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September 2006

Want to learn some Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay in Sydney this January? John Giacon passes on this information. Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative  and Many Rivers Aboriginal Language Centre, in association with the Koori Centre at the University of Sydney, are facilitating Ngaawa-Garay, a summer school which will offer one week courses in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay from Monday 15 - Friday 19 January, 2007.

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29 Sep

Running a bit late on this post, but, congratulations to Stan Grant Senior on being awarded the 2006 Deadly for "Outstanding Acheivement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education", for his work on Wiradjuri language revival.

And of course, congratulations too to all the other recipients!

Registration for the Human Communication Sciences Network SummerFest06 (Nov 27th - Dec 1st) opens today. There looks to be an interesting line up of courses. I'm hoping I can head along to the courses on Bayesian Networks and Markov Models and Statistics for Linguistics amongst others.

I heard that Trevor Johnston's course on sign languages was excellent. I'll definitely be going along to that one.

And... OK so this is a shameless plug: I hope Introduction to Fieldwork Methods will be fun ;-)

There was an engaging documentary Bush School on SBS tonight, about Warrego School in a ghost mining town out of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. It started a few years ago with eleven Warlmanpa children from the Mangarlawurru [Mungalawurru] Aboriginal community travelling 80 km each day to get to there. They're still going, singing their lessons in the bus. They attend 100% of the time, achieve national benchmarks in English literacy and numeracy, focus on horse-riding and swimming. The school is working hard to combat the hearing loss that most of the kids suffer from (ear infections have meant that several of the children have hearing aids). And they've sent one of their brightest students to study at a private girls school in New South Wales.

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I got inspired to preen our blogroll, by following up blogrolls on other linguistics blogs (notably Language Log). This meant hours of pleasure going through musings, dead blogs, frozen blogs, (very!) personal blogs, e-learning blogs exhorting us to use blogs in teaching, e-learning blogs exhorting not to use them, pictures of cats, gardens, parrots, business blogs, meta-blogs..

The results?

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There's an interesting post on slashdot today, on a product that will geo-tag your photos. Geo-tagging a photo means recording some geographic information at the time you take your photo, typically the longitude and latitude.

At first glance I thought it might be another on of these data-loggers, but actually, with a minor addition, it's a pretty nifty bit of hardware.


This posting is topically aligned with two excellent postings (one by Tom on this blog and one by Claire at Anggarrgoon) about problems relating to video recording and the observer’s paradox. In my comments to Tom’s posting, I talked about some of the problems I’d had recording naturalistic conversation on video and that I’d had more success with straight audio. So I’ll now talk about the audio recording of conversation, which is where I have had more success.

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To all our readers who'll be in the Tamworth area (New South Wales) on Friday 20 October, 2006. Remember the post on the excellent new Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay resources?

Well this is your chance to admire the resources, and to see performances from the kids learning the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages. John Giacon passes on this invitation.

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(Following a previous post and a reply from Claire at Anggarrgoon)

Is it possible to reduce the intrusiveness of video taping someone?

Before I launch into this... let me just say: "flashing lights and ethical alarm bells!". What I'm going to talk about is the paradox of fully informing your informants that you're going film them, and then trying your hardest to seem like you're not there!

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The cause for celebration is Justice Murray Wilcox's finding that Noongar people have 'native title' to certain parts of the Perth Metropolitan area (Federal Court (Bennell v State of Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243), Perth, 19 SEPTEMBER 2006).

The pursuit of native title (like the Snark) has cost heaps and caused much grief. But when native title is recognised, it's great, and when the value of linguistic evidence in determining it is recognised, this is also great. Wilcox's findings have lots of interesting things to say about Noongar language, what the claimants said, and the expert linguistic evidence provided by PARADISEC's Nick Thieberger.

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Media Cannibals

19 Sep

Media watch devoted their entire episode on the 18th of September to analysis of this embarrassing stoush between channel 7 and channel 9. Until next monday, you can view this week's Media Watch online, the transcripts should be up for a bit longer than that.

Perhaps my only criticism on the Media Watch coverage is that they focused mostly on the content of the fight between the two channels, but didn't look so much at how ridiculously improbable the scenario was. I guess a follow up on this Paul Raffaele character, and a real discussion of life and hardships of people living in Papua (AIDS springs to mind...amongst many other issues), is content for a real news show rather than a show that critiques the media...

incidentally...I love the title "why 7 ate 9"

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Diverting myself from contemplation of pronouns, I was led via the Indigenous alert (you get this by e-mailing library.research AT facs.gov.au) to a story on a spa in Queensland where the writer was testing

"Lowana from Li'Tya, a range of products and treatments which draw inspiration from indigenous Australian culture"

'Lowana' caught my attention, since I have been idling around with the etymology of lubra, which takes in Oyster Bay Tasmanian lowana 'woman'. HO, I thought, a Tasmanian enterprise perhaps. 'Woman' I thought, good name for spa consumers. 'Lowana' - fits English speakers' sense of euphony. So I went further to Spa care from the Australian Dreamtime. My machine was instantly taken over by a buzzing drone-pipe, but I fought on (with the help of the volume control), wading through the piccies of cute painted-up people, in search of WORDS..

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It seems that Channels 7 and 9 want to persist in their policy of sensationalist misinformation about the Korowai of Papua. The only cannibals involved here are the news teams of Channels 7 and 9 feeding on each other. While the Korowai did practice cannibalism in the past, there have been no reported cases for over 20 years. There have been missionaries based the Korowai region since the 1980s and they have not reported any cases on the killing and eating of kakwa 'male sorcerers'. Nor is the group uncontacted or unstudied, as claimed by Channel 9; National Geographic made a 1 hour documentary on them and there is a grammar and dictionary published by a Dutch missionary and linguist who (van Enk, G and de Vries, L. 1997. The Korowai of Irian Jaya. Oxford University Press). It is clear that the Korowai quickly worked out what the Channel 9 reporter wanted to hear about cannibalism and they told him what he come to hear. The Korowai may have seen potential profit in selling such stories to a naive and callow Channel 9 reporter, pretty much as Channel 7 and 9 see profit in onselling this sensationalist tripe.

I've just been travelling in northern Australia with postgrad student Isabel Bickerdike recording songs for our Rausing-funded Western Arnhem Land song project. Conditions ranged from windy through very windy right up to very very windy and boy was I glad I'd invested in a Rycote windshield system! Even though the mike was actually blown over by the wind a couple of times (fortunately between songs rather than during one), with the aid of PARADISEC's trusty Nagra V hard disk recorder and a Rode NT4 stereo condenser microphone, we came away with 89 nicely recorded song items (from four different song-sets). OK, this is a pricey setup, but there are cheaper ways to achieve good results (Rycote even have a windjammer for lapel mike) and I'd encourage anyone likely to be recording outdoors in windy conditions to consider building decent wind protection into the budget. It's a small investment when you consider the overall costs of the field trip, and the results will be so much nicer to listen to and work on.


With a language group that has 10,200 hits on google and a definition in wikipedia! Hmmm...

Bill Foley, from the Linguistic Department here at Sydney Uni did an interview this afternoon and will be on channel seven's news tonight commenting on the disgraceful "Wa-Wa" scandal.

Today's Australian has the linguist Frances Kofod's moving obituary for a Gija painter and law man, Hector Jandany. This is the good side of the Australian's coverage of Indigenous affairs. The bad side however has come to the fore this week.


Regular summary of PARADISEC’s ever growing digital repository of sound and video recordings, images and text files, currently totalling 2,696 items representing 54 countries and 600 languages.

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a post from Nick Thieberger

David Nash just alerted me to http://www.mouton-online.com/ausbib.php which is promisingly called: 'Language in Australia and New Zealand', and, for a mere 248 euros would seem to be an indispensible aid to the Australasian linguist. I popped in and got a guest logon which they generously (but perhaps ill-advisedly) offer for free. It seems to be a bibliographic listing (but in the days of Google Scholar and other such resources it may already be redundant?). I put in the name of my favourite Aboriginal language, Warnman, and got zero hits. Curious I thought.

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The Central Australian Ngumbin-Yapa languages Warlpiri and Gurindji feature in this entry, together with obituaries for a Nyamal lawman, and an anthropologist who studied Maori oral literature.


Jane's last post and a post on the ever excellent Language Log have got me thinking about permanence and accountability in the internet age. Its a theme that I encounter again and again, working for a digital archive.

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An RSS feed is forever.. that's what I forgot in the Technorati post (now deleted) - in my desire to avoid Technorati's quick blog registration (which requires sending a valuable password into the Technorati ether, perhaps forever...). Sorry all! (And boy have we paid for it with streams of junk comments from strip poker sites!).

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Vivid pink plum trees, white cherry trees, soft masses of yellow wattle, japonica hedges with pink flowers leaping out of new green leaves, white cockatoos browsing on the ground. That was Canberra during the Rematerialising colour conference at ANU's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. How does the outsider linguist find out if speakers of another language have colour terms? This important question for field linguists and lexicographers was raised in two papers on the Australian language Warlpiri by David Nash and Anna Wierzbicka.


if you want to spend three years thinking and writing about languages and cultures of Australia and the Asia-Pacific region ...
Nod to Ethics committee: HEALTH WARNING: and you're not ESPECIALLY worried about whether you'll find a interesting job afterwards....

... applications for the 2007 APA/UPA scholarships at the University of Sydney are now open. Information and an application can be downloaded from:


In the field last year I meticulously gathered photos with audio recordings of many plants in the area I was working in PNG. I certainly don't like creating lexicon entries all with a gloss of "tree/plant species" and I figured in this digital age, including a picture and audio recording of each plant was one way of increasing the identifiability of each plant (and animal... but they're not so photogenic). Pictures are a much more salient identifier for speakers of the language than anything else. Never-the-less, scientific name are a good universal identifier for a plant, but they're hard to get if you don't have a botanist with you.

So earlier this year I sat down with Barry Conn at the National Herbarium of New South Wales to discuss interdisciplinary work between linguists and botanists. One of my questions was "what does a linguist need to do in the field to get a plant identified?".

Here are some of my notes from the meeting, with some comments from Barry:


In the last post in this series we figured out how much power we'd need. Now the really important part - we choose our panel and battery and stick it all together.

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We mourn the loss of NJ Nangala and Colin Thiele, two people whose work has helped the maintenance of Indigenous languages.

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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.


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)

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Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

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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


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


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