Posts tagged ‘Endangered Languages’

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.
Continue reading ‘Improving the Metadata of Papua New Guinea Collections’ »

Social Media and Language Documentation – a MLIP recap

Jonathon Lum recaps the June Linguistics in the Pub (LIP), a monthly informal gathering of linguists in Melbourne to discuss topical areas in our field.

Despite the cold Melbourne weather, June’s LIP attracted a good number of linguists who came together to discuss the topic ‘Social media and language documentation’, led by Peter Schuelke of the University of Hawaii. Under discussion was the potential for social media to play a role in language documentation, maintenance and revitalization. While social media is a largely untapped resource in these fields, it also presents certain logistical and ethical issues, many of which were considered throughout the discussion.
Continue reading ‘Social Media and Language Documentation – a MLIP recap’ »

What flows from ngaka-rna : how naming books spread a Dieri word

Coining a new name from a word taken from an Australian language often has complex implications, even if the naming agency is oblivious to them. When the name is for a place, a suburb or a street or a park, the official approval involves the relevant local government body. Two writers went into some of the issues a few years ago:

  • Tony Birch (2010 [1992]) sees the application of indigenous names to ‘houses, streets, suburbs and whole cities’ as ‘an exercise in cultural appropriation’. He draws a distinction between the restoration of indigenous placenames (such as Gariwerd ~ Grampians in western Victoria), and the fresh application to the built environment of a word imported from some Australian language.
  • Sam Furphy (2002) earlier discussed the role of what he dubbed ‘naming books’: popular twentieth century booklets of lists of ‘Aboriginal words’ such as Endacott (1923), Thorpe (1927), Kenyon (1930), Cooper (1952), which, for all the expressed good intentions of their compilers, have contributed to a homogenised perception of Australian languages: ‘The earliest popular naming books … make virtually no reference to the variety of languages spoken by the indigenous people of Australia, such that an uninformed reader could be forgiven for believing that there was only one Aboriginal language.’ (Furphy 2002:62) ‘Naming books simplify and romanticise Aboriginal words and remove them from their cultural and linguistic context.’ (Furphy 2002:68)

I’ve recently come upon an example which illustrates a combination of both concerns: one where official placenaming has drawn on the notorious naming booklets. Continue reading ‘What flows from ngaka-rna : how naming books spread a Dieri word’ »

Berigora: a word that clawed on — from where?

The challenge

Brown falcon drawing

Brown falcon  © J.N. Davies from Birdata

‘Australia’s Most Widespread’ bird, according to Birdata’s featured bird last week, is the Brown Falcon, Falco berigora. A few months ago, a ‘complete guide to the origin of Australian bird names’ (that is, English and Linnæan names), was published, and in it Fraser and Gray (2013:80) summarised the published information on this species name:

berigora [is] stated in many places to be the name for the bird in an indigenous language, though nobody appears willing to nominate a particular language. The original namers, Vigors and Horsfield (1827), simply said: ‘The native name of this bird, which we have adopted as its specific name, is Berigora’. Gould (1848) mentioned ‘Aborigines of New South Wales’ against the word, and Morris (1898), in his Dictionary of Austral English, claimed it is made up of beri, claw, and gora, long. The word does not appear in a glossary of the languages spoken by indigenous people of the Sydney region as the time of early white settlement (Troy 1994), though many other bird names do, and the bird was certainly to be found there. Are the claws longer than those of other falcons? Perhaps not, and indeed, the toes, according to Debus (2012:131), are shorter.

Actually Falco berigora Vigors and Horsfield 1827:184-5 is one of only three birds whose scientific (Linnæan) name draws on a word of an Australian language.1 The word berigora has managed to survive in this ornithological niche, and is now guaranteed as much as longevity as science can offer. But can we give due credit to the language which provided it? Continue reading ‘Berigora: a word that clawed on — from where?’ »


Notes

  1. The other two are Ninox boobook, Latham 1801:64, Southern Boobook owl, and Petroica (Muscicapa) boodang Lesson 1837:322, Scarlet Robin, each using the name that is well attested in the Sydney Language.

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.

Maybe Faust got it right?

‘Lost indigenous languages to be revived’ is the news from the State Library of NSW: “The Library has entered into an exciting new collaboration with Rio Tinto to help revive and preserve critically endangered Indigenous languages and word lists that are embedded in historical documents held by the Library.” It quotes the NSW Arts Minister George Souris as saying, “A nation’s oral and written language is the backbone to its culture.” So why doesn’t the NSW government fund more Indigenous language work and why is Rio Tinto the hero here? This raises an important issue for us in our efforts to raise funds for language projects. It is an age-old question: how much do we provide a smokescreen of civility for companies like Rio Tinto when we accept their funds? Continue reading ‘Maybe Faust got it right?’ »

CUP Handbook of Endangered Languages


The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages edited by Julia Sallabank and myself will be available in the UK next week (and in Australia in June). The book is being launched by Mari Jones at the conference on Language Endangerment: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization at Cambridge on 25th March.

The Handbook covers issues in linguistic diversity and language endangerment, language documentation and archiving, revitalisation and language support, and challenges faced by endangered languages now and in the future. The volume is intended to be accessible both to specialists and non-specialists: researchers will find cutting-edge contributions from acknowledged experts in their fields, while students, activists and other interested readers will find a wealth of readable yet thorough and up-to-date information.

The chapters in the Handbook are as follows:

  1. Introduction – Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank
  2. Language ecology and endangerment – Lenore A. Grenoble
  3. Speakers and communities – Colette Grinevald and Michel Bert
  4. A survey of language endangerment – David Bradley
  5. Language contact and change in endangered languages – Carmel O’Shannessy
  6. Structural aspects of language endangerment – Naomi Palosaari and Lyle Campbell
  7. Language and culture – Lev Michael
  8. Language and society – Bernard Spolsky
  9. Language documentation – Anthony C. Woodbury
  10. Speakers and language documentation – Lise M. Dobrin and Josh Berson
  11. Data and language documentation – Jeff Good
  12. Archiving and language documentation – Lisa Conathan
  13. Digital archiving – David Nathan
  14. Language policy for endangered languages – Julia Sallabank
  15. Revitalization of endangered languages – Leanne Hinton
  16. Orthography development – Friederike Lüpke
  17. Lexicography in endangered language communities – Ulrike Mosel
  18. Language curriculum design and evaluation for endangered languages – Serafin M. Coronel-Molina and Teresa L. McCarty
  19. The role of information technology in supporting minority and endangered languages – Gary Holton
  20. Endangered languages and economic development – Wayne Harbert
  21. Researcher training and capacity development in language documentation – Anthony Jukes
  22. New roles for endangered languages – Máiréad Moriarty
  23. Planning a language-documentation project – Claire Bowern

The handbook is completed by an extensive bibliography and indexes of topics and languages.