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May 2007

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

Lots of opportunities to come up against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues in London these days:

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Next week, on 7 June in Canberra, will be an event Languages in crisis, at the National Press Club. It's billed as a "National Languages Summit, calling for simple, effective measures to utilise and develop our national language capacity". It's organised by the Academy of Humanities, and they're going to launch a Research Paper.

BUT, the rumour is that "national language capacity=foreign language capacity". Nothing about the crisis in bilingual education for Indigenous students. Nothing about Indigenous languages at all....

Update 17/8/07
There's a new link here [thanks to Mame du Bois]

This does bring in Indigenous languages, recognising the misguided conflict between them that some policy-makers have pushed:

Programmes to support Indigenous languages of Australia can be paired with English teaching, rather than act in competition with them.


National Sorry Day, the fortieth anniversary since the Referendum, and here's the Government's response. Today the Prime Minister implied that "the right to live on remote communal land and to speak an indigenous language" keeps Indigenous people poor. But there is no causal relation between speaking an Indigenous language and living in poverty. In country towns across Australia many Indigenous people live on welfare and speak English.

And on Saturday, Sorry Day, I read that the Govenment is offering the 70 traditional owners of Ngapa (Water) country on Muckaty Station (NT) about $60,000 a year for the next two hundred years to experiment with storing nuclear waste on their land. Or alternatively, $171,000 today to each Ngapa clan member. That's before tax, lawyers and accountants' fees and administrative costs. And traditional owners (all family) of neighbouring country have said that they don't want the future value of their land decreased by nearness to a nuclear dump.

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[ From Carmel O'Shannessy, who's worked in the NT Department of Education for many years, and has recently finished a PhD on children's Warlpiri]

Mal Brough shows how much he doesn't know about Australian Indigenous children's schooling when he suggests in today's Australian that compulsory learning of English would be something new. All children in Australian schools compulsorily learn English. Children in bilingual schools in the NT, of which the school in Wadeye community is one, also learn an Indigenous language at school. By the end of their primary years, if the school is well run and good programs and teaching methodologies are in place, the children in bilingual schools perform slightly better in English than the children in similar communities who attend English only schools. And they can also read and write in the Indigenous language, so they have learned twice as much.

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We just heard from a Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) member about their recent follow-up visit to !Khwa ttu: San culture and education centre, 70 km north of Cape Town. The San (sometimes called ‘Bushmen’) are the indigenous people of Southern Africa, and, like indigenous peoples in many countries, they have suffered dispossession and loss of much of their heritage. This centre is a space which combines restoration and display of heritage, tourism, and training for the San in "literacy, entrepreneurship, tourism, health issues, community development, craft production/marketing and gender awareness". A brilliant idea, and one that needs on-going support (equivalent cultural centres in Australia have had severe problems with trying to be self-sustaining).

FEL members got to visit it in 2005, before it opened. I was very impressed then. And I gather now that it's open, they are getting many school classes coming for tours. The other thing that impressed me was that the Centre was providing indigenous language classes for the children of the San who were training there. Now, the children are having mainstream education in Darling, about 20 minutes away by bus, but they attend classes in their own languages and culture in a Saturday school at !Khwa ttu.


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

I have been thinking a bit about fieldwork methodologies (see my post on CDFM and the places where we can do fieldwork, such as London). It turns out I am not alone in this. In a recent discussion with David Nathan, Geoff Haig made the following points (thanks Geoff for allowing me to quote from your email exchange):

“The dominant paradigm for field-work / documentation still seems to be based on something like an "exotic village"-setting, where the fieldworker comes from outside into a very different culture, adapts, observes as much as possible "in situ" what is going on, and then leaves. But there is a vast potential for documentation among diaspora communities, that is, communities who have more or less permanently left (or been forced to leave) their traditional settlements for (mostly) urban environments in the west; such communities may well attempt to preserve their language/culture in the new environment. This kind of context actually demands a rather different approach from the investigator, because the respective roles of the investigator and the community are quite different - but it also opens up a host of quite interesting perspectives on how documentation can be done. One can of course bemoan the lack of "pristine authenticity" of such contexts, but with migration on a global scale increasing steadily, it seems to me that much language/cultural documentation in the future is simply going to have to take such mixed contexts seriously, and develop its methodology accordingly.”

Some commentators are dead opposed to this view. Perhaps the most vocal is Sasha Aikhenvald.

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[ from Nick Thieberger, PARADISEC, Melbourne University branch ]

I am a firm believer in open access to information, especially research information that has been created by taxpayers' funds. Thus it came as something of a surprise to find myself likened to the main man of the dark forces of corporate information ownership on a site formerly known as the 'Stolen Grammars' site.

Constructed by a linguist in Stockholm, the site offered downloadable versions of many grammars which had been copied from various locations ("Browse my collection of stolen .pdf reference grammars if you'd rather not pay.")

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Last Friday was a bit of a milestone for me, since, in the 6 or so months that I have been involved in the audio preservation side of things at PARADISEC, I hadn't yet actually cleaned a damaged audio tape. Unfortunately for me, the process isn't quite as straight-forward as it is for a CD - warm soapy water, a non-abrasive cloth, wipe across the grain - rather, the entire process can take weeks, depending on how badly affected the tapes are.


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

As an Australian living and working in London (coming up for 4.5 years now) I have gradually come to realise how similar yet different British and Australian English are. I don’t mean the obvious differences like ‘lorry’ instead of ‘truck’, or avoiding terms like ‘mozzie’ and ‘salvo’ (see this helpful list), or turning off intervocalic alveolar stop flapping in favour of glottal stop. What I mean are more subtle things like ‘ambit claim’.

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

The Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) in the Department of Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, is seeking to fill two new three-year posts, a research fellow and a post-doctoral fellow, available from September 2007. Details below.


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

I have been asked on a number of occasions to talk to general audiences in England about linguistic diversity and the threat to smaller languages. I usually begin my talks by asking which languages are spoken by members of the audience (the largest number I recall was around 15) and then how many languages are spoken in London. Everyone is aware that London is a linguistically diverse place (during my morning bus commute I frequently hear various European languages spoken, especially Polish, Russian and Portuguese, along with Yoruba, Bangla, and Kurdish, plus other languages I am unable to identify). Few members of the general public however have any idea just how linguistically diverse London is – “there must be dozens” or “a hundred at least” are common responses.

And the correct answer is?

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I posted a while back about the very interesting Ngapartji Ngapartji Pitjantjatjara course. Here's their call for some feedback.

Linguist, teacher, linguistics student or curriculum expert to review, critique and provide constructive feedback on structure, content and flow of Ngapartji Ngapartji online Pitjantjatjara language and culture site.


Please contact alex AT ngapartji.org for more information or to express your interest in being involved and supporting the future development of this innovative project.

Alex Kelly
Creative Producer
0422 777 590

Sign up: Ngapartji Ngapartji updates list:

Several PNG newspapers have recently been reporting on the exchange of PNG music recordings between Paradisec and the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. One article in the National Weekender is already available online, and we'll put a copy of the other one up on our website when we get a hold of it.

"Institute of PNG Studies Gets Music Recordings." National Weekender 27 April, 2007

"PNG Archival Music on Disc." Gavamani Sivarai April, 2007

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

On Wednesday last week (25th April) during Endangered Languages Week at SOAS there was a presentation on the "Dawes online" project at SOAS which aims to make an interactive digital facsimile of William Dawes' notebooks of the Sydney language available on the web. The project has produced high resolution digital images of the notebooks written by Dawes in 1790 and is developing searchable transcriptions of the manuscripts that will include the linguistic analysis made by Jaky Troy (published in 1993) along with topic maps (using the XTM standard for XML topic maps). This will enable users to search by topic, such as “animals” or “names” as well as linguistic topics, such as verb paradigms.

This project brings together knowledge and skills from archive studies, philology, linguistic analysis, and information and multimedia technologies. It is one of the more technically sophisticated of a series of projects that have emerged over the past several years to work on archival materials of Australian and Pacific languages, especially languages that have no or very few speakers. This work has parallels in the richly elaborated studies of Old English manuscripts published by Bernard Muir of Melbourne University as CDs and DVDs. The goal of both Muir’s work and the Dawes project is to present the original materials in an interactive format along with layers of standoff analytical markup.

A related kind of study is what we could call “second generation language documentation” (2GLD) where it is linguist’s fieldnotes and transcriptions which form the basis for documentation rather than speech events or speaker knowledge (usually because it is no longer possible to access such knowledge or events). Paradisec has photographed over 10,000 pages of fieldnotes on a wide range of languages for 2GLD purposes using the system developed at the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre This includes Arthur Capell’s notes on Pacific languages.

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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.


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

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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