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Two items for people who haven't read the Australian Linguistics Society February 2007 newsletter (subscribe! get all the goss AND the Australian Journal of Linguistics).

• LINGAD 2008 25 - 28 September, Adelaide comprises 3 meetings, including:
••the Australian Linguistics Society Conference 26 - 28 September, abstracts due 16 March; (reminder: same due date also for the associated workshop on the language of poetry and song - 300 words abstracts in word or PDF format to christina.eira AT adelaide.edu.au.)
•• Indigenous Languages Conference 2007, 25-27 September 2007,

CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) got squillions from DCITA for work on endangered languages and now want a linguist to help them do it. (In several procrastinatory moments I searched the DCITA website to find out how many squillions, but the site didn't yield the information in an obvious way. Can anyone tell us?)

Here's their blurb:

In 2005 the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association gained funding through DCITA to make recordings of endangered Aboriginal languages. The intent of this project is to record languages and produce them to CD.

The total work of this project involves many parts:

• identification of the endangered language and associated community.
• communication with the families and individuals to ascertain their willingness to participate in the project.
• organizing logistics of travel and accommodation around visits to the chosen location.
• travel to location and meeting/communicating with the project participants.
• direct project activity including linguistic work related to recording, documenting and translating.
• return to CAAMA. Collation of all documented material. Assembly into most useful translated form including wordlists.
• editing, mixing and mastering all audio.
• artwork/graphics CD jewel-case and CD.
• duplication of documented language material, CD artwork and CD.
• return of finished product to family, community, language centres, funding body and national archives.

We are presently consulting with as many people as possible to find a language or community who are concerned about the status of their language and are willing to participate in the Endangered Language project.

We are producing three endangered language projects in 2007. CAAMA provides all audio resources and facilities including engineer.

We are keen to discuss this project with linguists who think they can advise us where to go, where our project funding might serve the needs of an identified community best.

We are looking for a linguist to work on this project who is able to meet the production requirements of the project within the timeframe.

If you think you can assist us making these critical decisions we would appreciate contact with you.

Contact: Bill Davis, Manager CAAMA Music. Ph 08 89 519730, email: showerblock1-at-gmail.com.


Let me say unequivocally that CAAMA has not received 'squillions' for the Endangered Language Project. What funding we did get was hard fought for; many guidelines had to be satisfied and many criteria have to be met. Its a pity the good standing of the ALS has to be sullied by its members using such cheap shots.

In Central Australia it is possible to witness the disintegration of language and culture on a daily basis; embedded in CAAMA's charter is an imperative to use whatever means we can to arrest this effect and try our best to address its multiple causes. Implementing the Endangered Language Project is part of our effort to address some of the massive social and cultural problems we are confronted with.

Bill Davis,
Manager CAAMA Music

Apologies. The comment on squillions is my throwaway comment - not the ALS's comment. Blame me, not them. And what lies behind my comment is not a complaint about CAAMA. It's rather a complaint about the lack of public information and accountability as to the spending of government money on endangered language maintenance and documentation. Since the money's limited, we need value for money. Stating publically how much projects cost, what their approaches are, and what the outcomes are, is essential for spending money wisely on future projects. Sharing this information, and providing honest accounts of what things work and what things don't, are the only way we'll get progress on effective ways of maintaining and documenting languages.

Otherwise we'll just get unending and expensive reinventions of picture books and multimedia CDs with a couple of songs and a couple of stories. These can be done cheaply, and they can be done in a way that involves community people and raises consciousness about language maintenance. But apart from that, they do not provide much in the way of language documentation, and the work has yet to be done to show that such products encourage children to speak the language. And too often they are very expensive indeed.

People interested in language documentation and maintenance have the chance to talk about these ideas at the Indigenous Languages Conference in Adelaide this year. It's be great if CAAMA would show their work there.

Just in support of picture books and songs in language...

Often the process of making picture books and writing songs is a way of involving people where they are at in working on their own languages. Yes they can be cheap to produce and maybe follow a familiar format, but the collaborative process is what counts, not always the static final product. By participating and practicing language documentation in a collaborative team approach, language speakers can build more capacity for language work. A collaborative research/learning cycle that works here involves facilitating rich language experiences with elders and younger people(eg. elders telling and recording stories), creatively retelling the story through song and negotiated text, collaboratively creating a language resource that spins off into language games and literacy resources, and using these in a more formal learning context for both adults and children. Perhaps the perceived problem lies in reifying the picture books, which from another cultural perspective can be regarded as ephemera?

In my opinion we should be funding the process not the end products. But in this approach there is also an opportunity to record language from elders - this is part of the rich language experience that kicks off the research cycle. And this is where we can focus the funding - to provide opportunities and payment to elders to tell their stories that can then be recorded for 'high level' documentation as well as providing the creative input for the picture books, songs and literacy resources that retell the story in different ways.

And I do question the statement that picture books don't encourage children to speak language. There are many forces at work in our community that don't encourage children to speak vernacular language. It's a tad harsh to blame picture books and songs - surely they don't discourage kids from speaking their language!

Marg Carew
Co-ordinator - Own Language Work
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education

I completely agree that the process of creating songs, CDs and picture books can be very useful, and that songs especially stay in people's memories. What I am concerned about, however, is a cost-benefit approach. Let's say the process of making a CD with a couple of songs and a few pictures and a couple of games costs $60,000, of which $50,000 goes to the programmers, and $10,000 for the song workshop, picture creation, language creation and teacher's handbook. (And that, alas, is not an unlikely estimate). That seems to me a lot of money for not much benefit. Likewise, a picture book where there is very little community involvement and a large publication subsidy for n-colour printing doesn't seem to me a rational use of limited money.

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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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