Grammars from archival records

Congratulations to Katie Bicevskis who presented her PhD completion talk last Friday. The PhD thesis is a grammar of Marri Ngarr, an Indigenous language from the Northern Territory, one of what are known as the Daly languages ( It has few speakers today, as most Marri Ngarr people now speak Murrinhpatha as a first language.

This thesis was based on materials recorded by earlier observers, in particular by Ian Green. In 2015, with funding from the the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Rachel Nordlinger arranged to have all of Ian Green’s tapes and field notes digitised. This collection was archived in PARADISEC so that it could be found and then be licensed for access.

In the initial stages of the project, because she had a small child, Katie was unable to carry out fieldwork in the speech community so her work initially was focussed on transcribing 50 hours of recordings, using notes and handwritten transcripts of some of the recordings to help with the work. Subsequently Katie was able to travel to work with speakers, checking and adding to the analysis after having established a working knowledge of the language from the archival records. The PhD has enriched the archival record by providing transcripts and so making the recordings more accessible, and re-usable by speakers and by future researchers.

This is an excellent example of the importance of accessible archives of language materials, with recordings that can be used in a timely manner while speakers can still understand the records and discuss their contents.

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