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September 2007

[From Lise Dobrin, our correspondent in Virginia]

The media blitz on David Harrison and Greg Anderson's recent Expedition to a Hot Spot has given everyone (including my mother!) a chance to reflect on what endangered language work really ought to be about. We shouldn't be parachuting in and out. We should be putting our money into *real* documentation, not demo documentation. We shouldn't be putting money into documentation at all, but into community revitalization programs (see Ellen Lutz's 24-9-07 letter in the NYTimes). We should be working to better use the press. No, we should become the press!

But what I find most remarkable about the whole story is this: a couple of linguists start a non-profit to further their own language documentation work. What? Since when do we do that? You can argue the finer points of Greg and David's methods, or who is (or ought to be) reaping the benefits, but irregardless, their model is an interesting one: if you want to do something that the academic/big agency funding model is not ideally suited to support, nothing is stopping you from creating an institution and doing it on your own instead. The university is not the only possible institutional setting for our work, and it may not always be the best one. It's just the one many of us are used to.

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Women for Wik. Monitoring the Federal Action in the Northern Territory
[This website has a lot of useful links to stories on the interventions - media releases, community voices including from Yuendumu on how to solve the housing crisis by bulldozing an Aboriginal shelter with a house for a bureaucrat, and from the Arts coordinators on the problems with abolishing CDEP]

Adelaide Public Forum, Monitoring the Federal Government Action in the Northern Territory
Part of Cultural Heritage, Social Justice and Ethical Globalisation - A World Archaeological Congress Symposium

This discussion panel gives people in South Australia an opportunity to learn directly from the Northern Territory Aboriginal women who are affected by the intervention.

Symposium Dates: 28th & 29th September 2007

Opening: 9.00am, 28th September, including Kaurna dancers

Public Forum: 11am-12.30pm, Friday, 28th September, 2007

Venue: Hetzel Lecture Theatre, Institute Building. State Library of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia.

Convener: Claire Smith, President, World Archaeological Congress, Dept of Archaeology, Flinders University

Speakers: Northern Territory Aboriginal women, Rachel Willika, Eileen Cummings, Olga Havnen, and Raelene Rosas.

Women for Wik Statement
The Federal Action in the Northern Territory could provide a unique opportunity to improve conditions in Aboriginal communities, but there is also a real possibility that it may make things worse. As currently planned, it will undermine key aspects of Aboriginal societies - country, kin and culture. Moreover, by using a top-down approach, it has the potential to work against self-government and, in some instances, contravene human rights. This will not improve the lives of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

Accordingly, we call on both Federal and Territory governments to recognise the importance of Indigenous identity and develop an environment of mutual respect through cross-cultural awareness, communication and engagement. Like the many Australians who walked the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation, we believe our generation can ensure a fair go for Indigenous citizens.


TS and I've been e-musing about the Intervention. Here's something we agree on (and see below for where we disagree..)

PETITION [Feel free to distribute, modify etc.]
We call on the Australian Government to postpone the winding up of Community Development Employment Programs in the NT for the following reasons:

1. It jeopardises many organisations such as Language Centres and Arts Centres which provide community services and on-the-job training, and are gradually developing enterprises, as well as jeopardising small-scale tourism ventures which have been started in some communities.
2. There is no adequate safety-net in place. Most of the contracted Job Networks are clearly unable to provide, manage or supervise fair, efficient or effective access to substitutes such as the STEP training program or even Work for the Dole in the remote communities.
3. The abolition of meaningful work will have a devastating effect on the morale and social functioning of many remote communities, causing an increase in the kinds of social problems that led to the intervention in the first place.

We suggest that the entire project - its aims, methodology, strategy and structure – requires immediate independent review.


So you want to preserve that MSWord novel, those spreadsheets, those AppleWorks fieldnotes forever?

The National Archives of Australia are ahead of you - they've developed free and open source software to help in the long term preservation of digital records. Xena! (XML Electronic Normalising for Archives - and I bet they thought hard to come up with the N).

I saw a demo of Xena a couple of years ago, and was greatly impressed by the potential of streamlining the workflow in digital text archives - by detecting the file formats of digital objects, and then converting them into open formats like XML for preservation. Databases remain the nightmare of course.

Anyway, there's a new release - and here are the details.


As I was waiting for the tram the other day in İstanbul I spotted an ad for Sony digital cameras on the side of a bus. The text of the ad ran:

Herkesin bir Sony Cybershot'ı var.

This could be glossed as:

Sony Cybershot-ı
Sony Cybershot-3p.possessed

The sentence can be translated idiomatically into English as 'Everyone has a Sony Cybershot.' The term 'Sony Cybershot', a trademark used to identify a particular model of Sony camera, has clearly been coined in English, from 'cyber-', a prefix normally used to describe something that relates to computers or other modern digital technology (and which sounds really cool), plus 'shot', meaning a photograph. This trademark could be pronounced in several different ways, depending on which variety of English it is said in. But the text of the original Turkish ad provides a hint as to what pronunciation the advertisers intended.

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All honour to Frances Killaly who made a complaint to the Australian Press Council about the use of pictures of random Aboriginal children in the Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald to illustrate stories about abuse of children in Indigenous Australian communities. (The story was reported in the rival The Australian).

Dishonour to all the newspapers, (including The Australian) which continue to illustrate stories (mostly negative) with pictures of random Aboriginal kids as 'emotional wallpaper' (evoking the 'gag-me-with-a-spoon' reaction that Will Owen had to the Australian's doggerel ad).

And absolutely totally completely all dishonour to their self-regulatory body, the Australian Press Council which found there was no case.

Adjudication No. 1369 (adjudicated September 2007)
"In dismissing complaints over the use of pictures of Aboriginal children in reports on the Prime Minister's plan to address matters of child abuse in Northern territory communities, the Australian Press Council reaffirms that newspapers and magazines have a duty to inform the public of important issues and have the right to illustrate these issues with photographs. However, they need to take special care when those images deal with children in circumstances where a false inference can be drawn.....While acknowledging Ms Killaly's genuine concerns the Council does not believe the publication of the pictures indicated the children had been abused."

So what if the photographs aren't of children who have anything to do with the problem? In a story about sex abuse??????

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Update: (thanks Peter!) Barista has a long post discussing Harrison's work in the light of Anggarrgoon's post.

Huge media attention has been garnered by K. David Harrison's National Geographic funded fly-in-fly-out trips to document endangered languages in settings mostly remote and picturesque. See for example the Independent, and the Australian (the article also features Brownie Doolan, perhaps the last speaker of Lower Arrernte, and Gavan Breen, a linguist who has been working with him for years on a dictionary).

I was rung up in a supermarket by Jenny Green who was rung up on the road by a journalist who.. wanted to know more about endangered languages. So much for all our online information.. This started me thinking about two questions:

•How can we build on this media interest to do good things for endangered languages and their speakers?

•How could fly-in-fly-out trips be made useful for endangered languages and their speakers? (For some problems with Harrison's recent FiFo trip to Australia, see Anggarrgoon today).

Suggestions welcome, my present suggestions below..

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Thanks to Daryn McKenny (and check out the Arwarbukarl Indigenous Language and Information Technology Blog that he's involved in) for alerting us to the online voting for the Deadlys - national awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music, sport, entertainment and community achievement. Voting closes in a couple of days - 21st September.

A couple of names familiar to people working with Indigenous languages - Greg McKellar is up for "Outstanding Achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Education" - he's been working at Bourke on Indigenous language programs for many years now.

And Gary Williams is up for "Broadcaster of the Year" - he's chairperson of the Goori Broadcasters Association of Nambucca Heads - and he's also a longtime and tireless worker on Indigenous language programs via the Many Rivers Language Centre.

Cast your vote online... Only one vote accepted per machine...


[Our London correspondent does some sniffing out: Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

I blogged earlier this year about some differences I have been running into between my native Australian English and that of the locals here in the UK. Well it’s happened again.

I was taking part in a conference abstract selection panel recently with two English and one other Australian academic when one of our English colleagues offered the opinion that a particular abstract was "on the nose".
"But I thought you liked it when we did a quick run through earlier" said the other Australian.
"I do" responded the Brit, "that’s what I just said, it’s on the nose, exactly on the topic of the conference!"
My interpretation, and that of the other Australian, was that "on the nose" means "it stinks, it’s bad" and should be rejected.

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The Australian newspaper has been running a teacher-bashing campaign for years - asserting that kids don't learn to read and write because their teachers are crap or because they use a crap teaching method. Front page news today was an article by the Education Writer, Justine Ferrari, Teacher failures spell student trouble. Ferrari quotes one Denyse Ritchie, "executive director and co-author of THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills)," as saying:

"You can learn to read without knowing phenomics (the sounds that make up words), but when you spell, you have to have a good phenomic understanding to help spell words like said. "Unless you're taught that 'ai' as well as 'e' can make an 'eh' sound in words like said and again, you will spell said as 'sed'.

"But many teachers don't have that inherent knowledge,"

The teachers' phenomic knowledge was also tested. When asked to break words into the constituent sounds or phenomes - such as how many sounds in 'cat' (c-a-t) - the average score was 4.1 out of a possible 10 correct answers.

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Yesterday was an important day in determining the directions of university work on endangered languages in the Asia-Pacific area - the decision on the appointment of a replacement for Andrew Pawley as the research-only Chair of Linguistics at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University. This department fosters much work on endangered languages, through staff research, doctoral student training and its publishing arm, Pacific Linguistics.

There were public talks by the three shortlisted candidates - back to back and neck and neck were Nick (Laos and Vietnam), Nick (Australian and a toe-hold in Papuan) and Nik (Western Austronesian).

Public job talks are a curious ritual - a discreet competition watched by an audience, most of whom are not on the selection panel, but who have a serious interest in the outcome, and only a few, like me, just along to hear an interesting paper. The etiquette is a puzzle for the organisers - should the candidates see each other? should they attend each other's talks? The puzzle for the paper-givers is what type of paper to give. Go for breadth? Go for depth? Show 'the vision thing'? Show how you fit in? Show what you'd add to the department? And in the end the quality of the paper may have little to do with the selection committee's decision. They may just want to know that you don't habitually spit in the corner.

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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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E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

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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