> April 2007 - Transient Languages & Cultures
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April 2007

For some time now I’ve misguidedly thought that there was very little attention paid to polysynthesis in the CA (Conversation Analysis) literature. I now realize how very wrong I was. On the contrary, it seems that polysynthesis and CA go together like love and marriage, but I was too blind to see it. As I digested as much of the literature as I could find, I really only came across one book and three obscure papers by Roger Spielmann on Ojibwe interaction and I thought that’s about where it ends. You see I was having trouble trying reconcile Murriny Patha conversation with what I was reading. Typologically it is just light years removed from everything being discussed. And much of the literature in interactional linguistics is very syntactically oriented rather than morphosyntactically oriented. I had been thinking that conversation analysts had studiously avoided this type of language (Spielmann being the exception). However I must have had blinkers on or something. You know what it’s like when you can’t see the wood for the trees?

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[From Jeremy Hammond, Field methods student, University of Sydney]

In Australia the relocation or “resettlement” of Indigenous Australians during the 20th century has caused the extinction of many dialects. The then Government motives of assimilation have caused fractured social and cultural landscapes. In western NSW at Lake Cargelligo, the Ngiyampaa and Paakantji people were relocated to Murrin Bridge in Wiradjuri Country and have lost much of their cultural knowledge.

Elsewhere in the world there are similar patterns and in particular high rates of urbanisation (such as in Vanuatu and PNG) may exacerbate this process. During a course on development in the Mekong River Region, I was made aware of entire village movement in the name of “progress” (and check out today's ABC Ockham's Razor commentary by Milton Osborne on the Mekong and the Salween Rivers - he wrote River at risk).

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[An [almost] live news blog - from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

This week (23rd to 27th April) is Endangered Languages Week at SOAS and interestingly one of the themes that has surfaced repeatedly over the past days has been communication with the wider world about what we do as linguists, researchers and fieldworkers. Along with the stakeholders mentioned in Jane’s and my recent post, there is the general public. Many of them, from my experience, do show a keen interest in endangered languages and language documentation, especially in the ‘human side’ of the stories we have to tell. And there are various ways we can talk to them.

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[Nick Thieberger, PARADISEC, Melbourne University branch, sent in this post after The Puliima National Indigenous Languages Information Communication Technology Forum.]

This forum was held in Newcastle, Australia, 24-26 April 2007, coordinated by the Awarbukarl Cultural Resource Association (ACRA). Subtitled 'Modern ways for ancient words', it was organised by Daryn McKenny and his team (including Dianna Newman and Faith Baisden) who put together two and a half days of presentations on the state of ICT in Indigenous language (IL) programs. The forum had a number of sponsors, testament to Daryn's ability to pull in support from various quarters, including DCITA, Telstra, Microsoft among others.

Representatives of language programs and language centres came from far and wide, including Townsville, Cairns, Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie, Bourke, Adelaide, Nambucca Heads, Sydney, Melbourne, Walgett, the Kimberley and New Zealand. We were given lots of information over the two days that I was there (I missed the last morning) and I'll try to summarise it here. Apologies to anyone I've left out.

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[Joint post by Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS and Jane Simpson]

There has been a flare up on the LINGTYP list again (cf. PKA's post last week) - this time from Gideon Goldenberg who suggested there is a distinction between research (good) and data collection (bad). He was writing about typological databases but it looks like the same opinion applies to documentary linguistic corpora - here's what he said:

"The clear and sharp distinction between research and materials is essential. The latter will be needed to illustrate scholarly discussion, but data themselves are not research even though they require thoughtful preparation. When electronic means became available there was the hope that from then on the mere accumulation of data would no longer be able to give credit of scientific work; it unfortunately turns to go the other way about. To share databases with others is OK and can be beneficial, but do not mistake it for research."

Ouch! All those digitised sound and video recordings with time-aligned multi-tier annotated corpora with linked metadata that we've been creating are fine and dandy, but it ain't research folks!

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The contents of the Paradisec Digital Repository have now exceeded 3 terabytes and currently consist of 3,157 items from 43 countries in 524 languages. Since our last report in February, we have completed the digitisation of Stephen Wurm's large collection of mainly Solomon Islands material and sent over 150 CD copies of Papua New Guinean music and language recordings to the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies for inclusion in their archive.

PARADISEC repository metrics report
generated weekly by Stuart Hungerford
at 16th April, 2007

Collections : 87 collections
Items : 3,157 items
Files : 23,286 files
Size : 3.13 TB
Time : 1633:49:40.00


[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

Oxford University Press has just published The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim edited by Osahito Miyaoka, Osamu Sakiyama and Michael Krauss. At 530 pages and weighing 1.2 kilos (according to my kitchen scales) it is a massive collection of material that will be of interest to readers of this blog. It consists of two thematic parts:

Diversity, Endangerment, and Documentation - comprising eight general papers on endangered languages and language documentation
Areal Surveys - regionally-based surveys of the South Pacific Rim, South-east Asia, and the North Pacific Rim, making up the bulk of the volume


[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

There has been an interesting discussion on the LINGTYP linguistic typology list over the past week about publishing fieldwork data (archived here). David Gil argued that:

“One's collection of transcribed texts constitutes a set of complete objects, each of which could (if there were a willing publisher) stand alone as an electronic or hardcopy publication. Barring the discovery and correction of errata, once the text is transcribed, that's it, it's done.”

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

Almost ten years ago, the late Ken Hale argued that global language destruction will lead to loss of important information to linguistics and other sciences. In an article called ‘On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity’ published in Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response edited by Lenore A. Grenoble and Lindsay J. Whaley. Ken wrote:

“The loss of linguistic diversity is a loss to scholarship and science. … While a major goal of linguistic science is to define universal grammar, i.e. to determine what is constant and invariant in the grammars of all natural languages, attainment of that goal is severely hampered, some would say impossible, in the absence of linguistic diversity.”

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Chronologically and perhaps otherwise connected with Peter Austin's post on CDFM are discussions of Dan Everett's claims about the Pirahã, a Brazilian group, which have hit the news recently (thanks Jeremy). The good thing is that Everett's claims can be tested. The hyperbole surrounding them is probably bad - for the people, and for the study of language.

The online slide-show accompanying John Colapinto's April 16 New Yorker article contains a slide of Everett's disembodied head emerging from a river, while Tooi sits in a boat nearby, with a strange expression on his face. For more, check out Everett's article in Current Anthropology (2006), and the response (on the useful archive site Lingbuzz) by Nevins, Pesetsky and Rodriguez, and Everett's come-back. Language Log has some good posts on the claims - most recently by Paul Kay' on the claims about colour terms.


[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

As someone who is currently supervising PhD students undertaking fieldwork in various locations around the world, the health and safety of my students is a fundamental concern. This was especially brought home a week ago when an 8.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated coastal villages in the western Solomon Islands, including the village on Ranongga Island where one of our PhD students is working. Fortunately she was in a boat at sea when the earthquake hit and was OK; the same cannot be said for Ranongga Island however. Communications with the area are difficult but it appears that several people died, many were injured, and the village and everything in it (including her fieldnotes and equipment) may have been destroyed.

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

I spent last week in Lyon working on plans for collaborative teaching and research with Colette Grinevald and her colleagues at Lyon-2 University and the CNRS DDL research laboratory. This will include a summer school on language documentation planned for June-July 2008 (we will announce more details soon), joint workshops and conferences, and development of a European Masters programme.

On Saturday (31st March) Michel Bert, who also teaches at Lyon-2 and is a researcher in the CNRS ICAR research laboratory, invited Colette and me to accompany him south from Lyon along the Rhône River to visit the field sites where he has been collecting data on the Franco-Provençal language over the past 10 years. Michel's PhD dissertation is a detailed study of this language based on data he collected from over 150 consultants.


My nightmare with Windows is finally over.
Yay! Crossover! It rules!
Late last year my G4 ibook came to a premature demise, probably a victim of all the dust and the ruts on the road to Wadeye from Daly River, which I did enough times to make me and my car age. Can't have done the laptop much good.
So I bought an Intel mac thinking 'great now I can run Toolbox'. I really wasted a lot of time. I didn't lose any data. But when I discovered what Windows was going to cost me, plus the emulator Parallels, in order to run Windows, it was the best part of A$300. I also spent a lot of time, trying just about anything to avoid paying for Windows after forking out for a new computer (for the second time in my PhD candidature). All that just to run Toolbox which is a freely downloadable application.

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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)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

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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

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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

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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