Author Archive

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

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…