Archive for the ‘PNG linguistics’ Category.

Improving the Metadata of Papua New Guinea Collections

Written by Steven Gagau and Jodie Kell

As part of a project to improve the metadata of PARADISEC’s Papua New Guinea collections made possible with funding from the Australian National Data Service (ANDS), PARADISEC has welcomed Steven Gagau into the Sydney office. Steven was engaged as a Research Assistant to provide language support for the project. Steven’s key role is listening to PNG collections held in the PARADISEC catalogue to find out more about the recordings and record this information into the catalogue.

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Steven can be seen here with Nick Ward from PARADISEC

 

A focus for Steven is the extensive collection recorded by Dr. Thomas (Tom) Dutton in the Kuanua language of the “Tolai” people of the Gazelle Peninsula of East New Britain Province. Dr. Dutton was a linguist with the Australian National University between 1969 and 1997. Prior to taking up linguistics Dutton was an Education Officer in the Administration of Papua and New Guinea. His many books include studies on Papuan languages and the collection digitised by PARDISEC includes his fieldwork tape recordings and other recordings developed to accompany his language learning publications.

Steven listens to people speaking or singing in Kuanua language of the Tolai and recordings of traditional dance and music of the region. He documents details about the content such as the names of people, what they are singing about and locational information. He also verifies if they are actually using the Kuanua language. He determines the discourse type such as language play, oratory, procedural, report, narrative or singing. As the final part of the process, Steven enters the data into the PNG Metadata Enrichment Form. Using his language skills, Steve is able to access important information that can be added to the metadata of the materials, thus contributing to enhancing the knowledge of these materials held in the PARADISEC catalogue.
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Chasing John Z’graggen’s records

This week a suitcase of audio tapes will arrive in Melbourne from Madang in PNG. While a lot of the effort of building collections in PARADISEC goes in finding tapes and encouraging people to deposit their recordings, there are some collections that stand out for the amount of work required. This is the story of one of them.

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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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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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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.

Researching child language in the field: October LIP

Ruth Singer recaps some of the interesting points of the last week’sLinguistics in the Pub, an informal gathering of linguists and language activists that is held monthly in Melbourne

A number of linguists in Melbourne have recently begun documenting child language in the field. In the November 2011 LIP we discussed what you need to think about if you want to document child language and why you might document child language as part of a broader language documentation project (see blog at http://www.paradisec.org.au/blog/2011/11/child-language-documentation-a-lip-discussion/). The most recent LIP, led by Lauren Gawne and Birgit Hellwig last week, revisited the topic of child language documentation. This allowed those who have recently returned from the field to discuss some of the problems they faced and how they dealt with them. In particular, we looked at the gap between what is possible in remote fieldsites and some of the assumptions in the field of child language acquisition about what type of data is needed to study child language development. The quantity and frequency of data that can be collected in remote fieldsites is quite different to what can be done in the developed world. The limitations can be quite simple. For example, not being able to get accurate information on children’s ages.

To kick off the discussion we looked at ethics, from a personal point of view. The previous LIP on child language was criticised for focussing too much on the requirements of institutional ethics boards at universities, schools etc. So we discussed what types of decisions researchers had made to satisfy their own ethical concerns. A number of researchers said that they had no plans to make their recordings public. This goes against the current trend to make recordings of endangered languages as open as possible, given community consent.

Just to give an example, I have decided to keep access to my recordings of child language closed, until the children are 18. If they are happy for me to open access to their recordings after they are 18, I will do so. However since I am currently recording children in groups at least 3 people, it is likely that in many cases I will not be able to contact all participants so the recording will remain closed. One of the issues we returned to a number of times in the evenings is that our recordings are often made in open environments, which means that many people wander through the field of view. This is in contrast to mainstream child language data, which is usually made in a room through which only a limited number of people pass by. It was mentioned that the CHILDES language database is a great example of an open access archive but it lacks much data from endangered languages. CHILDES contains data recorded from many different studies of child language acquisition. However to upload data to CHILDES you must have the consent of every person who appears, even if just walking past. This is not going to be possible for many recordings of endangered languages in remote areas. It is often difficult to find a room to record in and even if one is found, it is likely that many people will pass through it.

Some of the other assumptions about child language acquisition research that can prove difficult in remote settings:

  • that a mother and child pair form natural conversational partners (they may rarely engage in idle chit-chat)
  • that adults typically play with children (it may be the case that children typically play with other children, not adults

Since it is often difficult for a mother-child pair to engage in conversation in front of the camera, some suggested structured tasks, such as those used at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Although others pointed out that this makes it difficult to study language socialization, because you are asking people to engage in a culturally foreign activity. Others suggested identifying local games that could be used in language acquisition research.

One big problem in applying the standards of child language acquisition research to remote contexts is the difficulty of obtaining recordings of the same child over regular intervals. Many of the linguists attending the LIP session work in Papua New Guinea and Australian Aboriginal communities. They pointed out that children and often their whole families move around much more than they had expected. The set of children living in a community may barely overlap from one fieldtrip to the next.  In addition, some child language researchers recommend making recordings every 2 months or so, and it is not possible to do this in remote settings. The limitations are partly financial and partly due to the time needed for the linguist to travel to the remote location from their home.

There was quite a bit of time devoted to the technology used to record children, who are rather more mobile than adults. One researcher recommended the use of teddy-bear shaped backpacks for children. These can carry the heavy transmitter of the radio microphone. Everyone agreed that noise is a big issue. Even if there is no wind, which small radio microphones don’t handle well, children’s motion invariably causes noise. One researcher only recorded in areas without many leaves as the noise of these being crushed beneath children’s running feet was too loud.

Birgit Hellwig discussed some of the data from her recent 2 month fieldtrip to Papua New Guinea which she did with child language acquisition specialist Evan Kidd (ANU). She said that by the end of the 2 months, the community they were visiting had more or less gotten used to the cameras and exactly what it meant to have child language researchers in the community. One thing that Birgit emphasised is that what participants need to do is not as obvious to them as we might think. Birgit gave a lovely example in the use of the frog story task. The frog story ‘Frog: where are you?’, is a short children’s picture book without any words. Children were asked to tell the story in their own words. It became apparent during the course of Birgit’s 2 month fieldtrip that changes in how children told the story from week to week were related to narrative practices in the community. The story was circulating in the community, just as any story does, and changing slightly over the course of time. Rather than each new child that particpated in the task telling the story afresh, ‘in their own words’, each told it as it was in its current form in the community. This resulted in remarkable convergence between tellings that were recorded around the same time.

It became clear from the discussion that we can’t expect to do research on child language in the same way as it is done in more controlled environments. We will not get comparable quantities of data for each child. However, whatever we do record is likely to be really interesting. We only have data on child language for a small number of languages, so anything will help.

Langfest 2011 – inspiration and exh(ilar)alation

Canberra is breath-taking at the moment, and I am just catching breath between marking and Langfest … it starts today with the French Studies conference.

Tomorrow=Monday, dictionary-making, with AUSTRALEX, and a keynote by Sarah Ogilvie, the soon-to-be-director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre.

Wednesday brings New Zealand and Australia together with the combined mega-conference of the applied linguistics associations of New Zealand and Australia (ALAA-ALANZ) at the University of Canberra

Thursday sees a session on Indigenous language revival and revitalisation at the start of the Australian Linguistics Society conference and shared with ALAA-ALANZ at the University of Canberra. Then we whiz back to ANU for ALS’s first poster session which contains several posters on endangered languages, followed by Canberra’s first Linguistics in the Pub session.

Friday is a big day on Language and the Law at ANU – language rights of different types. ALS has heaps of papers on endangered languages. And our workshop on Kids kriols and classrooms. And Jenny Green and Barb Kelly’s workshop on Current issues in non-verbal communication research. That was the trigger for getting sign language interpreting for some sessions on Friday and Saturday – very professional interpreters, and brings home the cost of language rights. It’s easy enough to ask for Governments to pay for language rights. But it makes us much more aware of what we are asking when societies like ALS and ALAA and conference attenders realise the cost to themselves of language rights.

And, and, and, Saturday has a class on learning and teaching Gamilaraay. AND a workshop on Modality in the Indigenous languages of Australia and PNG, as well as other papers on endangered languages (perception in Avatime?, fronting in Mawng, voicing in Gurindji Kriol). Sunday has lots of papers in the general session and workshops from telling who intentionally does what in Sherpa, to body-parts in Kriol and Dalabon, to Topic Continuity of Subject and Non-Subject in Squliq Atayal Legends: Evidence from Statistics. There’s also a special audio workshop run by David Nathan.

And, completely breathless by now, we down the last arvo tea, and head to Kioloa for master classesJoan Bresnan on Probabilistic syntax (up to us to think how can we do it with small data sets as we normally have for endangered languages) and Fiona Jordan on Cultural phylogeny. Others stay on in Canberra for a workshop on tone in New Guinea languages.

Ooofffff.

New Austronesian and Papuan research group

A new organisation, the Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics research group (APLL), has been established with sponsorship from SOAS, Oxford University and University of Surrey. It is a successor to the UK Austronesian Research Group that was established in 2005 but has been dormant for some years — APLL has a wider focus, including Papuan languages.

APLL is pleased to announce its fifth international conference APLL5 to be held at SOAS, University of London, on 4-5 May 2012. APLL5 follows the successful Austronesian Languages and Linguistics (ALL) conferences held at SOAS and St Catherine’s College Oxford in previous years, most recently ALL4 in 2008; the numbering of the APLL conferences follows on from the sequence established by the ALL conferences.

The purpose of the APLL conferences is to provide a venue for presentation of the best current research on Austronesian and Papuan languages and linguistics and to promote collaboration and research in this area. All papers will be subject to assessment by the Program Committee.

The keynote speaker for the conference will be Marian Klamer of Leiden University.

For further details, including key dates and abstract submission guidelines see the conference website.

Bypassing written documentation – oral annotation of recorded text

A large corpus of recorded oral tradition can be created using two recording machines, one playing back the spoken texts and the other used to capture an oral annotation. Recording speakers who are commenting on earlier recordings is a method for providing annotations that bypasses literacy.

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Kioloa Papuanists’ Workshop

kp͡w (KIOLOA PAPUANISTS’ WORKSHOP)
Now calling for papers and for registration of participants.
Following the successful recent Papuanists’ Workshops in Sydney, the ANU Papuanists will be hosting a weekend of Papuanist talks at the Kioloa coast campus (c. 3 hours from Canberra and 3.5 hours from Sydney) from 2 pm Friday 30th October to early afternoon Sunday 1st November, with a bushwalk up Pigeon House planned for the Saturday afternoon.
Anyone who has an interest in Papuan languages and linguistics is invited to come and present a paper or just listen to other people’s papers and join in the discussion.

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