Archive for the ‘Australian Linguistics’ Category.

Where have all the AusE sociolinguists gone?

Harriet Sheppard and Jonathan Schlossberg recap the March Linguistics in the Pub, a monthly informal gathering of linguists in Melbourne to discuss topical areas in our field.

 

Topic: Is the study of Australian languages at the expense of the study of Australian English variation?

Australian linguists are world renowned for their work on the description and documentation of indigenous languages. It is remarkable (to this outsider), given such a febrile research environment, that so little descriptive work seems to be being done on dialects of Australian English compared to the study of English variation in other nations. Can it really be true that Masterchef Australia has more to contribute to the analysis and documentation of Australian English than Australian linguistics does? I’d be interested in hearing from local (socio) linguists whether they think a focus on indigenous languages will necessarily be at the expense of the regional varieties of English in Australia.

 

A large contingent turned out for the March LIP, with representatives from Melbourne, Monash and La Trobe Universities, including many sociolinguists. The discussion was led by special guest Prof Miriam Meyerhoff (Victoria University of Wellington).
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Dry-dock launch of ‘Kochlinger’

kochlinger
On Thursday I had a most pleasurable time launching a new book on Australian languages and linguistics at the terrific annual conference of the Australian Linguistics Society in Newcastle (thanks Newcastle organisers!). Here goes for ALS’s first ever dry-dock launch… for Harold Koch and Rachel Nordlinger’s co-edited book (2014) The languages and linguistics of Australia: a comprehensive guide.

Australia has a long and interesting history of developing new kinds of books about language areas. In the nineteenth century we had compendia of vocabularies across Australia or parts – by Edward Curr (Curr, 1887), George Taplin (Taplin, 1879) and Robert Brough-Smyth (Smyth, 1876). This was followed in the early twentieth century by Wilhelm Schmidt’s pan-Australia classificatory work (Schmidt, 1919), and later Arthur Capell’s new approach to Australian linguistics (Capell, 1956). Then Norman Tindale produced his map and bibliography in 1974 (Tindale, 1974). In 1976 Dixon edited a collection of papers by lots of different linguists addressing the same grammatical topics (Robert M.W. Dixon, 1976). A flurry of different types of books appeared in the 1980s—from R M W Dixon and Barry Blake’s editing of short grammar handbook series (e.g. Dixon and Blake, 1983), the handbook series for geographic areas with vocabularies and bibliographies which Jim Wafer initiated (e.g. Menning and Nash, 1981). Then there were overview books (Blake, 1987; Dixon, 1980; Yallop, 1982). In 1993 Michael Walsh and Colin Yallop produced their edited collection of chapters on different topics in Indigenous languages (Walsh and Yallop, 1993). That book became the mainstay of courses on Aboriginal languages and was affectionately known as ‘Wallop’.
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The 2014 ARC Cup

An astonishingly good ARC Cup run for Indigenous Australian languages. Onya! Good news for horses from PARADISEC, ELAC blog contributors and the new Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.

Amidst this joy, deep sympathy to the many people working in linguistics who put in terrific projects that didn’t get funded.

This is the field for Indigenous language work as I see it – if I’ve missed anyone, lemme know.
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Human rights, language rights and the Northern Territory Government

Rumour has it that the Northern Territory Government is proposing to scrap the one remaining linguist position in the southern part of the Northern Territory. This position has been going since the mid 1970s, and the occupants have worked with Indigenous people and schools to create shared understandings of Indigenous languages, of the needs of school-children for understanding what happens in the classroom, of the needs of Indigenous teachers for support and training. They have produced amazing materials in Indigenous languages for classrooms, curriculum materials and reference documentation, some of which is archived and available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Rumour also has it that the reason for scrapping the position is because there is “no need for any linguistic expertise in Central Australia and the Barkly schools”.

But rumour doesn’t have it that the kids have all staged a revolution and started speaking Standard English.
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Open access and intimate fieldwork

A report on the Linguistics in the Pub discussion Tuesday 11th March, Prince Alfred Hotel, Grattan St, Melbourne.

This Linguistics in the Pub discussion brought together fieldworkers who do research in Indigenous Australia, Africa, South Asia, Papua New Guinea and Nepal, as well as a computational linguist who has developed software to automate language documentation. The linguists were not all Australian, in fact we were lucky to have four participants who identify as European who are living in Australia, temporarily or permanently. The linguists’ experience in language documentation ranged from between 6-30 years and between them had deposited in the digital archives: DoBeS, Paradisec and ELAR. The timeliness of this discussion is demonstrated by David Nathan’s very recent ELAC post on the same topic.
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First Footprints, Farsd Fatbrontz, Verst Pitprands: Spelling as if the language matters

I have watched the excellent series First Footprints a couple of times. It is a great overview of the origins of human occupation of Australia, with fantastic visual effects and photography. It starts with the declaration that “First Footprints seeks to treat Indigenous cultures and beliefs with respect”. Respecting Indigenous Australian languages should involve at least treating them the way you would any other language and checking that words in Australian Indigenous languages were written accurately. Think of the times you have watched a film that had misspelled English subtitles in it and what it makes you think of the care the subtitler took. It only took me a little effort to check on the following mistakes by web-browsing and by talking to people with experience in the particular languages.
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ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

We have great pleasure in announcing that the ARC has funded a Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language over seven years. This project will be led by Nick Evans at ANU with a collaborative team from there, the University of Western Sydney, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne, and with many partners from other universities and institutions including AIATSIS and  Appen.

We want this to be a centre for collaboration, for generating  ideas and inspiration for linguistics in Australia and the world.  In the New Year we’ll be putting up a web-page to give more information, In the meantime, here’s an overview of what we are planning.

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Kenneth L. Hale Award: Claire Bowern (Yale University)

Excellent news! Claire Bowern (see also Anggarrgoon) has been awarded the Kenneth L. Hale Award. Here’s the LSA’s commendation.

Claire Bowern and her work is the embodiment of the qualities that the Linguistic Society of America would like to see in a Hale award winner. Claire has been involved with documentation of the Bardi language in Australia since 1999, beginning while she was still an undergraduate at Australia National University. She led an oral history project, producing a large corpus of the language. She has published academic material and community materials both, including a gazetteer, narratives, a dictionary, and a learners guide. The nomination letter says that ‘Claire Bowern and her work represent the true spirit of Ken’s devotion to endangered languages in particular and linguistics at large. Her work is an inspiration to all of us, and especially to young scholars in our field.’
This award is presented in recognition of exemplary work on the documentation of Bardi, a highly endangered language, with outstanding contributions to the community and to linguistics.

CALC (Central Australian Linguistic Circle) meeting

Central Australian Linguistic Circle (CALC) 2013 

Monday 9 September 2013, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm

Venue: Desert People’s Centre Function Room (next to the Irrarnte Café), Desert Knowledge Precinct, South Stuart Highway, Alice Springs

Map: http://desertpeoplescentre.org.au/contact-us/

Program:

8:30 am          meet at Desert People’s Centre Function Room, set up, introductions

9:00-9:30      Cathy Bow, Charles Darwin University The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

9:30-10:00    Margit Bowler, UCLA Majority Rules effects in Warlpiri vowel harmony

10:00-10:30  a session on educational linguistics and language-learning resources:

Susan Moore and Megan Wood, Department of Education and Childrens Services, The Australian Curriculum and Aboriginal languages

Michael LaFlamme, Publisher, Institute for Aboriginal Development Press, The Potential role of apps and picture dictionaries in language development

10:30-11:00        morning tea

11:00-11:30   Gavan Breen, IAD Dictionaries, Kaytetye and Warumungu

11:30-12:00   Margaret Carew, Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Iltyem-iltyem: a new resource for Central Australian Sign Languages

12:00-12:30   Samantha Disbray, Charles Darwin University, Bilingual education programs in central Australia: A broader evaluation

12:30- 1:30          lunch

1:30-2:00       Mary Laughren, University of Queensland, Polysemy or vagueness in some Warlpiri quantificational terms 

2:00-2:30       David Moore, University of Western Australia, Alyawarr Motion

2:30-3:00       David Nash, ANU and AIATSIS, Alternating generations again again

3:00-3:30         afternoon tea

3:30- 4:00      Myf Turpin, University of Queensland Verb-final word order in Alyawarr song-poetry

Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea available from Irrarnte Café

Organiser: David Moore <moored03 AT bigpond.com>

Rejoicing at AUSTRALEX

AUSTRALEX held its biennial conference in a surprisingly green Adelaide, and the tall gums were filled with birds rejoicing. It was the biggest AUSTRALEX conference I’ve ever been to, a range of speakers from around the world, the first one with parallel sessions, and by far the greatest media coverage of any Australian linguistics/lexicography conference – around 16 news items. Amazing, and good work by the promoter, Ghil’ad Zuckermann!

The theme of this conference was Endangered Words, and Signs of Revival. What is an endangered word? Is it a word in a language for an idea that no other language has a word for? Is it a word in an endangered language? Is it both? Do they include the ephemeral words and phrases (e.g. the current Free free the refugees which I remember years ago as Free, free the ACT from, from the bourgeoisie). What does it mean to revive words? What habitats do endangered words survive on in? e.g. David Nash‘s paper noted that some words of Indigenous languages survive in scientific names – as Nicotiana rosulata subsp. Ingulba which J.M.Black named in the 1930s using the local Arrernte name for the plant. Discussion of this led to the mention of a fossil python, preserving a possibly ephemeral cultural reference: Montypythonoides).

Revival was front stage at the start, with a welcome to country and a speech in Kaurna by Jack Buckskin (Jack is starring in a recent film about his work). As if this wasn’t terrific enough, he followed it with a song he’d written in Kaurna, and played the didgeridoo (paying respect to the northern Australians who play it). It was a great tribute to what waking up a language can do.

The conference concluded with a related event that I really really regret missing — on Saturday, Kaurna people, descendants of the first missionaries, current Lutherans, linguists and lexicographers visited Pirlta Wardli (Possum house:the place where the first missionaries worked). They got together to recognise and celebrate the work those missionaries did on documenting Kaurna language and teaching Kaurna children to read and write their own language. There was a prelaunch of a Kaurna Learners Guide by Rob Amery. The event was supported by the Yitpi Foundation, which Tony Rathjen set up, and which has been a great and quiet supporter of Aboriginal languages.

Coming together at AUSTRALEX helps us realise that we can learn from each other. Dictionary-making seems at the outset so simple – how hard can it be to make a list of words and their meanings? And so many of us rush into it, and then discover problems, and have to think up solutions to them, when all the while other people have been dealing with similar problems. So it was great to see the makers of dictionaries for small endangered languages in discussion with people who mine the web to create huge corpora. There were talks on production of dictionaries and workflow (e.g. Lauren Gawne on two dictionaries she’s worked on – Lamjung Yolmo and Kagate) and on beginning dictionaries – Norah Zhong‘s dictionary of Western Yugur). Both papers raised the question of sources and corpora – so it was nice to set this against Julia Robinson‘s fascinating discussion of changing practice in searching for antedatings and historical evidence for the Australian National Dictionary. (Which raised in my mind the question of whether the privileging of literary sources is a legacy problem for English dictionaries on historical principles).

There was also a strong sense of history at the conference, paying tribute to the work of early word collectors – Luise Hercus described her first realisation in 1962 in Victoria, that there still were speakers and rememberers of many languages, and then how she devoted herself to recording them, and what they wanted recorded, which very often were songs and the places associated with the songs.

Archival work also featured, Mary-Anne Gale paying tribute to the organisation of Boandik materials by Barry Blake which Boandik language revivers have made considerable use of. Going to another country entirely, Lars-Gunnar Larsson described how much Ume Saami (southern Sweden) material had been recorded in the archives, and described how careful analysis of archival sources on Ume Saami had shown that there were village dialects, which differed systematically, rather than there being random chaotic variation in a language attrition situation. He also raised the question of conflicts between archival material and the later material on which Ume Saami revival has been based – [a dictionary of material collected during World War 2 by a German linguist, Wolfgang Schlachter, who was nearly blind. He lived with a Saami family who defended him when Swedes wanted to arrest him as a German spy.]

Similar kinds of conflicts are probably what led John Hobson to suggest returning “to a gentler model of prescriptivism” that will help communities trying to get revival underway. Few people can learn spelling, grammar etc under the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach. Related to this are the difficulties raised by Peter Mühlhäusler for the new languages/English varieties of Pitkern and Norf’k of how to prepare a dictionary for a non-standard language, where families argue about what words to include – a situation familiar to many people working on small languages, whether traditional or new. (Worst pun of conference -description of Mühlhäusler, a ferret enthusiast, as Professor Eferretus).

I was particularly taken with the work on creating new terms, whether for Boandik (Gale), Kaurna (Jasmin Morley) or more generally in John Hobson‘s paper where he presented a resource for communities wanting to create new words – basically a list of strategies for doing this, and examples of it. Over the borrowing/copying strategy, Wanda Miller emphasised that linguists have a responsibility when they go out to communities to speak with the elders about copying words, and if a word is copied, then in our resources and books acknowledge where that word is taken from. John Hobson reported that a trial release to some University of Sydney Master of Indigenous Language Education students this year was greeted with praise. You can find the resource online here.

AUSTRALEX 2015 is probably to be held in New Zealand, home and exporter of many great lexicographers.