> August 2006 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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August 2006

Kirsten Storry's paper on the problems with Aboriginal education received a write-up was discussed by her in an opinion-piece in the Australian 31 August 2006. She is described as a 'policy analyst' for the Centre for Independent Studies. For her, problems with "literacy levels" equals problems with literacy in English - Indigenous languages are not on her radar. Hence the complexity of teaching second language students to read and write in a second language does not feature in her account. Remember when outsourcing was supposed to save government departments heaps of money, and also to improve efficiency of IT systems? Well, that's Storry's solution to Aboriginal education..

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Following on the discussion of Sri Lankan Portuguese in the Speaking to God and Mammon post, Thushara Gamage, Linguistics department alumna, gives her view on what's happening to the linguistic ecology of Sri Lanka, and why.

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I'm sure we've all done it from time to time: somehow, despite carefully trying to do something else altogether, we delete a critical and unique recording on our flash recorder... never to be heard again.

But all is not lost, in fact its often really quite simple to get it back... but only if you've taken the necessary precautions.

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Two seminars were given last week at Sydney University on languages in contact - Helen Fulton (University of Wales, Swansea) on "Language on the Borders : Contacts between Welsh and English in the Marches of Wales after 1066", and Ian Smith's (currently visiting the Linguistics Department for a year) Linguistics department seminar "Wesleyan missionaries and the conversion of Sri Lanka Portuguese", on the new languages in Sri Lanka that developed from contact with Portuguese, Dutch and then English. In both cases aspirations for heavenly and worldly advancement provided motivations for language shift and language maintenance, sometimes in competition and sometimes in collaboration.

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"Digital" Video

25 Aug

Researchers are increasingly using video in their fieldwork. Starting with cheap analogue formats and now digital formats, it is easy and affordable to begin video-taping everything... In the same way that we can now record audio for everything.

...Well, actually I'm not quite convinced yet.

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Many academic disciplines depend on analysis of primary data captured during fieldwork. Increasingly, researchers today are using digital methods for the whole life cycle of their primary data, from capture to organisation, submission to a repository or archive, and later access and dissemination in publications, teaching resources and conference presentations. This conference and workshop will showcase a number of projects that have been developing innovative and sustainable ways of managing such data.

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OK, we've got together all the equipment that we want to use. Now we need to estimate the power consumption of these devices so that we purchase the right size of solar panel and battery. This also applies to portable generators too, which can be a good source of power...if its an option.

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Two major recent events in the Northern Territory were Gurindji Freedom Day (discussed on the 7.30 report (21/8/06) (tx T & D for the link!)), and the Garma Festival. The song from the Lajamanu band that was played at Garma 'Gimme that old-time jukurrpa!' [jukurrpa = dreaming, law in Warlpiri] appeals to me for its lighthearted bringing together of present and past, English and Warlpiri, Christianity and Jukurrpa.

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Those of you in Canberra this week might be interested in the Australasian Sound Recordings Association annual conference "Listening" to be held 23-24 August at the National Film and Sound Archive. Among the several presentations of likely interest to readers of this blog will be the session on "Listening, Language and Culture" on 23 August, and a highlight will be the the Alice Moyle lecture to be delivered by Gupapungu elder Joe Gumbula (Galiwin'ku Knowledge Centre, Elcho Island) on 24 August at 9.15. See the conference programme for full details!

Lost in the relief over the ceasefire in Lebanon, the dropping of the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, and the proposed conscience vote on stem cell research, another bill has passed that will greatly affect the lives of many speakers of Aboriginal languages. This week the Senate has been discussing the ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS (NORTHERN TERRITORY) AMENDMENT BILL 2006. Go to Hansard for Tuesday 15/8/06 and Wednesday 16/8/06 for the speeches by Senators Christopher Evans, Rachel Siewert and Andrew Bartlett which bring out the likely consequences of the bill. The Age has an article on it [thanks!], but there's not much else. Working in the Northern Territory in the 1980s, I provided linguistic evidence for the Warumungu land claim, and was able to see the effect that the success of that and other claims had. People took greater control of their own lives and futures, and one effect was increased interest in, and effort to maintain, their own languages. It was clear that land mattered to people, and, on the negative side, could lead to violent disagreements between groups. The implementation of the Native title legislation has made this much worse. But this bill has the potential to create even more disagreements.

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Today I've been pointed to The Center for Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA):
"The Center hopes to help indigenous communities realize their goals of language recovery and widening the contexts of language use by providing technical education in fields related to language, with an emphasis on language maintenance, documentation, and applications to social institutions that depend on language and communication among all citizens."

They have some excellent ideas about training and working with speakers of Indigenous languages.

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I've just been pointed to an interesting program on SBS radio on language use in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. Greg Muller interviews Bill Foley and Sana Banai who is a Hakö speaker from Buka Island, near Bougainville. Both Sana and Bill talk about language and identity, and vernacular literacy. And they both talk about the spread of Tok Pisin, how it is a unifying language, the language of mates, the most common language in Port Moresby, and now is becoming a lingua franca. (Surprising isn't it that Tok Pisin isn't taught in schools and universities in Australia? Where are the intensive courses for our soldiers going off to be peace-keepers?)

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While we were in Wadeye in July, our ARC project team (Linda Barwick, Allan Marett, Michael Walsh, Joe Blythe, Nick Reid and Lysbeth Ford) finalised our project website, which was formally approved by the Kardu Diminin elders on July 28. Wadeye has had a lot of bad press lately, but it really is an amazingly rich place for languages and songs. This website deals only with the public ritual song styles performed and owned by members of the Murriny-patha-speaking clans, the main genres being djanba, malgarrin and wurltjirri. Elders at Wadeye and our project team have been working hard to document all the song recordings: for example, so far we have identified 104 djanba songs, all of which seem to be in grammatical Murriny Patha, and the majority of them have been transcribed, glossed and translated.

Two other public ritual song genres performed in Wadeye are: wangga (owned and performed by speakers of Marri Tjebin and Marri Ammu, and the subject of Allan Marett's recent book Songs Dreamings and Ghosts); and lirrga, owned and performed by speakers of Marri Ngarr (Lys Ford and I have recently written paired articles about lirrga songs, forthcoming in the journal Musicology Australia).

For further details, see the website! Feedback welcome, either here or from the contact page on the website.

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Allan Marett and I spent yesterday meeting with the good folks from Sydney e-Scholarship regarding a publication project we have to archive some of our song recordings in the University of Sydney Library's Dspace repository and then link to them from an electronic publication we are developing about six repertories of wangga songs from the Daly region. The exciting thing about electronic publication is that we can embed the audio directly within the text, allowing us to cite our primary data in a much more immediate way (something that humanities scholars dealing with images and text have had available to them for a long time).

For those who haven't caught up with Allan's recent book Songs Dreamings and Ghosts (Wesleyan University Press, 2005), wangga is a genre of didjeridu-accompanied songs originating in the Daly region of the Top End. Generally speaking, each singer has composed or inherited a repertory of somewhere between 10 and 40 songs, which are performed in different combinations depending on the performance context.

The idea for the new book we are working on with linguist Lys Ford is to present and discuss linguistic and musical features of about 100 different song texts from six repertories in five endangered languages of the Daly Region: Batjamalh, Emmi, Mendhe, Marri Tjabin and Marri Ammu. Tommy Berrtjep, Bobby Lane , Jimmy Mulluk , and Billy Mandji were the main singers and composers of the four repertories from Belyuen NT, while Thomas Kungiung, Martin Warrigal Kungiung, John Dumoo, Wagin Dumoo, Charlie Brinkin and Maurice Ngulkur were the main composers involved with the two repertories from Wadeye NT (the Walakandha wangga and the Ma-yawa wangga).

So, we decided that to support the publication and preserve the archival integrity of the recordings, we would deposit in Dspace:

1. the master soundfile of the whole recording, named according to our fieldtape number
e.g. Marett_DAT98-11.wav (Marett fieldtape DAT98/11).

2. excerpted soundfiles of each song on the recording, named in sequence based on the fieldtape
e.g. Marett_DAT98-11-s01.wav (first song on the master recording). 128kbps MP3 files for web delivery will also be produced, named according to the same scheme but (of course!) with .mp3 extension.

3. text or image file indicating the start and end timecodes of the excerpted files within the master recording.

Usually for sound editing I use Sound Studio 3 on my Mac running OS10.4.6. This has the advantage of being able to produce mp3 files directly from within the application, as well as all the standard sound editing capabilities. Some Macs come with Sound Studio already loaded, but if you need to buy a license it's not too expensive ($US40.20 with education discount). I save marker information indicating song start and end points within the file (with AIFF this marker information is saved in the file header). Unfortunately there appears to be no way to export this marker information from within Sound Studio, so I've been saving a screen grab of the marker window as a graphic to archive along with the sound file. It would obviously be much more flexible and archivally sound to archive an xml or text file with the timecode information. I believe Audacity (free cross-platform sound editor) allows you to export marker ('label') information so I might investigate using that in future.

So once some of the relevant files are safely archived in the Library's Dspace, I'll report back here. The idea is that the text of the book will point to both the archival files in Dspace and the mp3 surrogates (which may or may not be archived in Dspace as well). Each file in Dspace gets its own digital object identifier in the form of a handle, a unique persistent web address, meaning that the reference to the sound file in the publication will remain even when servers and other elements of the web architecture change (for more information see the Handle System website).

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Our sister blogger (perhaps 'aunt' since she's been blogging much longer!) Claire Bowern has started to post sections of her draft manual on fieldwork on her blog. First off are some gripping posts on those inevitable initial questions: "What recording equipment should I get?" The answers change each year - but the categories Claire uses to classify equipment are relevant at any time: fidelity, unobtrusiveness, power type and demand, portability, durability, archivability of recordings, and expense of machine and medium. Check out her summary and earlier posts.

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How did you interpret the intent of Census Question 22 "Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for, communication activities?" What's 'Australian' ancestry (C.Q.18)? As always, census forms raises concerns of interpreting the questions, and interpreting the answers to the questions, especially when the forms are being filled out by speakers of other languages.

Monday's Sydney Morning Herald has a short article on the physical problems of doing the census at Wadeye, in particular the fact that they have "hired eight Wadeye residents who translate the questions for people into their local language and then fill in the answers for them." A good start. The mention that John Taylor was there as an observer took me back to his excellent co-authored paper "Making sense of the census: observations of the 2001 enumeration in remote Aboriginal Australia."

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I don't know how many parts this will be all together, but writing up a guide to getting a solar power kit together is something I've been meaning to do for a while.

In today's instalment, we'll be looking at how to prepare for a trip.

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Fancy going to Port Hedland in the Pilbara to discuss Australian languages in early September this year? A flyer arrived from FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages) asking for us to spread the word on their conference and Annual General Meeting. I can't see anything about it on their website, so download the flyer if you want registration forms and membership forms. A summary follows.

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The Wednesday linguists' lunch at the CHATS cafe, ANU is a free-wheeling discussion of language, Indigenous Studies, and life in our various institutions - this week it ranged from the reconstructions of the pronunciation of  place-names (is Ulladulla really  Nguladarla?),  to language revival programs, especially John Giacon's experience with Gamilaraay,  and what works and what doesn't.

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Thanks to Linda and Frank for a very interesting workshop last Friday. I picked up some great tricks on using transcriber and audacity. Perhaps the best trick I learnt was how to remove cicada noise from my PNG recordings.

Maybe you already knew how to do this (or maybe you just fiddle with the EQ), but I always thought this was in the realm of Hollywood fantasy (like when the forensics guy magically "enhances" a grainy image to reveal the killer's face in a thriller). Removing the noise allows me to more easily transcribe a busy recording, and seeing as insect noise was pretty constant and loud through all my recordings, this is quite handy. There are some caveats, but here's how to do this using freely available, cross platform software.

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Margaret Florey just posted a notice on the list "Resource-Network-Linguistic-Diversity@unimelb.edu.au" (a terrific list for information on languages and fieldwork - see also their website) about a new 161 page Canadian report on revitalising First Nation, Inuit and Métis languages and cultures. It is definitely worth downloading, both for its recommendations and for the information about what's happening in Canada.

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The Authors

About the Blog

The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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FAQ

Papua New Guinea FAQs from Eva Lindstrom Papua New Guinea (New Ireland): Eva Lindstrom's tips for fieldworkers

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

Language on the Move Intercultural communication and multilingualism

Talking Alaska: Reflections on the native languages of Alaska

Culture matters: applying anthropology Australian anthropology blog: postgraduates and staff

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

matjjin-nehen Blog on Australian linguistics, fieldwork, politics and the environment.

Language Log Group blog on language and linguistics

Links

E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources a worldwide network of organizations, academics, activists, indigenous groups, and others representing indigenous and tribal peoples

Technorati Profile

Technology-enhanced language revitalization Include ILAT (Indigenous Languages and Technology) discussion list.

Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

Linguistic fieldwork preparation: a guide for field linguists syllabi, funding, technology, ethics, readings, bibliography

On-line resources for endangered languages

Papua New Guinea Language Resources Phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy, language maps for many PNG languages

Resource network for linguistic diversity Networking practitioners working to record,retrieve & reintroduce endangered languages

Projects

ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text