This year’s Australian languages workshop, the seventh, was very well organised by Kazuko Obata, Jutta Besold, Jo Caffery and the rest of their committee. It was held at Kioloa [kai’oʊlə], ANU’s field station on the NSW south coast. Spongy green grass and tall green trees make it a far cry from drought-ridden Canberra, and the extent of the wilderness is restful. Walking along a white beach to the Murramarang Aboriginal area (very good signs with information on local words for sea creatures and traditional practices). Generations of rainbow lorikeets trained by generations of students to perch on arms, shoulders, knees. Boobook owls calling in the night as we looked at the Milky Way during Earth Hour.
The weather was perfect, warm, and the papers were cool..
Software. James McElvenny demonstrated his work with Aidan Wilson and Fiona Blake on the Kaurna Pronouncing Dictionary – how to combine more than one source into a Kirrkirr presentation. And – watch this space – coming to a mobile phone near you is the Kaurna Dictionary WITH sound.. I believe that this could be a new language revival strategy – texting in your language with the help of your phone dictionary. It is SO cool.
David Nash demo-ed the results of running SplitsTree on the closed class of Ngumbin-Yapa verbs, and showed the resulting networks and ways of visualising the information. (We saw later in Sally Dixon’s paper (The Juwaliny language: issues with working on closely related languages in the Great Sandy Desert) how stable verbs seem to be between two closely related Ngumbin-Yapa languages – 58% cognacy in nominals, 86% in verbs). (He also provided a link to an amazing site Phylogeny programs which lists no less than 369 software packages for creating networks, trees and showing phylogeny.)
Albert Burgman showed issues in lexicography that Wangka Maya (Pilbara Aboriginal Languages Centre) are grappling with as they create dictionaries from Toolbox. (They’re using Lexique Pro, which they’ve found very flexible – both as presentation software for dictionaries and for amending dictionaries on the fly. Alas that it is still basically a Windows programme).
Databases. We’re at last seeing the benefits of the work that’s been invested in creating databases (things that research bodies, grrrrr, don’t see as research worth funding). Two other Wangka Maya papers – Sally Dixon’s, and Eleonora Deak’s (The occurrence and distribution of long vowels in Pilbara languages) were able to produce reliable and interesting results from having a solid body of data in Toolbox. The other really exciting database is AUSTKIN, the ARC-funded project run by Pat McConvell, Harold Koch, Ian Keen and Laurent Dousset, (among others) which is “tracing change in family and social organization in Indigenous Australia, using evidence from language”. This includes mapping the distribution of kin terms across Australia and looking at reconstructions of kin systems and what happens when peoples with different kin systems come into contact.
Morpho-syntax. This was brilliant. Different ways of tracking referents were discussed, from grammatical relations (Robert Mailhammer, Object representation in Amurdak) to classifiers, noun incorporation and gender marking in non-Pama-Nyungan languages (Marie-Elaine van Egmond Classifiers and body part incorporation in Anindilyakwa, Brett Baker, Compounds and classifier constructions in Gunwinyguan languages and Ruth Singer Is gender simply a property of nouns? Some evidence from Mawng that it is not, to principles of association, economy and recognition and how triangular kin terms and ‘elided progeny‘ terms fit into them (Joe Blythe<, Principles of referential design in Murriny Patha conversation). Murrinh Patha was also discussed in Rachel Nordlinger‘s paper (Morpheme order in Murrinh-Patha: or why Murrinh-Patha is not an Athapaskan language) as a counter-example to Keren Rice’s claims that templatic morphology can be reduced to scopal effects.
Reconstructing. Several of the classifier languages have incorporated forms of body parts which differ substantially from the free forms of the body parts. This gives one pause in contemplating vocabulary stability. Maybe in such languages free forms of body-parts are more borrowable than in languages such as English, where we don’t have such systematic doublets. It’s analogous to the argument that bound pronouns are more likely to be more archaic than free pronouns, in languages with dual pronoun systems. This point was made in the one purely historical paper, Mary Laughren‘s paper Prehistoric relations between Warluwarric and Nyungic: comparing first and second person pronoun paradigms. She showed some striking shared innovations, most notably the first person pronoun ngarna found as a bound pronoun in much of Northern Nyungic, and in Warumungu. (I was on the edge of my seat, thinking about what Mary has found out and what my internal reconstructions of Warumungu suggest).
Rebuilding. Rebuilding languages from old sources was the focus of several papers and posters, and of course is of great interest to many Indigenous communities. John Giacon‘s paper A draft reconstructed grammar of ‘Associated eating’ in Yuaalaraay-Gamilaraay introduced the useful distinction between a descriptive grammar (which sticks to what is in the sources) and a revival or production grammar (which helps people say things in the language). As he pointed out, if no suggestions are made, then people will probably fill in the gaps with English-type constructions. On the descriptive end were Jutta Besold‘s poster Something on one or two of the texts collected on the south coast around the 1870s and Harold Koch’s paper Towards the reconstruction of Australian kinship systems: philological and etymological issues from southeastern languages. Christina Eira’s (Victorian Aboriginal Languages Corporation) poster Linguistics in plain language – a rationale highlighted the importance of making information in a production grammar accessible to Indigenous communities. Actually doing it, of course, is hard, but luckily most people who’ve wrestled with writing learners’ grammars have been able to re-use good ways of explaining linguistic ideas (as a comparison of IAD learners guides will show!).
And finally, Georgia Curran had a poster which I loved: Travelling from Warlpiri country into Anmatyerr country: examples of song texts from a Warlpiri initiation cycle. I can’t wait to hear the paper. She showed song texts from both languages, literal and figurative, with exegeses by Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan and Thomas Jangala Rice. They include the image of a kingfisher emerging from a hole in the bank, a flash of yellow. And so the sun rises in the morning, after a long night of dancing. Unexpected, vivid, evocative.