On Saturday 27th October the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Nijmegen hosted a European Australianists workshop, organised by Ruth Singer, post-doctoral fellow at the Radboud University. The workshop was attended by about 15 people and had a packed programme of nine talks from 9am to 6pm. Unfortunately, I had to leave in the early afternoon to catch a flight back to London and missed some of the later presentations.
The Canadian territory of Nunavut, created in 1999, has a population of 26,665, of whom 85% claim Inuit identity (2001 Census data). Of these approximately 85% claim to speak the Inuit language at home. (ibid. "Inuit Language" subsumes two major dialect groupings: Inuinnaqtun in the west and Inuktitut in the East.) With their huge political majority and their geographical isolation, the Inuit ought to have no trouble maintaining their language, but the challenges they face demonstrate that minority language maintenance is a difficult process, even when the odds appear to be extremely favourable.
The government of Nunavut has recently introduced two language-related bills, which have now progressed to second reading in the legislative assembly. The first, Bill 6, is an official languages act which establishes Inuit Language, French and English as official languages of the territory. The second, Bill 7, is an Innuit language protection act that seeks to promote the maintenance of the Inuit Language.
Prof. Ian Martin, language policy consultant to the Nunavut government and to the Inuit organization, NTI (Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated), presented his assessment of the stituation in a talk at Glendon College of York University this past week.
This morning I read the transcript of Marion Scrymgour’s very moving Charles Perkins address. I was struck by the tragic story of her recently-departed father who was taken away from his parents. He passed away never without ever knowing who his mother was.
As I read this transcript, I got a phonecall from my mum who asked me about whether I’m coming home for Christmas. She lives in Perth. The juxtaposition of these two things made me revisit questions I often ask myself, “Where is home and how do I know that it’s there?” A question I get all the time that I struggle with it is “Where are you from?” Sometimes here in Sydney, I’m able to give a dismissive answer, “Western Australia”, and hope that the person asking the question doesn’t realise how big WA is. But really the question is not so easily dismissed.
Yesterday (27 October) was the first celebration of UNESCO's world day of audio-visual heritage. The trailer on that website, put together from the holdings of various audio-visual archives around the world, gives a flavour of the kind of material that is held in audio and film/video archives worldwide. Australia is fortunate to have many cultural institutions that hold and look after material recorded in Australia: the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straid Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the National Library of Australia (NLA), the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and many others.
We have a number of PhD students at SOAS who are working on languages spoken in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. In addition to the usual hazards of fieldwork like biting animals, malaria and other tropical diseases, and the occasional tsunami our students now have another thing to watch out for: Australian immigration officials. All of them have to stop over in Australia on their way to the field and if the recent experiences of one student (I’ll call him “AB” for convenience, mindful of the fact that he has to go through Sydney on his way back to London) are anything to go by, the apparent fear and paranoia that is present on entry to Australia is yet another fieldwork hassle.
The student concerned is of Greek descent, born in Romania and officially registered with a Romanian name (as required by that country, which, along with a number of others, demands that minorities take names that conform to the style of the majority population). The circumstances of his birth led to a problem when he got to Sydney.
Over the past two years a group of European researchers including myself, Michael Fortescue (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Nikolaus Himmelmann (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany), François Jacquesson (LACITO, CNRS, France), Maarten Mous (Leiden University, Netherlands), and Mauro Tosco (L’Orientale, Naples, Italy) have been working on a European Science Foundation EUROCORES proposal called "BABEL: Better Analyses Based on Endangered Languages".
The deserts of Australia are filling up with pest animals, camels, donkeys, horses. Like a plague of giant rabbits, the camels are eating out the mulga, the bean trees and trashing the waterholes. Here's Susan(na) Nakamarra's Nelson's painting of her country, Ngapakunypa, north-west of Tennant Creek.
Susan Nakamarra Nelson, "Wild animals", Julalikari Arts , Tennant Creek 2007.
Picture in private collection.
These days, wildernesses can't stay pristine without some help - stopping the advance of cane toads, starlings, feral weeds, European carp..., managing fires, monitoring threatened species. It's really about occupying the country. Deserts need people.
And people need money. No one in Australia today can survive outside the money economy - if they don't have a job or are not on welfare, then they'll rely on family members who do, or beg or steal. So, how to get money is a large problem for Indigenous people living in remote areas like the deserts of Central Australia and the tropical scrub of Arnhem Land and the Kimberly.
One potential source of jobs is in the Indigenous ranger programmes. Potentially, these could involve remote communities with younger people doing the physical work, and older people passing on their knowledge of the natural history of the area (Traditional/Indigenous Ecological Knowledge). Involving local communities who have a longterm relationship with the country concerned is a lot cheaper than bringing in outsiders, training them up, and helping them adjust to life out bush. Life in remote communities is becoming more environmentally friendly as solar technology is cutting down on the use of diesel generators.
[ Update: 16/12/07 The Australian Press Council has upheld a limited right to privacy for children, and ruled that "The Australian" should not have published the name of a girl who got pregnant and had an abortion when she was twelve (Adjudication 1375). Since that's the case, this ruling should apply to the names in the web version of the stories about her and the two other children (whose names I think should also not have been given, although the APC adjudication is silent about them). "The Australian"'s response to the ruling (via Nick Cater 13/12/07)) does not say what they will do to correct the problem that the names are now widely available on the web. On 13/12/07 I e-mailed "The Australian" and Nick Cater (who represented the newspaper at the hearing) asking for them to remove the names of the three under-age children from the web versions of all the articles, the editorials and Simon Kearney's response, as well as any photographs, and to ask Google to remove the earlier versions of the stories from the Google cache [which means that surfers would only get the later version without the identifications]. Only by doing that will the children's right to privacy be maintained. As of today (16/12/07), "The Australian" has not responded, and still has not removed the names of the children from the web versions of the stories. ]
If your 12 year old daughter was pregnant, and the person who caused it was charged, she couldn't be identified in a newspaper. But if no one was charged, then watch out! The Australian and the relevant Minister, Mal Brough, think it's fine to publish her name and photograph. Worldwide, on the web, and in her home town.
And if your community council chief executive says he doesn't see a problem with it, nor does The Australian.
One small caveat - someone has to give permission. But how do you get permission when the mother doesn't want to talk? Ask her aunt. And, just by the by, they can ask her permission in fluent standard English - so what if she speaks Pintupi and her English isn't very good. No need to ask if she needs an interpreter because hey a family member will do.
Linguists have written for yonks about gratuitious concurrence - when 'yes' doesn't mean 'yes I agree', but rather 'yes I am listening' or 'yes I am being polite'. Ethics committees have also agonised over informed consent. I've tried for many years to explain informed consent to Indigenous people I work with, in several languages, and I know I often don't do a good job. It's hard, it could get in the way of getting a great story, and so journalists might be tempted to take 'yes' as informed consent. That's why we need laws to protect children.
A new wiki has been set up: Sharing Aboriginal language. Longterm it's for general discussion "for all Aboriginal language people to work together, share ideas, develop exchanges programmes, discuss language matters and be able to contact each other quickly".
But most immediately the current discussion is on recommendations for Australian government policy on Indigenous Languages (you can find information on the main Australian language policy resources up to late June at David Nash's site). The recommendations arise from the successful Indigenous Languages Conference held last month at the University of Adelaide (See Matjjin-nehen, Anggarrgoon and Langguj gel for discussion of ideas arising in the conference).
Check out 'Language Archives Newsletter' (LAN) No. 10 (edited by David Nathan, Marcus Uneson, Paul Trilsbeek). It features articles on the role of video in language documentation by Patrick McConvell and Peter Wittenburg, as well as reviews of audio recorders including the Zoom H4.
LAN 10 Contents:
Video - A Linguist's View (A Reply to David Nathan), by Patrick McConvell
Video - A Technologist's View (A Reply to David Nathan), by Peter Wittenburg
Review: Audio Recorders Zoom H4 and Korg MR-1, by Paul Trilsbeek, Gerd Klaas
Review: Audio Recorder iRiver H320, by Bernard Howard
CLARIN Research Infrastructure Initiative, by Peter Wittenburg
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- Jane Simpson (This is a multi-authored blog, and the views expressed are those of the authors, not of PARADISEC or the University of Sydney. If you'd like to contribute, please let us know!)
- James McElvenny
- Linda Barwick (PARADISEC)
- Nick Thieberger (PARADISEC)
- Bill Foley
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