Kim Scott gave a talk in Melbourne last night titled “Language & Nation”. (you can see a video of the talk here). His writing has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Western Australian Premier’s Book Award among other honours. Last night he described the way in which his work has been intertwined with a rediscovery of the rythms and meanings of his ancestral language, Nyungar, from Albany in Western Australia. He works with the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project to, as he put it, ‘creep up on an endangered language’ through community meetings, creating artwork, and visits to country.
He showed us images of Nyungar people now working on various historical records to reconnect with their language, and, in particular, with the voluminous legacy of written texts created by Gerhardt Laves in the late 1920s, who worked with their grandparents, uncles and aunties.
This is a wonderful example of historical language material being given new life through community activity. The activity of reconnection with the records is probably more important than the resulting books, but both are indications of engagement that was conveyed eloquently in Kim Scott’s lecture.
For more on Laves see David Nash’s Laves pages, on the Laves collection of Nyungar texts see John Henderson’s article on preparing the Laves manuscripts, Capturing Chaos: Rendering Handwritten Language Documents or Claire Bowern’s blog post here . See also a pdf file of the protocols for building on the Laves work, including images of several pages and discussion of how the work should proceed in consultation with descendants of the people Laves worked with.