Endangered linguistics in Australia?

Alongside endangered languages and cultures it is starting to look like Australia may also have endangered linguists and linguistics.

According to press reports (see also here) La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, plans to stop teaching linguistics at the undergraduate level, resulting in 4 staff positions being what the consultation document calls “surplus to our curriculum requirements”. Apparently, post-graduate research will continue via the recently revamped Centre for Research on Language Diversity now headed by Adam Schembri.

I have great affection for La Trobe Linguistics as it was where I got my first tenured academic position (as Lecturer and Head of the (then) Division of Linguistics in July 1981) and the place where I have (so far) worked the longest (14.5 years before I left in 1995 to move to the University of Melbourne). The 1980’s and 1990’s were the halcyon days of La Trobe Linguistics and the Department was a dynamic and vibrant centre for research and teaching, and a breeding ground for a significant number of staff and students who went on to distinguished careers. In the last few years the Department has shrunk considerably (only David Bradley and Marija Tabain remain as regular staff) and has had strong competition from Linguistics at both Melbourne and Monash University. Hopefully the CRLD can keep the discipline alive at La Trobe if the university does carry out its current plans.

PS: As an outside and distant observer, the situation at Sydney University also looks pretty dire — only two non-applied linguists remain there (Bill Foley and Toni Borowsky) and it may be that descriptive and theoretical linguistics is endangered there too.

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