Author Archive

Maric dialect recorded by Edmund Kennedy in 1847

Guest post by Peter Sutton.

The published Barcoo River (Queensland) expedition diary of explorer Edmund Kennedy (1852) was augmented with unpublished manuscript sources and republished by Edgar Beale (1983). In the context of the present paper the key augmentation came from a handwritten copy of Kennedy’s journal for the period 01 April 1847 to 24 January 1848 made by Rev W.B. Clarke, and held by the Royal Geographical Society of London (RGS, see Beale 1983:96-97).

In an entry for 01 October 1847, Kennedy reported an encounter with Aboriginal people who were ‘without exception the most friendly and best behaved Natives I met with on the journey’. According to the RGS manuscript, Kennedy recorded:

We obtained from this party some useful words, which are correctly written, according to their sounds, River Victoria,1 “Barcoo”; Water, “Ammoo”; Grass, “Oo-lo-noo”; Fire, “Poordie” &c. (Beale 1983:142)

It is a pity that the rest of the list has not so far surfaced.

Continue reading ‘Maric dialect recorded by Edmund Kennedy in 1847’ »


  1. This name was later replaced by ‘Barcoo River’.

Polynesian plant names used on Lord Howe Island

Guest post by Jim Smith (PhD, Macquarie University):

In 2001 the discovery of a colony of Lord Howe Island Stick Insects living on Balls Pyramid, near Lord Howe Island, received international publicity. This species, originally very common on Lord Howe Island, had been thought to be extinct until rockclimbers, in 1964 and 1969, found evidence that it was still surviving on Balls Pyramid. In 2001 the Balls Pyramid colony was observed eating the leaves of a Tea-tree Melaleuca howeana which is endemic to Lord Howe and adjacent islands.

The local name of this Melaleuca species was first published in 1869: “A shrubby Melaleuca, inhabiting rocky exposed situations near the coast on the south-western side… locally called kilmogue, is used as a substitute for tea and said to be a pleasant and exhilarating beverage.” (Hill 1869:7; Moore 1870:9).1 When Maiden recorded the local vernacular names of plants and trees on Lord Howe Island in the 1880s, only two had non-English names. These were the Melaleuca, still known as kilmogue and Elaeodendron curtipendulum, a large tree also found on Norfolk Island and New Caledonia, which was known as tumana (Maiden 1898). The Melaleuca was still known as kilmoke in the 1930s (Nicholls 1938:90). Continue reading ‘Polynesian plant names used on Lord Howe Island’ »


  1. In Australia and New Zealand species of both Melaleuca and Leptospermum can be referred to as Tea-trees. Leptospermum polygalifolium occurs on Lord Howe Island but does not appear to have been made into ‘tea’ or referred to by the Polynesian name.

FEL call for grant applications

The Foundation for Endangered Languages has just announced that its 2012 grant application round is now open. Priority will be given to projects that focus on the revitalization of endangered languages and support the use of endangered languages in various spheres of community life (home, education, cultural and social life). Any language documentation proposals must have a clear and immediate relevance to prospects for language revitalization.

Full details and application forms are available on the FEL website. The deadline for submission of proposals is 31st December 2012.

LDD 11 now available for order

Volume 11 of Language Documentation and Description is now available for pre-publication order from the SOAS online store at GBP 10, a 25% discount off the regular price. Copies will be shipped in early December.

Volume 11 is edited by Peter K. Austin and Stuart McGill and is a collection of papers dealing with several topics in language documentation and description:

  • applied language documentation in sub-Saharan Africa
  • state-of-the art in Aslian language documentation
  • description of Sasak verb morphology

The first set of papers arise from a workshop held at SOAS in May 2011; two others were written for this volume. They represent important contributions to the theory and practice of the field of language documentation and description by leading scholars and younger researchers.

The volume will be of interest to anyone concerned with documenting and describing languages, and the application of language documentation principles within communities. In addition, Geoffrey Benjamin’s extended account of the state-of-the art in documentation and description of Aslian languages will be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about this fascinating sub-group of Mon-Khmer. The contents are:

  • Editor’s Introduction – Peter K. Austin & Stuart McGill
  • ‘Community’ collaboration in Africa: Experiences from Northwest Cameroon – Jeff Good
  • Building community participation into documentation design: lessons learned in Sakun (Sukur) – Michael F. Thomas
  • Ju|’hoan and ǂX’ao-ǁ’aen documentation in Namibia: overcoming obstacles to community-based language documentation – Megan Biesele, Lee Pratchett & Taesun Moon
  • Documentation, development, and ideology in the northwestern Kainji languages – Stuart McGill & Roger Blench
  • The Aslian languages of Malaysia and Thailand: an assessment – Geoffrey Benjamin
  • Too many nasal verbs: dialect variation in the voice system of Sasak – Peter K. Austin

To celebrate the publication of LDD 11 we are reducing the price of all LDD volumes by 25% for a limited time only. In addition, in time for Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/New Year we are offering a special package of all 11 volumes of LDD for GBP 100, a 30% reduction off the usual price.

Every Language Matters

On Friday this week (9th December, 4-7pm) the Endangered Languages Project at SOAS is participating in the national ESRC Festival of Social Science going on throughout the UK and aimed at highlighting for the general public the work that is being done in the Social Sciences.

Our event is called Every Language Matters and will “promote a public understanding of the place that languages hold in the lives of individuals and communities around the world, as well as the role of linguistic research in furthering our understanding of language”. We will be showcasing some of the work our staff and students are doing, as well as having hands-on sessions where members of the public can engage with issues in language diversity and language and cultural documentation and preservation.

If you are in London this coming Friday do come by SOAS and have a look at Vanuatu sand drawings, fieldwork in the Kimberleys, mapping the world’s language landscape, and how we are documenting and archiving language diversity.

Post-script: One of the activities we will showcase is Language Landscape, a student-led project to map audio, video or photographic samples of language use around the world. They have just been awarded one of the eight 2012 Google Earth Outreach Developer Grants that were recently announced. The team is very active and you can follow them on Twitter.

London tweets

Language diversity in the city of London is in the news again due to a research project by Ed Manley and James Cheshire of University College London (UCL) on posts on Twitter collected over the summer just ended. To identify the languages in their collection of tweets they used:

“the Chromium Compact Language Detector – a open-source Python library adapted from the Google Chrome algorithm to detect a website’s language – in detecting the predominant language contained within around 3.3 million geolocated tweets, captured in London over the course of this summer”

There is a zoomable map and an interesting blog post about the results by James Cheshire. The Telly has its say here.

I have previously blogged about language diversity in London, and minority languages on Twitter, but this new work nicely combines both themes. Unfortunately, it only presents a partial picture of the language diversity of London Twitter users as it “only include[s] people who have a good location (through GPS) and those who are connected to the internet”. Nevertheless, it does show at least 66 languages were used in the data collected by our UCL colleagues. This of course is just the tip of the iceberg of the hundreds of languages spoken but not tweeted in the city.

[Hat tip Mark Liberman at Language Log]

New book on minority languages of Nigeria

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new book that has just been published by Ruediger Koeppe Verlag on minority languages of Nigeria (thanks to Stuart McGill for giving me a copy for review):

Roger Blench and Stuart McGill (eds.) 2012. Advances in Minority Language Research in Nigeria, Volume 1. Cologne: Ruediger Koeppe Verlag.

The book is available from Koeppe via Amazon for USD 48.79 (including postage).

The chapters in the volume comprise papers presented at the monthly meetings of the Jos Linguistic Circle (northern Nigeria) plus an overview by Roger Blench of current linguistics research and language development in Nigeria. Topics covered include phonetics (Ch 3, 9, 11), orthography (Ch 5, 9), verb morphology (Ch 7, 8, 12), focus (Ch 6), noun class semantics (Ch 10), and historical linguistics (Ch 2, 4). A full list of contents is available here.

I have yet to read the volume in detail but a quick skim shows that the papers are pretty much all descriptively oriented with lots of new materials on previously undescribed languages being included. The book is very nicely produced and bound, with copious tables, maps and illustrations. It does, however, show the limits of paper-based publication at a time when multimedia presentation of linguistic research is relatively easy to achieve. So, for example, Chapter 3 on “Unusual sounds in Nigerian languages” that discusses labio-coronals, interdental approximants and an “explosive bilabial nasal” includes spectrograms and still photographs but would have been so much stronger if audio and video recordings of these phenomena were presented. Language Documentation and Conservation publishes online multimedia such as Lobel and Riwarung’s “Maranao: A Preliminary Phonological Sketch with Supporting Audio” in Volume 5 (2011) or Feeling et al.’s “Why Revisit Published Data of an Endangered Language with Native Speakers? An Illustration from Cherokee” in Volume 4 (2010). At SOAS, we publish multimedia volumes of Language Documentation and Description (such as Volume 10) as a book with accompanying CD or DVD.

Congratulations to Blench and McGill for putting together this volume and making materials on otherwise poorly known languages of Nigeria more widely available.

ELDP Grant Round 2013 – Call for applications

The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) at SOAS offers one granting cycle for 2013. The grant round opens next Monday 15th October 2012 10am (BST) and closes on 15th January 2013, 5pm (GMT).

The key objectives of the ELDP are:

  • to support the documentation of as many endangered languages as possible
  • to encourage fieldwork on endangered languages, especially by younger scholars with skills in language documentation
  • to create a repository of resources for the linguistic, social science, and the language communities

Grant categories available are:

  • Small Grants of up to £10,000
  • Individual Graduate Scholarships
  • Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships
  • Major Documentation Projects

Important dates:

  • Applications open: 15th October 2012
  • Deadline for submission: 15th January 2013, 5pm (GMT)
  • Decisions notified: 15th June 2013

Application forms and further information is available here.

Signs of change?

London is about to experience Olympic fever again with the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games taking place tonight. Already disabled athletes have started appearing in the city and interacting with locals and other visitors.

The Paralympics provide a great occasion to focus attention on the issues and difficulties faced by disabled people across the world. The BBC reported earlier today that:

“if Chinese athletes perform as well in the Paralympic Games [a China did in the Olympic Games] it could help change attitudes towards disabled people in China. The Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008 played a huge part in changing attitudes, but campaigners say China still has a lot to do”.

Locally, the Head of Scope Cymru has made a similar point in the context of a survey showing attitudes to disabled people are worsening in Wales.

Those of us interested in endangered languages might think of sign languages and the Deaf community (since all sign languages are endangered and subject to pressure from speakers of majority spoken languages), however, as UK Deaf Sport reminds us: “many Deaf people do not consider themselves disabled, particularly in physical or intellectual ability. Rather, we consider ourselves to be part of a cultural and linguistic minority”. There is in fact a separate Deaflympics, “the second oldest multi-sport and cultural festival in the world, with a proud history stretching back to the first Games in Paris, in 1924” and sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. It was recently announced by Craig Crowley, President of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf, that the next Summer Deaflympics will be held in Sophia, Bulgaria in 2013 (following the cancellation of plans for Athens).

The visibility (no pun intended) of sign languages among linguists, and the wider community, has been slowly increasing in recent years, however, like other minorities and the disabled there is still some way to go. For example, the list of DoBeS projects of the Volkswagen Foundation does not include any sign languages at all, despite the information for applicants [.pdf] stating that “documentation projects may focus on endangered dialects, moribund languages as well as sign languages”. The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at SOAS has so far funded eight projects on sign languages, namely:

Corpora for several of these are available in the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS, namely Auslan, Malian sign, Indian village sign, and Inuit sign.

We have also run training events at SOAS designed to sensitise hearing researchers about sign languages, the most recent being a workshop in “Sign language documentation for linguists working with spoken languages” held in May 2012. The 2009 3L Summer School at SOAS included a plenary lecture (by Adam Schembri and published in Language Documentation and Description Volume 7) and a course on documentation of sign languages. The Summer School was attended by a number of Deaf students, and the constant presence of British Sign Language and American Sign Language was a factor in sensitising hearing students to the needs of their Deaf colleagues.

There seem to be mixed indicators of the current state of affairs, however. The 2010 3L Summer School in Leiden included a course on Documentary Sign Linguistics, and a course on Advanced Sign Language Documentation, however the programme for this year’s 3L Summer School in Lyon focussed on revitalisation and did not highlight the situation of sign languages explicitly. Similarly, next year’s Linguistic Society of America 2013 Linguistic Institute has no courses on sign languages and linguistics.

Increasing interest is apparent in some places, however. Colleagues in the Department of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore reported to me recently that their undergraduate course “Deaf Culture and Sign Language” has been heavily oversubscribed by students wishing to learn about “the socio-cultural world of Deafness and the history and use of sign language”.

It would be interesting to learn more about what is happening in other parts of the world in relation to sign languages and linguistics.

New blog about endangered languages

Readers may like to check out and subscribe to a new blog that went live today: EL Blog from the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS, University of London.

This new blog:

“will add to [ELAR’s] support of collaboration between collection depositors and users by providing an additional platform for sharing information and advice. EL blog will include regular posts from ELAR staff; guest posts from depositors, archive assistants, and other interested people are also welcome. Topics will include ELAR’s collections, ELAR staff members’ activities, archiving and data management methods, language documentation, and many more. If you would like to contribute a post, please contact the blog administrator.”

The first couple of posts are representative of what is to come: staff activities and report on a visit and presentation last month by ELAR depositor Dr Kris Stenzel (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro).

Why not have a read, subscribe, and comment on the posts?