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May 2008

[from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

The May Newsletter of the Australian Linguistic Society has just come out and can be viewed here. As usual it includes information about conferences, workshops, research grants awarded to members, recent publications, and the odd flashback to ALS doings of the last century. Then there is the "News from ..." section where stories submitted by Linguistics Departments around Australia are presented; the May edition includes Macquarie University, University of New England, Australian National University, and the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology at La Trobe University.

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[ a review from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

Things move fast in the endangered languages world. Five years is a long time, especially the past five years when so much has happened. Last speakers of languages have passed away, such as the late Marie Smith Jones who was the last speaker of Eyak and who died on 21st January 2008 (her death garnered much publicity as signalling the first native Alaskan language to become extinct -- a Google search of "last speaker of Eyak", for example, returns 537 hits, led by such big names as the BBC, the Economist and so on). Other less publicised losses have occurred, such as Jawoyn from the Northern Territory, whose last fluent speaker died in July 2007.

But really good stuff has happened in the last five years too: millions of dollars of research funds have been made available for work with endangered languages through the Volkswagen Foundation's DoBeS project, the NSF-NEH DEL scheme, and the ELDP grants administered by SOAS. There have been lots of grass roots activities to document, archive and support endangered languages, and a whole new group of committed students have entered the field via training programmes at ELAP at SOAS and University of Hawaii, among others. There have been summer schools, like the 2004 DoBeS summer school in Frankfurt, with more on the way including the 3L summer school and InField summer institute starting in June this year. If you add in the conferences, workshops, training courses, books, articles, media coverage, blogs and so on it is pretty clear that endangered languages has become a really hot issue, especially since 2003 or so.

Courtesy of the KITLV Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies I have just received a copy of Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages edited by Christopher Moseley and started dipping into it. I am writing a proper review of the book for the BKI Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, but thought I would share some initial impressions here.

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The program for the 2nd Sydney Papuanists' Workshop is now up at http://conferences.arts.usyd.edu.au/program.php?cf=19. There will be lots of interesting papers from Papuanists from around Australia and overseas. The discussion session on Saturday afternoon on the theme 'giving back to the community' may be of particular interest to fieldworkers outside the Papuanist community. If you're interested in coming along to the discussion session or the rest of the workshop, please let us know. My contact details can be found on the conference web site.

[ from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

At the Australian Languages Workshop 2008 held in March at the ANU field station at Kioloa (recounted in Jane Simpson's blog post) there was an after-dinner quiz organised by Harold Koch. It consisted of a series of trivial pursuit style questions to identify scholars who had published on Australian Aboriginal languages (some recent, some not so recent). The questions went something like this (some of these are ones I remember from Harold's quiz, others I have made up):

Identify the following six people each of whom published on Australian Aboriginal languages and:

  1. also wrote a book on scurvy in sheep
  2. published on middle-Indo-Aryan under another name
  3. prepared a handbook for coroners
  4. was a jackaroo on a station in the north-west of Western Australia
  5. is an expert in Ergodic Theory and has published a book on Multidimensional Continued Fractions
  6. spent time in an Australian internment camp as a Nazi spy during the second world war

The answers to most of these questions are to be found in a new 526 page book published this month by Pacific Linguistics and edited by William B. McGregor entitled Encountering Aboriginal languages: Studies in the history of Australian linguistics. My copy just arrived in London and I am having trouble putting it down, the contents are so interesting.


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[from our woman in Kununurra, Eva Schultze-Berndt]

This email is a call for expressions of interest in a 5th European Australianist workshop, to be held at the University of Manchester in September 2008.

The suggestions for dates are either of the following:

a) Su/Mo, 14th/15th September. This is adjacent to the LAGB conference in Colchester/Essex from 10-13 Sept; train travel between Colchester and Manchester is about 5 hrs.

b) Fr/Sat, 19th-20th September.

c) Sat/Su, 20th-21st September.

Of course depending on the number of participants we might only need one day. But hopefully many of you will be able to come!

The suggestion for a workshop theme is "Discourse, prosody and information structure in Australian languages". As usual, participants would be free to present papers not related to this theme.

I will be able to apply for a very limited amount of funding towards accommodation and travel costs of students or other participants who are not in full-time employment (success not guaranteed of course). Please indicate if you are interested in participating and belong to this category.


[ from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

One of the events which featured in Endangered Languages Week 2008 at SOAS was called What is your language footprint?. This concept of a Language Footprint and the ideas behind it were developed by David Nathan, and presented by his team that also included Chaithra Puttaswamy and Juliette Rutherford (Tom Castle created the dramatic poster).footprint.gif

It has since attracted the attention of several bloggers, including Bulanjdjan (Langguj Gel) and Hoyden about town.

The basic concept is simple. A language footprint is the influence of those speaking a dominant language on the behaviour of speakers of other languages. In any communication, if your choice of language makes another person shift from their language to yours, you have made a language footprint. The concept is intended as a metaphor similar to the"carbon footprint"notion and, like it, includes the potential that individuals can reduce or offset their language footprint. You can reduce your language footprint by:

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[ from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

The recently established Fondation Chirac in collaboration with the Musée du quai Branly and Unesco is organising a one-day public event to be held on Monday 9th June in Paris called "SOROSORO pour que vivent les langues du monde!" (SOROSORO long live the languages of the world! ). Sorosoro in the Araki language of Vanuatu means ‘breath, word, language’. The event will highlight the current situation of language diversity and endangered languages and includes presentations by linguists from France, Gabon, Guatemala, UK and Vanuatu.

The programme begins at 3pm in the Claude Levi-Strauss Theatre at the Museum and includes the following presentations (my translations of the French original):

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The Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO) is a linguistics competition aimed at high school students from years 9 to 12. The state rounds will be held at University of Sydney, and University of Melbourne on the afternoon of June 25th 2008, with the national round to be held (in each location) on August 6th 2008. OzCLO will consist of teams of up to three students.

Target student population:
The program is designed for students from years 9 to 12. Any secondary school student who enjoys the sample problems on the web site is a potential contestant. High School students don't typically know what linguistics and computational linguistics are, so they probably won't know if they are interested until they try the problems. However, students who like languages, maths, computers, and the natural sciences are most likely to be interested in this competition.

Information sessions:
Information sessions for students and teachers who are interested in the competition will be held at each location. At these sessions we will explain the details of the competition, introduce the fields of linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technology, and give tips for solving sample problems.

Sydney: Wednesday 11th June 4:00 – 6:00pm at University of Sydney
Contact Elwin Cross (elwin AT ozclo.org.au)

Melbourne: Wednesday 4th June 4:00 – 6:00pm at University of Melbourne
Contact Saya Ike (saya AT ozclo.org.au)

Competition Format:
The State round on June 25th 2008 will be a two and a half hour session, and the successful competitors will go to the National Round, which will also be held in Sydney and Melbourne on August 6th 2008.
Although this is a team competition format, individual students are also encouraged to join. They will not be disadvantaged in any way.

Registration in the competition is free. The registration form can be downloaded from the website ( HYPERLINK "" www.ozclo.org.au). The participating students will be contacted through a nominated teacher to protect their privacy.

The competition is being sponsored by HCSNet, the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne, Macquarie University, the Australasian Language Technology Association, and the Australian Linguistics Society.

[ from our man in the heart of the spot, Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

Well, Endangered Languages Week 2008 has drawn to a close, and apart from feeling knackered after a week of full-on EL activities, we at SOAS reckon it all went pretty well. We had a lot of fun, especially during the kick-off debate about What is your language footprint? when the "for team" of David Nathan, Chaithra Puttaswamy and Juliette Rutherford were soundly defeated by the "against team" of Peter Austin, Julia Sallabank and Peter Sutton. Superior debating skills combined with some bad jokes won the day. Another highlight of the week was the UK Premiere of the film "The Linguists" which was attended by over 90 people, many of whom got to meet in person K. David Harrison, one of the dynamic duo who star in the film.

Our main goal for EL Week 2008 was showing what we are doing in EL research, teaching, and archiving at the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project and communicating with as wide an audience as possible. We feel we achieved that, both in the real and virtual interactions we had with visitors, most of whom have never come to Project activities before. Some students even travelled from Paris to attend the workshops and films. We also made contact with the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies which is a publicly funded service, providing UK-wide support and services for higher education in these three areas. They featured EL Week 2008 on their website and mailed out a special e-bulletin about our activities to their 3,000 subscribers – as a consequence, a number of teachers came to SOAS during the week, and we now have great opportunities for future collaboration.

So, here are some statistics about the week (all numbers are approximate):

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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

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

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OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

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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

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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