> January 2007 - Transient Languages & Cultures
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January 2007

Today's Australia Day, the anniversary of the British invading Australia in 1788. Bang! Plants, animals, birds, land-forms got English common names, and the Indigenous language names were displaced. The exceptions were things which had no obvious look-alikes in England: unfamiliar animals (kangaroos, koalas), birds (currawong), plants (kurrajong, quandong), land-forms (billabong, yakka), fish (ponde), and some man-made things and ideas (boomerang, wurley, corroboree).

Two hundred years later, words from Indigenous languages are gradually coming back as parts of scientific names for species.

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SBS news - Tuesday January 23, 2007 - is likely to have an item on NgaawaGaray.

NgaawaGaray was a summer school in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay - two New South Wales languages. [Ngaawa and Garay are the words for ‘language’ in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay]. It was sponsored and organised by Muurrbay and Many Rivers language centres from Nambucca and held at the Koori Centre at the University of Sydney on January 15 - 19. There were 16 students in the Gumbaynggirr course and 11 in Gamilaraay. The Gamilaraay course consisted of part of the ‘Gamilaraay 101’ - taught as ‘Guwaalmiya Gamilaraay’ - a first year subject at University of Sydney, and also taught in TAFE. The Gumbaynggirr course was adapted from the regular course run each year at Muurrbay.

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[ Barry sent this in response to the Artefacts, labels and linguists post. He is the curator responsible for the Pacific Cultures Gallery at the South Australian Museum, and has a brilliant website for an Upper Sepik-Central New Guinea project on the relations between material culture and language, geographical propinquity, population, subsistence and environment.]

The outcome of the renovation of the Pacific Gallery is a compromise between the enormous task of upgrading and relabelling an exhibition of 3000 artefacts and the available funding. A lot of money went into removing the 1960s ceiling, replacing aircon, carpet and lighting, and a paint job. I did not agree with the shiny black but the Goths had the numbers in the committee.

We have begun the difficult task of providing renewed labelling in the wall cases - difficult because one case may have around a hundred items and in such instances we can't provide a label for each individual item - instead we will try to say something about the collectivity of objects that gives the viewer some sense of what they are looking at, in terms of types and geographical distribution (such as in the display of over 80 stone headed clubs). Electronic means of providing information will not be limited in this way and individual items will be provided with full data, including language groups (speech communities) from which the objects have come (where known).


I bought myself a new digital SLR camera for Christmas, and it revived in me a love for photography. Back in my teenage years I had an Olympus OM-1 - the classic journalism camera of the seventies. I'd run around shooting everything and then come back home to process the film. Fortunately my school had a great darkroom set up... although, it sucked up a lot of time I should have spent on other things.

Its great to have full control of the image again, and I'm not feeling too nostalgic about the darkroom side of things (although that was half the fun!). Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras give you a lot of control over your image, but there are several things that you need to know to get started. But even if you're not into the raw technicalities, you can take good photos with a point and shoot camera.

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15 Jan

Just spotted this nifty cross-platform (if your platform isn't linux...) app via makezine and had a go.



2006 saw the release of several films with actors speaking endangered languages - Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (Mayan) and Rolf de Heer's film Ten Canoes, set in Arnhem Land, and with actors speaking mostly in Ganalbingu (and see Anggarrgoon on it).

Leaving aside the pleasure of hearing actors speak in Indigenous Australian languages, I liked Ten Canoes - it was funny, it gave an idea of the good and the bad about small societies - you're looked after, but you have reciprocal responsibility, and NO privacy - everyone knows what you're thinking. The filming was beautiful - both the recreation of early photos, and the shots of the light on the water and the tangled trees in the swamp. And the authors worked hard to "make a film that would not only satisfy local tastes and requirements but would also satisfy Western audiences used to Western storytelling conventions." [1]

Ten Canoes won awards, it had some box-office success, and it has resulted in several spin-off projects which benefit the Ramingining community e.g. recording traditional songs, publishing Donald Thomson's photographs of Arnhem Land in 1937, training older teenagers (with help from Save the Children and Create Australia) in film-making.

Good eh? But oddly, some people have found it offensive that the Australian Catholic Film Office and the Australian Film Institute would vote Ten Canoes Best Film of the year.

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Summer brings out stories about humour in the media. A right wing commentator complained that Australian cartoonists only lampooned rightwing politicians (ignoring the fact that we have a conservative far-right Government). "How the hell did we get here?" ABC TV 6/1/07 presented the Australian baby-boomers' top 20 TV comedy shows - mostly Australian but including some British (Yes Minister, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers) and American. Number 1 was M.A.S.H., and the show host said, reflecting an irritatingly widespread attitude, that it was surprising to find an American show with such an Australian sense of humour. Look out, however, for the start of a new claim - that the Australian sense of humour (whatever that is) may actually be an Aboriginal sense of humour. I saw it last week in an article, The joke's on us by Shane Brady in the Sydney Morning Herald (2/1/07).

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What can a linguist do on a hot summer's day on North Terrace in Adelaide? Once upon a time I loved the SA State Library &mdash they had a very good collection of books looked after by helpful specialist librarians who knew the collections inside out, and the Friends of the State Library of South Australia did an excellent facsimile publishing service which ensured that nineteenth century materials on South Australian languages were available. Now, while the Friends are still doing good things ..there's an enormous Christmas tree and fake-looking presents in the new energy-inefficient glass foyer, a closed Circulating Library ("You can hire this book-lined room for a party!"), a billboard for the Bradman collection merchandise, and the historic Mortlock reading room has been converted into a low-lux display room (oh yes, and you can hire this room for functions too!). OK - so the library needs to raise money, and maybe someone who buys a Bradman t-shirt will browse a book. But when the rumour spreads that the State Liibrary is going to evict the Royal Geographical Society library and its superb Australian collection, you have to wonder if some people think of books as Christmas trees, temporary decorations for a convention centre. Please tell us the rumour is false!

The Art Gallery of South Australia? Sure &mdash there's a Tiwi art exhibition Yingarti Jilamara (glossed as 'lots of art’), and there are some interesting early colonial portraits of encounters between Aborigines and Europeans.

But the must-see is the Pacific Cultures Gallery in the South Australian Museum. It's free, it's cool, and it has the largest collection of Pacific artefacts in Australia. This will attract people working on languages of Papua New Guinea (including Bougainville), the Solomon and Santa Cruz Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, as well as Fijian and Maori.

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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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That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

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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

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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