> December 2007 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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December 2007

Murriny Patha is fun. Especially if you like "“kintax"” (Evans 2003), cause it’'s got it in spades. Murriny Patha keeps delivering weird phenomena that require unconventional nomenclature (see for instance Walsh 1996). "So “what”", I hear you asking, "“is the '‘elided progeny'’ construction?"” In Murriny Patha it constitutes a subclass of what are clearly a group of "“triangular"” referring expressions, – whereby a person-referent is referred to via “"triangulation"” -– that is indirectly, via another person or persons. The most common of these are possessed kinterms: my father, your uncle, their cousin etc. The person that the kinterm is anchored to is frequently termed the propositus. Other classes of people may also take a propositus: e.g., John’'s bank manager. Arguably all kinterms are anchored to a propositus, regardless of whether the propositus is expressed overtly or not. Thus when an adult addresses a child, “"Hey, where'’s daddy?"”, the “altercentric” kinterm Daddy has an implied 2nd person propositus. However the same adult, when talking to another adult, may use egocentric kinterms with an implied 1st person propositus i.e., "“Mum is driving me mad”."

The “"elided progeny”" construction is a kind of kin-based triangulation, but the kinterm corresponding to son or daughter is just missing. These things are very common in Murriny Patha conversation. In fact "“triangulation"” is generally a very common means of referring to people. I wouldn'’t say it’'s the default method of referring to persons, but it probably is the preferred choice for "“upgrading”" reference to persons. So how does this construction work? It’'s basically a special case of the Murriny Patha possessive construction.

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The Endangered Languages Academic Programme at SOAS is holding a Workshop:

Issues in Language Revitalisation and Maintenance
Saturday 9 February, 2008

Convenors: Peter K. Austin, Julia Sallabank

The theme of this workshop is issues in language revitalisation and maintenance. The goal of the workshop is to highlight and discuss theoretical and practical issues in revitalising and maintaining endangered languages, and especially issues of goals, models and methods for revitalisation of threatened languages. Among the issues to be considered will be:

1. What are the aims/goals of language revitalisation?

2. What part should teaching play in a revitalisation programme?

3. What is the role of media and technology in language revitalisation?

4. Are there limits to the applicability and transferability of models of language revitalisation?


Speakers include Viv Edwards (Reading), Meili Fang and David Nathan (SOAS), Lenore Grenoble (Chicago), Susan Penfield (Arizona)and Suzanne Romaine (Oxford).

For further details and a downloadable registration form go here. Registration closes on 1st February 2008.

1 comments |

(Guest post from David Nash)

Mark Liberman's post at Language Log 'On the origins of 'American Indian hyphens' (with updates) locates "the practice of writing American Indian words -- especially proper names -- with multiple internal hyphens" in the 19th century.  The earliest usage Mark has found so far is in an 1823 publication about an 1819-20 expedition across the USA.

Here in Australia, by about 1791 hyphens between syllables were common when the Sydney Language was being written down by the English colonists (who had arrived in 1788).

A good example is David Collins' list near the end of his 1798 An account of the English colony in New South Wales (pp.407-413 in 1975 edition; at "What follows is offered only as a specimen, not as a perfect vocabulary of their language").

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Voice of America has a piece, Aboriginal Languages Slowly Making Way into Australian Schools on teaching Indigenous languages in New South Wales.

Good stuff.

But it also contains two bizarre claims.

(i) "traditionally, Aboriginal people were forbidden from speaking their own language. If they were caught doing it, they could be punished by beating, or they could be killed."
Kids were punished yes, beaten yes, but I have never come across evidence that people were killed for speaking their own language. Killed because they couldn't understand English and couldn't make the killers understand them, yes.

(ii) "In New South Wales, all students have to learn a second language, and this policy being pioneered by the state government aims to make indigenous languages the main option, along with Chinese and French. "

Why French? Why not the languages of our neighbours, Indonesian? Tok Pisin?

For a reality check I browsed the NSW Education Department's policy website. L for languages, nothing. C for Community languages produces a policy for the payment of a Community Language Allowance to suitably qualified employees who have a basic level of competence in a language other than English. Under C for Curriculum, there are: Driver education & road safety, Environmental education, Homework, Literacy & numeracy, Religion, Values, Vocational education. No Languages.

[Additions and changes here cos I'd BADLY misread the website - eeek - thanks Mari!]
Buried in Curriculum Support. are Aboriginal languages, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Indonesian (phewwww!), Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. Arabic is pretty important, since there are far more native speakers of Arabic in the Sydney area than native speakers of French, and since we trade a lot with Arabic speaking countries.

Aboriginal languages are also dealt with far far away here and also under the Board of Studies.

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'Tis the season for workshops.
Deck the walls with electropalatograms and nasal airflow measurements

These blazed out of powerpoints in the David Myer Building at La Trobe University, where about 25 or so people interested in the sounds of Australian languages gathered for a workshop organised by Marija Tabain.

Many of the papers were collaborative, often between descriptive linguists and phoneticians or phonologists, named as authors or in acknowledgments. The success demonstrated a point that Gavan Breen made (Reflecting on retroflexion):
"grammars, especially of languages that have been worked on by only one researcher are likely to have systematic errors in them, and they need checking"

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