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July 2007

[Our Rome correspondent enters Web 2.0: Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

Several contributors to this blog, including yours truly, and no doubt a number of our readers too, have recently been bitten by the Facebook bug. Facebook bills itself as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you", and its kind of fun too. In addition to being able to track what your friends are up to, it is also possible to join groups of like-minded individuals to share ideas, and socialise (reminds me of those sessions in the bar at the end of a hard day's work at a linguistics conference). Along with the predictable groups centered around Noam Chomsky, there is also "You're a Linguist? How many languages do you speak?", "Typologists United", and my particular favourite "Thomas Payne is My Hero" whose members are:

"dedicated to the source of all linguistics knowledge, Thomas Payne. His manuals are so good that they can apply to any discipline at any time. Physics problems? Open the textbook and realize that you should really be a linguistics major. Life? Look up grammatical relations and discover meaning in existence. Linguistics? You better just read the whole thing. Oh Thomas Payne, what would we do without you?"

Facebook is part of what has been termed "Web 2.0" by Tim O'Reilly.

1 comments |

[From our man on the Tiber, Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

So reads the headline of a three page article in the Friday 27th July 2007 Il Venerdi supplement of La Repubblica, the most widely distributed national daily newspaper in Italy (La Repubblica has an excellent website [fixed broken link, JHS]; however the supplements are print only and not available on the internet). The headline and subhead read:

"L'Australia dichara guerra agli aborigeni. Sulla base di accuse che sembrano costruite (violenza sui bambini, alcolismo) il governo manda militari << ispettori >> nei territori sacri dei nativi. Dietro ci sono le promissime elezioni, E le miniere di uranio."

which I translate as:

"Australia declares war on the Aborigines. Based on accusations that seem made up (violence against children, alcoholism) the government sent troops 'inspectors' into the sacred lands of the natives. Behind this are the next elections. And the mining of uranium."

2 comments |

Australia recently lost another of its national treasures. Paddy Bedford was one of the prodigeously talented Gija artists of the East Kimberley. He was doubtlessly one one of the greatest artists this country has ever produced. You can read obituaries here and here (WARNING: Photo) and see for yourself the wonderful legacy he has left behind (a, b, & c).

Lots has been written and there'll be much more written yet. I just thought he thought he was a beautiful man. When he was young he earned the name Kuwumji, because Kuwumjingarri nginini, 'he went around combing his hair'. Even as a kid they reckoned he was a dude. But as he got older, he was *the MAN* (WARNING: on left in photo). But more importantly he was one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. I have many fond memories of camping on the verandah in Kununurra at Frances Kofod's house where he had his bed. He would wake up every morning to the view of Kelly's Knob. Life could be worse.

He was the only person I know who shared my passion for Spaghetti Westerns. We'd sit back with a glass of 'lemonade' and cheer while Lee Van Cleef would showem all who's boss.

One of the main reasons he lived to be 85, or however old he was, is because he was so well looked after by Frances and her son Rowan. He was well-fed and healthy and happy. Apart from being an astoundingly good linguist, Frances is one of the kindest people I've ever met. Nambijin, you're one of the world's truly unique individuals. Your loss is all of our loss.


Noel Pearson sets up a deliberately provocative contrast between 'we' (Indigenous Australians and good guys) and 'they' ('middle-class culture producer's and bad guys) in The Australian (21/7/07).

* They say we should respect Aboriginal English as a real language.
* We say we should speak our traditional languages and the Queen's English fluently.

False contrast.

1 comments |

[Guest post from Bob Gosford, who has written on NT topics for Crikey]

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday announced the imminent demise of the Commonwealth's Community Development Employment Programme (CDEP) in the Northern Territory.

As of 30 September this year, CDEP in the NT will be dead.

According to Brough, it's all about the cash and the kids.

18 comments |

I was going to take a break from whinging, but then today the changes to Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) in the Northern Territory were revealed - further Q&As at FACSIA [.pdf]. I can't say I've fully taken in the changes. But it looks like no one is spared; people in all Northern Territory remote communities will go off CDEP.

The changes to CDEP in the Northern Territory are a key part of the broader emergency response to protect children, make communities safer and normalise services for Indigenous communities.

The only link to protecting children seems to be that if everyone's on welfare and not CDEP, this will make it easier to introduce food stamps and welfare deductions as a way of making parents send their kids to school and making people clean up their yards.

While it's good to see that the Government is at last thinking about transitions from CDEP (unlike the poor people in communities such as Jigalong which lost CDEP on July 1), it also presumably means the loss of the extra Federal funding that has been put into CDEP businesses and community operations.

5 comments |

Guest post from Inge Kral

The recent closure of the Indigenous Community TV network (ICTV), (see Frank Rijavec's letter) is a move of profound short-sightedness by individuals who do not understand how significant this media broadcasting outlet has been for thousands of Indigenous Australians living in remote Australia. At a time when we need to be encouraging a diverse range of strategies to support literacy in remote Australia it is beyond belief that the government would shut down one of the most significant vehicles for literacy development and maintenance (both in English and local Aboriginal vernaculars) for school-age and post-school age remote Indigenous youth.

The Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities (BRACS) media training in remote communities has represented one of the most successful models of 'Vocational Education and Training' (VET) in the remote context because of its immediate applicability. Additionally media production in remote communities in the various media organisations has been an important vehicle for Indigenous languages maintenance. In addition to the encouragement of language and literacy maintenance and development, cultural pride has been strengthened and vocational pathways have been forged. These media organisations have also supported successful and meaningful CDEP and non CDEP employment.

Digital media successfully engages remote youth in learning new skills including IT skills, and it was through ICTV remote youth then viewed their own digital media productions within a short period of time in the public domain. This immediate link between video production and broadcasting then engendered respect for young media workers from within their communities and from outside their community. Sadly the closure of ICTV has eliminated a strategy for purposeful literacy (and IT skills) acquisition and use for this age group. This decision must be reassessed; in addition to a National Indigenous TV network we also need ICTV in remote Indigenous Australia.


"So I think there may be a misconception that we're here to fix things. We're not. We're here to examine as many kids as we can in two weeks and to send the figures back to Canberra, and also to give the figures to the local health service."
[volunteer doctor, stationed in Titjikala, south of Alice Springs for two weeks as part of the Government's response.]

It's now a month since the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, stood together to announce that There is A National Emergency of sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities, And the Government Will Send Out The Gunships.

We have a right to expect that if the Government sends out the gunships, there is good reason to. There is. We also have a right to expect that when the problems are longstanding there should be a good plan with longterm solutions. The last month has shown that there isn't.

The gunships were sent off with only a mud-map, under the command of a taskforce which has no member professionally trained to work with sexual abuse victims. Without advice from Indigenous doctors or people who know about Indigenous health interventions, sex abuse or Indigenous children. Without paying attention to the advice of Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, the authors of the report that triggered the announcement. ('Gunships' and 'swarms of locusts' are Wild's metaphors). And with no idea of how much the operation would cost.

It's bright shiny lip-gloss to call the present disastrous state of many Indigenous communities a National Emergency - because emergencies are things you don't expect, and you can be forgiven for not foreseeing them. The problems in Australian Indigenous communities have been laid out in report after report after report over the last 10 years. Many people have shown the need for long-term solutions, and many communities have trialled solutions, some successful, some not.

12 comments |

A nice reversal: Mount Nameless has got its name back. The Western Australian Government has adopted dual naming guidelines. (The good people of the Geographic Names Boards. Hurrah hurrah!) The Shire of Ashburton agreed to the mountain being called both Mount Nameless (apparently this name was bestowed by a Hamersley Iron survey team in the early 1960s), and Jarndunmunha, the name used by the Eastern Guruma people. (The people are also known as Kurrama*).

[Further update, you can see a picture of Jarndunmunha/Mount Nameless and more discussion at
Filipiniana & Cunning Linguistics
[ further to further update, Piers Kelly has sent a photo of the long long view from the top [.jpg]]

The Western Australian Lands Minister, Michelle Roberts, is quoted as saying:
"There are probably hundreds of traditional Aboriginal names, virtually unknown by the general community, for features such as mountains, lakes and rivers that currently have a well-known European name."

'Hundreds'? Wrong ball-park.

6 comments |

If you have an outstanding track record of publications, and you got your PhD between 1 January 2002 and 31 December 2006, and you'd like to work in the Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney, or PARADISEC, then, consider applying for a University of Sydney postdoctoral fellowship. They're open to all disciplines, so they're highly competitive. But on top of your salary they give you a once-off research support grant of $25,000, which is pretty useful for doing fieldwork.

If you want to work on endangered languages, especially in the Australia-Pacific area, then e-mail me (jhs AT mail.usyd.edu.au) for help with an application, and copy it to the chair of department, Professor James Martin (jmartin AT mail.usyd.edu.au). If you want to work on music or digital archiving, then e-mail Linda Barwick (lbarwick AT usyd.edu.au). Deadline to get to us: 9 August.


In 2001 and 2002 St John Skilton carried out a survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand using different means- participating in Scottish Gaelic community activities, carrying out interviews, forming focus groups, and sending out a questionnaire to which he received 178 responses. His description of the situation and his analysis were part of his doctoral work at the University of Sydney, which he finished at the University of Fribourg: The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand PhD 2004.

Skilton examines from many angles the position in Australia of Scottish Gaelic, a language spoken by few, but the heritage language of many. He discusses the demography of the speakers and learners; he shows how opportunities to use and learn the language are shaped by the language practices in Australia - such as the language policies and the teaching of language at schools. He also discusses how the speakers and learners felt about the language. The situation of Scottish Gaelic as a minority language in Australia is both interestingly similar to, and interestingly different from, the situation of minority Indigenous languages in Australia. I quote here one of his concluding summaries.


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

Last month (on 14th June) I gave a talk at the Tokyo University Linguistics Colloquium entitled “Current Trends in Language Documentation”; some of the ideas I discussed there can be found in a paper under the same name that I co-authored with Lenore Grenoble in the recently published Language Documentation and Description, Volume 4. In my talk I referred to and quoted a recent blog post that is an excellent discussion of what some language communities judge linguists to be useful for. The bottom line is: “Linguists are good for trust and love” – establishing and maintaining good human relationships over an extended period of time. Other things, like linguistic research, follow from that.

3 comments |

Call for Papers

Conference on Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory: 75 years of Linguistics at SOAS, 5 years of the Endangered Languages Project

7-8th December 2007
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

In 2007 the Department of Linguistics at School of Oriental and African Studies celebrates its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1932 as the first department of general linguistics in Britain, the research carried out by linguistics within the department has made a significant and lasting impact on the fields of language documentation and description and linguistic theory.

This conference commemorates both the 75 year tradition of linguistics within the School and the 5th anniversary of the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, comprising the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP), the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), and the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP).

The conference aims to bring together researchers working on linguistic theory and language documentation and description, with a particular focus on innovative work on underdescribed or endangered languages, especially those of Asia and Africa. Our goal is to provide a forum to discuss the ways that linguists and others, especially community members, can respond to the current challenges to linguistic diversity and build on experiences of the past.

1. implications of language documentation and description for linguistic theory
2. implications of linguistic theory for language documentation and description
3. experiences of language documentation and description and linguistic theory at SOAS
4. new techniques and opportunities for documenting and describing languages
5. community-oriented outcomes of endangered languages research


[ Forwarded from Günter Minnerup, UNSW]

The Sami experience will be the subject of a conference taking place at the Centre for European Studies at UNSW, Sydney, 19-22 July 2007. Among the speakers will be many leading activists of the Sami movement, Sami academics, and researchers on Sami history and culture, covering topics as diverse as Sami music, literature, history, local and regional case studies, political activism and representation, involvement in the global Indigenous movement, legal status, and much more. There will also be Australian speakers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to compare and contrast the Sami experience with that of Aboriginal Australia.

For a (provisional) list of speakers and papers, see the conference overview.

[Jenny Green is a linguist who has worked for many years in Central Australia. She's currently studying sand talk.]
It seems that it is much easier to post something on a blog rather than write a coherent letter to any paper and make new points about ‘the situation’. In an agitated state of mind I have been agonising about what to say for the last week, and I have not yet completed my 500 words. Several thoughts and images do come to mind though. In the past week I have been out and about in what will probably count as affected areas – if not yet declared as such then maybe soon. I was of course interested to hear what Aboriginal people who I have known for a long time make of the situation, and where they are getting their information from.

A colleague and I were returning from a very pleasant day spent in a dry river bed eating bar-b-qued chops and recording songs and stories with a group of Aboriginal women. On the way back we filled the back of the troopie with the remains of a recently slaughtered bullock -– head, feet and a few parts of as yet un-named (to us linguists at least!) guts that we all enjoyed talking about on the way home. This was food for dogs, and part of the practice of a culture that does not usually discard the useful remnants of animals. As we arrived we heard the latest broadcast on ‘the national emergency’ blaring from a radio in a community house, including the list of persons on Howard’s task force. It was one of those juxtapositions of realities that often strikes you when you are out bush. Aboriginal people make the best of their lives, often in very difficult circumstances.

2 comments |

To celebrate the article coauthored with Laura Robinson at Hawai'i just released (which Jane beat me to mentioning first!), here's an article I've had stored up for a while... Note that the LDC article brings together and extends many of the elements discussed in my 3 previous articles from last year (1, 2, 3). In that series I hinted at using a petrol generator as a potential power source. Today I'd like to look some alternative set ups, ranging from the practical to the bizarre.


The inaugural issue (Volume 1, Number 1) of Language Documentation & Conservation (LD&C) is now available at http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/ldc/.

LD&C is a free, fully refereed, open-access, online journal that is published twice a year, in June and December. Please visit the LD&C webpage and subscribe (free), because that will help the journal editors show to their paymistresses/masters that we need and value the journal.

The Table of Contents lists 6 articles, 3 technology reviews and 2 book reviews. Among the articles is one for addicts of Tom Honeyman's posts on Solar power (parts 1, 2 and 3 - a paper "Solar Power for the Digital Fieldworker" by Tom together with Laura Robinson. The technology reviews include one by Felicity Meakins, who works on the Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition project that I'm involved in, on the transcription program CLAN that we've been using. The book reviews include a detailed review by Robert Early of PARADISEC's manager Nick Thieberger's recent grammar of South Efate (Vanuatu). Early highlights the important documentation innovation in Nick's book.


People in Sydney concerned about Indigenous affairs may have the changce to attend two community forums this week with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

The first is entitled Directions in Indigenous Policy and Decision Making: Ways Forward, at the launch of the Agenda for Social Justice and Native Title Reports at which he and Pat Anderson (co-author of the Wild-Anderson report Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”) will be speaking.
Tuesday 3 July 2007, 10 for 10.30am
Turner Hall, Building B - Ultimo College, MaryAnn Street, Ultimo NSW 2007
To attend, contact asap Janet Drummond (JanetDrummond AT humanrights.gov.au)

The second is on on Australian Indigenous participation at a recent meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As well as Tom Calma, guest speakers will include:

Jason Field, Director of Research and Policy Development, NSW Aboriginal Land Council
Dr Ngaire Brown, Menzies School of Health Research
Mr Neil Gillespie, CEO of Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement

Thursday 5 July 2007, 4:30 - 6pm,
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Level 8, 133 Castlereagh St, Sydney (Piccadilly Tower).
To attend, contact asap Emilie Priday (emiliepriday AT humanrights.gov.au)

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)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

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