Day 1: Australian Languages Workshop – North Stradbroke Island

“Welcome to this land and welcome to us all”.

That’s how on 11th March  Aunty Margaret Iselin opened the (tenth or eleventh) Australian Languages Workshop held this time at the University of Queensland’s Marine Biology Research Station on North Stradbroke Island. She grew up on Myora mission, and learned some language from two old grannies. Three years ago she and other elders decided they wanted a dictionary of their language, Jandai. They got Colleen Hattersley involved, and now have a dictionary of nearly 1,000 entries in a good open-source software format, Lexique Pro, which will contribute to its longevity. Aunty Margaret and others of her community plan to publish it along with an audio CD:

We just hope and pray that all this will be lovely with our dictionary coming into the school; it’s my culture that I’m putting to them to make them realise where I’m coming from.

Following that welcome, it was a day full of re‘s: reclaiming, restoring, revitalising, revisiting, reawakening languages.

In the evening I was honoured to launch Fragments of Budderer’s waddy: a new Narungga grammar (Christina Eira with the Narungga Progress Association, Pacific Linguistics, Canberra 2010.  This, give or take a lot of ums and ahs etc, is what I said.

Narungga is the language of Yorke Peninsula, the boot shaped part of South Australia.  Narungga people  suffered colonisation early and only word lists and small sentence fragments remain, both in written sources and in people’s memories.

When I first saw the title of the grammar, “Fragments of Budderer’s waddy”, I thought it was melancholy, as I imagined shattered pieces of wood in a museum.  But that’s precisely what it is NOT.  The title actually refers to stones that are what we can see now of an ancestor’s waddy.  It’s a lovely title that brings up the image of the language as an enduring part of landscape like the rocks of the ancestral being.

I also like the two meanings of the subtitle of the book: a new grammar of Narungga, and a grammar of new Narungga. It’s a new grammar in that it’s a grammar for today. It’s a grammar of new Narungga in that it is a reconstitution of a language.  Narungga people have worked out with Christina ways of creating new words and phrases and sentences that they can use.

In their reclamation paper, Tonya Stebbins and Vicki Couzens described a “glass half-full” approach to language reclaiming, which concentrates on the strengths that the Aboriginal communities bring to language reclamation. Fragments of Budderer’s waddy represents more strengths, the achievement that the publication of this book represents, the achievements of Christina and Tania Wanganeen and the Narungga Progress Association.

The first and obvious strength of this book is that it comes from a partnership between community members and a linguist.  This has resulted in materials that community members can use easily. And it enriches the book – so there’s a really nice map of Narungga place-names marked with important properties- old missions, dreaming sites, quarries, fish catching places and so on.

Other strengths that linguists can bring to bear are: data collection, informed data analysis, informed comparison with other languages.

1.  First is the data collection.  Narungga was recorded by a variety of people over a hundred years.  Christina had to bring all these together, and piece together the fragments.

2.  That brings in the data analysis.  The old sources are in a variety of spelling systems, and Christina had a lot of work to do making sense of the spelling systems.  That means bringing a linguist’s understanding of what the likely mis-hearings are.  How does a German hear and write down sounds of Narungga, how does an English man do this?

3.  Then there’s the comparison with other languages.  Narungga is closely related to other Thura Yura languages about which more is known, and Christina’s made good use of this in working out the new grammar of Narungga (in both senses).

I ended the launch with one engaging item of new Narungga.  graadidja is a word that Narungga people remembered as meaning vain and stuck up.  But they wanted a word to say ‘honoured’ or ‘proud’, and there was no obvious word. So Christina’s colleague, Tania Wangaeneen, co-opted graadidja. People can now  say

Ngadlugu burlga graadidja ngadlu warra wanggadja.

Our elders are honoured that we can now speak.

3 thoughts on “Day 1: Australian Languages Workshop – North Stradbroke Island”

  1. Like.

    Was really surprised to see the size and depth of the Jandai dictionary. As a Brisbane-native, I had no idea there was so much traditional knowledge and language so close to home.

    And Christina Eira really is a super-linguist in my eyes. I enjoyed Vicki and Tonya’s presentation too – I have a growing awareness and appreciation for the work Vicki does for her language Keeray Woorroong – well done!

    Looking forward to hearing about Day 2 and 3!

  2. Tonya Stebbins and Vicki Couzens described a “glass half-full” approach to language reclaiming, which concentrates on the strengths that the Aboriginal communities bring to language reclamation.

    More accurately, I believe what Tonya said is that while a traditional approach to language reclamation is based on “glass half-empty”, what we need to see is that “there’s something in the glass”.

  3. thanks jane for a great ‘launch speech’ that really understood what we were trying to do.
    Thanks again wamut (much rolling of eyes)

Here at Endangered Languages and Cultures, we fully welcome your opinion, questions and comments on any post, and all posts will have an active comments form. However if you have never commented before, your comment may take some time before it is approved. Subsequent comments from you should appear immediately.

We will not edit any comments unless asked to, or unless there have been html coding errors, broken links, or formatting errors. We still reserve the right to censor any comment that the administrators deem to be unnecessarily derogatory or offensive, libellous or unhelpful, and we have an active spam filter that may reject your comment if it contains too many links or otherwise fits the description of spam. If this happens erroneously, email the author of the post and let them know. And note that given the huge amount of spam that all WordPress blogs receive on a daily basis (hundreds) it is not possible to sift through them all and find the ham.

In addition to the above, we ask that you please observe the Gricean maxims:

*Be relevant: That is, stay reasonably on topic.

*Be truthful: This goes without saying; don’t give us any nonsense.

*Be concise: Say as much as you need to without being unnecessarily long-winded.

*Be perspicuous: This last one needs no explanation.

We permit comments and trackbacks on our articles. Anyone may comment. Comments are subject to moderation, filtering, spell checking, editing, and removal without cause or justification.

All comments are reviewed by comment spamming software and by the site administrators and may be removed without cause at any time. All information provided is volunteered by you. Any website address provided in the URL will be linked to from your name, if you wish to include such information. We do not collect and save information provided when commenting such as email address and will not use this information except where indicated. This site and its representatives will not be held responsible for errors in any comment submissions.

Again, we repeat: We reserve all rights of refusal and deletion of any and all comments and trackbacks.

Leave a Comment