideas of the previous dictionaries.

Finally there is the generosity of the compilers. Myf talked about Alison Ross and how she had worked with her grandmother and had produced several hundred written definitions in Kaytetye. I talked about Myf. She has over many years published an enormous amount of analysis and documentation of Kaytetye that is of great benefit to the Kaytetye community as well as to linguists. In 2000 she produced A Learner’s Guide to Kaytetye. IAD Press, Alice Springs, NT. In 2003 came the text collection Growing Up Kaytetye. Stories by Tommy Kngwarraye Thompson. (It’s one of his paintings that provides the beautiful cover of the dictionary). In 2004 she and Alison Ross produced the Kaytetye Picture Dictionary, and a CD Awelye Akwelye: Kaytetye women’s songs from Arnerre, Central Australia. (This was distributed by Papulu Apparr-kari language and culture centre, Tennant Creek. Recordings by Grace, Koch, Linda Barwick and Myfany Turpin, commentary by Myfany Turpin and Alison Ross. Somewhere along the line she produced a Kaytetye version of Sesame Street. Oh and by the by she fitted in her PhD thesis, Form and meaning of Akwelye: a Kaytetye women’s song series from Central Australia: University of Sydney PhD, 2005.
And now, this enormous dictionary. In today’s academic climate this has been an extraordinarily generous act. And it’s been a family act – one of the three proof-readers was Myf’s mum.

Alkapertawe! (finished, completed, done)


*Claimer: I’d gone out and bought a copy as soon as I saw it…before being asked to launch it…

Big Boss: Race against Time

Update on Laurie Baymarrwangga, Senior Australian of the Year, 2012 and patron of the Crocodile Islands Rangers.

Her life story ‘Big Boss: Race against Time’ will screen on Sunday the 13th of May at 1.30pm on the ABC’s Message Stick Program. And here’s a bit about it from Bentley James, Crocodile Islands Rangers.

95 years young ‘Big Boss’ Laurie Baymarrwangga has launched a new project amid renewed calls to save Australia’s threatened indigenous languages. The Senior Australian of the year is working hard on a trilingual Yan-nhangu Dictionary Publishing Project that she hopes will be distributed to every primary school in Australia. A unique and profoundly important project. Working from her homeland on remote Murrungga Island she believes this three language learning resource will protect her rare language Yan-nhangu, and help promote the living language Dhuwal/a, (7000 speakers). It will also encourage English-bilingual teaching and indigenous language education across Australia. Filled with colour pictures, ecological knowledge, art, songs and stories of country that are the real jewels of our distinctive national cultural heritage it is part of her struggle to save her world for the children of the future.

Please pass this information along your networks.
Details can be found at

https://crocodileislandsrangers.wordpress.com/

The living archive of Aboriginal languages – call for expressions of interest

CALL FOR EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST
DEVELOP A USER-FRIENDLY SEARCH INTERFACE AND TOUCHPAD APP FOR A DIGITAL ARCHIVE OF LITERATURE IN ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES
THE LIVING ARCHIVE PROJECT

Submission date: 30 April 2012

During the era of bilingual education in the NT, books were produced in 25 Literature Production Centres in more than 16 languages. These materials are widely dispersed and endangered, and contain interesting and significant stories in indigenous Australian languages, often beautifully illustrated. This is an important collection and must be preserved for the future. We are creating a living archive of these endangered materials, in partnership with the communities of origin. This archive will be stored in the Charles Darwin University eSpace repository (http://espace.cdu.edu.au/). With permission from the language owners, materials in the archive will be accessible to Aboriginal communities, academics and the world. As some users may not have high levels of text literacy or technical ability the archive will require a user-friendly visual interface to allow searches beyond the conventional database search capabilities.

  • browse by image
    users view thumbnails of the covers of books and roll-over to see a larger image with basic metadata and select items to view
  • search by text
    users start typing a word and resources are selectively filtered to retain only those with that sequence of characters in their metadata. For example typing dja would retain books in Djapu and Djambarrpuyŋu, as well as books by Djäwa and books about djamarrkuli or with the word djamarrkuli in their title.
  • search by location
    users click on an area on a map to retrieve all materials in that language or from that region

See the attached call for expressions of interest: EoI LAAL User-friendly search interface.

Read more about the project at the living archive of Aboriginal languages

Submit applications to livingarchive AT cdu.edu.au including samples of references from clients and an estimate of cost, by 30 April 2012.
 

Re-posting – creating interfaces in different languages for Facebook

That munanga linguist has a nice post on how he used Kevin Scannell‘s code to develop a Kriol interface for Facebook. (Kevin Scannell also records Indigenous language tweets, and his web-page has lots of papers and comments on Indigenous languages and Natural Language Programming.

International Mother Language Day 21 February 2012

Large or small, Indo-European or Inuit, endangered or killer, let’s celebrate our mother tongues on UNESCO‘s International Mother Language Day!

We don’t all die for language rights, like the Bangla-speaking students of the University of Dhaka who were killed on 21 February 1952, protesting the then Government of Pakistan’s decision to promote Urdu as the sole national language. But we CAN support this year’s theme which is yes! “Mother tongue instruction and inclusive education”.

UNESO IMLD 2012 poster

Hopes and dreams

On Thursday I had an interesting time in a sleek-looking conference room at Parliament House with the House of Representatives Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities. The terms of inquiry cover learning English and learning Indigenous languages. Lots of people have put lots of time and thought into their submissions and appearances (available online). They are a fascinating snapshot of current concerns, hopes and dreams. (A couple contain not-so-subtle touting – gimme a gazillion and I’ll solve literacy/attendance/savethelanguage, but they’re the exception).

So I was answering questions about my submission [.pdf] on language learning in Indigenous communities. Here goes with points that I wanted to make, and then what I remember of questions asked by the Committee:
Continue reading ‘Hopes and dreams’ »

Yan-nhaŋu in the National Year of Reading

What a good decision in today’s Australia Day honours to make Laurie Baymarrwangga Senior Australian of the Year 2012! Read Claire Bowern’s post for an appreciation of her and her work documenting the Yan-nhaŋu language and getting it written down. She sounds a delightful person.

2012 is also National Year of Reading. Everyone with a reading-scheme in their revolver will be lobbying the government for funds to smelt and fire their silver bullets. Will the glitter of silver blind officials to the evidence as to whether they can hit the target?

How about for a change we read Yan-nhaŋu, Warlpiri, Enindilyakwa, Arabic, Vietnamese…? And for an even greater change, fund the production of reading material and decent language enrichment programs in these languages? Which brings me to a quibble about the description of Ms Baymarrwangga’s achievements:

Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise, she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project. Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children.

‘initiate’ is a slippery word, which then slithered into the ABC report as’establishment’.

Another is her establishment of the Yan-nhangu dictionary project, without any funding, resources, expertise or the ability to speak English.

This is a dangerous inaccuracy. Others were involved in the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary work who had access to resources. Ignoring their contribution lets governments off the hook. They want us to believe that love is all you need to maintain a language and create an online dictionary for it. Not schools, not interpreters or translators, not curricula or interesting stuff to read, not web-hosting or software, not linguists or programmers, nothing that needs paying for. Certainly nothing that would cost as much as some of the silver bullet reading-schemes.