> March 2008 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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March 2008

This year's Australian languages workshop, the seventh, was very well organised by Kazuko Obata, Jutta Besold, Jo Caffery and the rest of their committee. It was held at Kioloa [kai'oʊlə], ANU's field station on the NSW south coast. Spongy green grass and tall green trees make it a far cry from drought-ridden Canberra, and the extent of the wilderness is restful. Walking along a white beach to the Murramarang Aboriginal area (very good signs with information on local words for sea creatures and traditional practices). Generations of rainbow lorikeets trained by generations of students to perch on arms, shoulders, knees. Boobook owls calling in the night as we looked at the Milky Way during Earth Hour.

The weather was perfect, warm, and the papers were cool..

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The Australian Linguistics Institute is now open for online registration [finally - oh the pain of making a rego page that's secure AND university-compliant, tax-compliant, human-compliant...]. Short, intensive courses will be presented by some excellent linguists from 7th - 11th July 2008, at the University of Sydney. It is a great opportunity for linguists, language professionals, graduate students and advanced undergraduates to learn more about a wide range of topics in language. Plus there's to be a three day Indigenous Languages Institute sponsored by the Koori Centre which will bring heaps of Indigenous people working on languages together to work on problems of language maintenance and language revitalisation.

Participants may register for up to four courses during the week-long ALI. Each course is offered for 1.5 hours each day for five days. Topics include psycholinguistics (Anne Cutler), first language acquisition (Rosalind Thornton and Stephen Crain), morpho-syntax (Brett Baker, Greville Corbett, Mark Harvey, Rachel Nordlinger, Gert Webelhuth and Regine Eckhardt), computational linguistics (Robert Dale, Mary Dalrymple, Mark Dras), Japanese grammar (Nerida Jarkey and Harumi Minagawa), sociolinguistics (Jennifer Hay, Michael Clyne, Diana Eades), semantics (Bert Peeters, Cliff Goddard and Anna Wierzbicka), discourse and conversational analysis (Celia Kitzinger, Jim Martin, Sigrid Norris), sign language linguistics and grammaticalisation (Louise de Beuzeville and Trevor Johnston), contact language typology (Ian Smith), quantitative methods (Carsten Roever) and educational linguistics (William Armour, Ryuko Kubota, Ahmar Mahboob, Aek Phakiti).

Do book your accommodation early, as the combination of World Youth Day and the Pope's visit the following week mean that accommodation may be taken up.

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This is a conference "with a special interest in the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush valleys, Himalayas", to be held at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Greece, 7-9 November 2008.

More information on the website, and below [reposted from the RNLD list]:

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In 1838 Governor George Gawler gave a speech to the local Aborigines in the Adelaide area, which was translated into their language, Kaurna, by William Wyatt.

Black men--
We wish to make you happy. But you cannot be happy unless you imitate good white men. Build huts, wear clothes, work and be useful.
Above all things you cannot be happy unless you love GOD who made heaven and earth and men and all things.
Love white men. Love other tribes of black men. Do not quarrel together. Tell other tribes to love white men, and to build good huts and wear clothes. Learn to speak English.

Two hundred years later, the descendants of Gawler's audience are re-learning their language using the materials left by missionaries in new ways (see Jangari's post on this). Gawler's successors in Government are still wanting to make Aborigines happy by urging them to learn English, and more particularly to read and write English. Sometimes they translate this call into Indigenous languages.

Inge Kral gave a great seminar not so long ago on Ngaanyatjarra literacy, and the importance of 'administrative literacy'. She also blogged here about the foolishness of closing down local Indigenous TV in remote areas if you want to encourage literacy. Well, she has a piece in the Courier Mail (11/03/08) on literacy in remote communities where the first language is often not English. She makes the point that:

Much of the present discussion is based upon the assumption the only valuable literacy is English literacy. There is no acknowledgement of the importance of the bilingual/bicultural learning environment and the important role local indigenous staff employed on award pay and conditions can play as teachers and language workers in bilingual and non-bilingual programs.

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A lot of work has been happening at the University of Sydney over the past six months, and at the end of last year the top floor of the Transient Building, which houses Linguistics, Paradisec and a few other offices, got renovated. Unfortunately, since the entire exterior of the building is composed of fibrous asbestos, it's unlikely that the University will outlay the mammoth insurance costs to do any exterior work. But anyone who knows the Transient building knows that the best option would be to demolish the whole thing and start again from scratch.

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Mari Rhydwen is working with people developing resources for teaching Indigenous languages of New South Wales. She asks if speakers of traditional languages in Australia have engineered terms for talking about age in years and, if so, how they did it. It's quite possible that they have invented terms for other things (reading, school, money), but haven't felt the need to talk about people's ages in terms of years, except in English.

I could only think of age grade and status terms (child, woman with children etc) in traditional languages to describe someone's age, and of the use of 'Christmas' to mean 'year', but I couldn't recall an instance where someone described someone's age in terms of Christmasses.

Over to blog-readers for their ideas. Here's a start from Robert Hoogenaad:

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

On 28th and 29th February 2008 the CASTL,The Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics, at the Universitetet i Tromsø organised a Workshop om dokumentasjon og revitalisering av samiske språk “Workshop on documentation and revitalisation of Saami languages”. The workshop was attended by 52 people from nine countries, including Canada, UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, and all the Nordic countries, and brought together researchers and Saami scholars to create a network to support current and future work on documentation and revitalisation of all varieties of Saami.

I was invited to the workshop to talk about HRELP, the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, including the training, archiving and granting work that the three components of HRELP are concerned with. Following my presentation, and in the general discussion session on Friday afternoon, there was a great deal of talk about how to apply for funds to support endangered languages work and to set up research networks (a topic also covered in the Training Course David Nathan and I ran in Japan that I blogged about here).

There are three main competitive funding sources that researchers and communities can apply to for funding:


  1. General research grant bodies for the Humanities and Social Sciences set up by governments, such as the UK AHRC and SSRC, Australian ARC, Norwegian Forskingsrådet, German DFG and so on;

  2. Non-government grant bodies such as Unesco, the Christensen Fund, the Endangered Archives Programme sponsored by Arcadia and managed by the British Library (this funds archival work which can include endangered languages materials)
    and so on;

  3. Endangered languages grant bodies which deal with research on endangered languages only, such as:

    • DoBeS project of the Volkswagen Foundation
    • ELDP Endangered Languages Documentation Programme sponsored by Arcadia.
    • DEL interagency programme of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment of the Humanities
    • FEL Foundation for Endangered Languages
    • ELF Endangered Languages Fund
    • GBS, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen, whose current call for grant proposals is available in English here [pdf].

    I will refer to the second group as “NGO grant bodies”, and the last group as “EL grant bodies” below. Note that I am not discussing other funding sources that may be used to support language work such as local employment creation projects; these are usually specific to particular places and it is difficult to generalise about them.

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[from Frank Baarda, long-term worker and resident in Yuendumu, Northern Territory]

If only it were only about the money.

Sociologists and anthropologists have written volumes about the effect of large injections of funds into small communities. Knitting a social fabric is a delicate, gradual and sequential activity that has to come mainly from within (outside authorities can however help to create the setting in which such knitting can flourish - or alternatively stuff things up). Here at Yuendumu you start with re-empowerment and relevance. No amount of money will instantly solve all our perceived problems.

The false perception has been created of all Aboriginal communities as being dysfunctional communities with rampant drunkenness, drug abuse, paedophilia, pornography, chronic health and education problems and a serious housing shortage.

I'm not saying improvements can't or shouldn't be made, just that infra-structure shouldn't take precedence over social-structure. A house is not a home. Did you know that back in the 1960's (or was it 1950's?) when Ted Egan was the Superintendent at Yuendumu he turned back a few semi-trailers laden with Demountable houses?... ( a mini-intervention!).

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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.
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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