All the news that’s fit to print

The May Newsletter of the Australian Linguistic Society has just come out and can be viewed here. As usual it includes information about conferences, workshops, research grants awarded to members, recent publications, and the odd flashback to ALS doings of the last century. Then there is the “News from …” section where stories submitted by Linguistics Departments around Australia are presented; the May edition includes Macquarie University, University of New England, Australian National University, and the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at La Trobe University.

It is interesting to see what Siew-Peng Condon of RCLT reports on. There is one paragraph about Sasha Aikhenvald being made an Honorary Member of the LSA (recognition normally given to older scholars without a regular income who get put up for this category of membership so they can get the journal Language for free). The rest of the report is names of visitors and fieldwork plans by students and post-docs.
Interestingly, what’s missing from the “News from the RCLT” is anything about the series of rather newsworthy changes that have taken place there over the last few months: Bob Dixon is no longer Director, and in his place as Acting Director is Professor Roger Wales, former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dixon is now named as “Founding Professor”. Former Deputy Director, Sasha Aikhenvald is now “Academic Co-ordinator”. [details of titles amended – thanks for pointing this out!]
It will be interesting to learn how these changes will affect the mission and research directions of RCLT, which has had such an influence on the Australian linguistic scene over the past 12 years, especially in terms of attracting grants, students, post-doctoral researchers and visitors. Also of interest would be any developments in the approach to language typology and the description of poorly known languages that has been a focus of the work done there to date. Perhaps all the data and metadata collected by researchers at RCLT will start to make its way into digital archives, such as Paradisec and ELAR at SOAS where it can be accessed by other researchers and the published claims made about it can be tested. Maybe we will see a different view of the role of digital technologies in recording and analysing endangered languages from that which has been espoused by the former director of RCLT:

“A word addressed to junior colleagues who think that it will improve their work to immerse it in the latest electronic technology. Don’t. Because it won’t. I worked on the Jarawara grammar as I did on previous grammars of Dyirbal, of Yidiɲ, of Boumaa Fijian (and of English). I used pencil, pen and spiral-bound notebooks, plus a couple of good-quality tape recorders. No video camera (to have employed one would have compromised my role in the community). No lap-top. No shoebox or anything of that nature.”

There may be other changes. The range of refereed journals and publishers where RCLT researchers submit their work may be broadened. Perhaps different theoretical models will be debated and discussed.
Now that’s something I’d like to read about in a future ALS Newsletter.

3 thoughts on “All the news that’s fit to print”

  1. I have three comments re Peter Austin’s contribution about RCLT at La Trobe:
    1. A couple of ‘small’ corrections. Bob Dixon is ‘Founding Professor of RCLT’. I am Acting Director pro tem, but certainly no longer a Dean. Happily! We anticipate the appointment of a new Director soonest! [ thanks – amended above]
    2. Regarding our involvement with more recent technologies for dealing with data and metadata, these are already under consideration. Witness, among other things, that on June 11th we are looking forward to a joint seminar with Linguistics (suggested by us!) by Nick Thieberger.
    3. Most important of all: while there are clearly some agreed changes to the administrative structures of RCLT the aims and goals that have characterised the Centre since it moved to La Trobe are unchanged. The preamble of the formal constitution of the Centre includes the following: “The RCLT is committed to comprehensively analysing the grammatical structures of endangered and previously undescribed languages. This commitment is part of a worldwide enterprise to document and preserve for posterity as much of the world’s linguistic diversity and heritage as possible.” This enterprise continues to be the realiity describing RCLT and is supported by the University. So come on down!

  2. The details of Nick Thieberger’s seminar, mentioned by Roger Wales are as follows:
    “21st century linguistic fieldwork, analysis and data curation – current methods and future promise”
    Associate Professor Nick Thieberger
    University of Hawai’i and University of Melbourne
    4.00 pm, Wednesday, 11th June 2008
    A post-colonial linguistics, as exemplified by the growing field of language documentation, provides for the collection of a representative body of recordings in languages which have not previously been recorded. The analysis we undertake as academic linguists is able to be couched in these recordings, allowing us to present claims that are replicable by others, and in the process, to produce data that is reusable by our colleagues and by the people recorded or their descendants. Long term access to this primary data relies on proper curation, including appropriate cataloging descriptions permitting its discovery, and conformance to international standards for data formats. These methods allow us to be more efficient both in repatriating material to our host communities, and in building on our own material for the production of texts, dictionaries and other resources. In this presentation I will outline methods for building linguistic corpora as part of the normal workflow of a field linguist, drawing on my experience in researching South Efate (Vanuatu) and in building the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures ( as part of the international network of language archives.

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