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June 2008

Early this morning, a delivery of audio files was quietly sent from Paradisec's local server at the University of Sydney to permanent near-line tape storage at the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing in Canberra. This happens on many days, as you might imagine, but what makes today's delivery special, was that somewhere in that bunch of files was our 2000th archived hour of audio.

Moreover, we will soon be celebrating five years of operations, in which case, 2000 hours might not seem so impressive - it's just 400 hours per year after all - but we at Paradisec are very proud of our collection. Especially given that just about everything here is done on a shoestring budget and there have been some lengthy hiatuses of funding lately.

Speaking of which, this may be an opportune time to mention that we are always amenable to generous donations from people wishing to sponsor the digitisation and preservation of a collection of data. See our website for more details.

So, just which file was the lucky 2000th hour? Well, we can't really be sure, but we do know that it was among a collection of Mark Durie's research into the dialects of Aceh, an area that was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2006.

To help us celebrate both these milestones, Mark has kindly written a small piece for us about Aceh's dialects, his research of them and the importance of preserving the collection. He has also allowed a small portion of one of these recordings to be posted with this piece, which you can download here.

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[ from our man in Lyon, Peter K. Austin, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

As it approaches the halfway point, the 3L (Leiden-London-Lyon) Summer School on Language Documentation and Description is humming along. It started on Monday 23rd June and ends on Friday 4th July.

So far we have had five days of plenary lectures (in English) and discussions (in English, and French) on a range of topics, practical classes (on phonology, tonology, audio recording, Toolbox, multimedia, applying for research grants -- most available in both English and French), and areal classes (on Cushitic, and Mayan languages). There is a full list [.pdf] of course descriptions on the 3L website. There are around 65 students and researchers attending from a wide range of countries as varied as Togo, Gabon, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala, USA, Netherlands, Germany, France, Russia, UK, Taiwan and Australia. Teachers are from the University of Lyon-2, SOAS and Leiden. The local organisational team is made up of students and staff from Lyon-2 together with student volunteers.

On Wednesday evening there was a very interesting soirée which brought researchers and students attending the 3L Summer School together with researchers and students attending a summer school on Interactional Linguistics being run by the CNRS ICAR laboratory headed by Professor Lorenza Mondada at the recently opened École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (with brand new architecturally outstanding buildings and facilities). There were many interesting issues of common interest that surfaced in the short presentations given by researchers from the two groups, including problems of fieldwork (entering, being in and leaving the field, the role of gatekeepers and brokers), research methods and tools, and giving back to those participating in the research. There are sure to be more useful interactions between the ICAR and DDL research groups in Lyon in the future.

Today there is a student conference, or rather two conferences since there will be presentations of around 20 papers in two parallel sessions, one in French and one in English. The students are so keen to discuss their work that the programme starts at 9:30am and goes to 7pm (on a Saturday, mind you!). This level of enthusiasm and willingness to share ideas and experiences has been a feature of the past week both in class and outside.

Some other features of the summer school so far that I have noticed include:


[from a happy editor, Peter K. Austin, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

I just received copies from the publishers of a new book that may be of interest to readers of this blog. It is called 1000 Languages: The Worldwide History of Living and Lost Tongues and is edited by yours truly. The book was published by Thames and Hudson in the UK and associated countries, and by University of California Press in the US. It is available on UK Amazon, or readers in the UK can get it for an even cheaper price via the Tesco on-line store.


The book is issued in hard cover and runs to over 300 pages and includes over 400 colour illustrations, a series of maps, a glossary of linguistic terms, and a list of references. It is organised topically by geographical regions and each chapter explores the sources, interrelationships and characteristics of that region's languages, including the major and minor ones of the area. It includes chapters on the topical issues of endangered and extinct languages. Each main entry details numbers of speakers, geographical spread, growth, development and key features of the language. The following is a list of the chapters and authors:

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In the flurry of exam marking and LingFest preparation, the top floor of the Transient is still coming down from the ascent of 64 high school students today. They came from as far away as Camden (Macarthur Anglican), and James Ruse, to as close as Fort Street and St Marys in Sydney proper. Year 9, 10 and 11 students bounded up our stairs, and along our (thankfully refurbished) corridors, to the State Round of OzCLO, the First Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad.

Fueled by tim-tams and orange juice, teams of three worked away at problems in Luiseno, Chinantec, Japanese compounds, the horror [1] of getting computers to parse English morphology, and a wonderful problem on Anglicised Irish place-names - how do you get Clashgortmore from the forms in An Chlais Bhán (The White Pit), Bun an Ghoirt Bháin (Base of the White Field), An Currach Mór (The Big Marsh) - and what does it mean?

They seemed excited, charming, enthusiastic problem-solvers, and, with luck they'll be the next generation of linguists (doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?)

The general consensus seems to be that:

  • yes, we must have it next year,
  • yes if we advertise in further in advance we will get more students (64 was FAR more than we'd expected),
  • and
    YES, we must find sponsors [2] to send the national winners overseas to the International Computational and Linguistic Olympiads.

Suggestions anyone?

And now, to mark the results…

Watch this space for the three winners who will go on to the National round on 6th August.

[1] and the horror of marking - one of our Melbourne collaborators spent today whipping off "a quick and dirty Perl script to evaluate the effectiveness of the regular expressions that the students come up with" in answer to the problem.

[2] Above and beyond our current kind & generous sponsors, HCSNet, the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney, Macquarie University, CSIRO, the Australasian Language Technology Association, and the Australian Linguistics Society.


Two great supporters of Australian Indigenous language work died recently. Dr R. Marika was widely known and well-respected for her passionate advocacy for Yolngu languages, and the importance of maintaining them and using them in schools. She was only 49. Short obituaries are on the web from ANTar, and The Australian.

J. Jampin Jones died yesterday. In 1998, as a middle-aged man, after many years of hard manual work, and in the midst of the grief and the havoc wrought by kidney failure on many of his family, he went to Batchelor College to learn to read and write Warumungu. An astonishing thing to do, and his charm, enthusiasm, and undauntedness gave hope and encouragement to other Warumungu students. Those of us studying Warumungu were helped immensely by his gift for explaining meanings, and by his belief that it was a good thing we were doing together.

We honour them both.

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LingFest HQ (aka Transient Building) is stacked with boxes of large blue bags paid for by publishers in return for inserting flyers (that's why the bags are so large). You could probably eat the bags, they're so enviro-friendly. 30 keen student volunteers are zooming around in between (we/they hope) doing brilliantly on their exams, (they have set up a Googlegroups for coordinating volunteers with an online spreadsheet and forms that beat hands-down our Open Conference Systems/Events Pro conference site (I like the idea of OCS, I liked the old version (used in the Papuan Languages workshop successfully), but the implementation of this one at the hands of an inexperienced central IT crew..., sigh and super sigh). And the organising committee is pondering deep questions such as - is it possible to have a book launch without alcohol? (Answer: of course not - this is Australia, we Don't DO teetotalism).

The program for the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (Marshallese, Malagasy, Indonesian, Seediq, Samoan...and more), is here.. The program for the Papuan languages workshop is here (One, Fas, Oksapmin...). The program for the International Lexical Functional Grammar Conference is here (Gunwinyguan, Turkish, Sinhala, Welsh..). Other programs include those for the Australian Linguistics Society [.pdf], and for the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia [.xls].

You can find out all about the units on offer for the Australian Linguistics Institute here [.pdf]. Units of particular interest to Transient Languages readers include:


[from Jeremy Hammond, who's writing a grammar of Whitesands]

I was standing at the airport on Sunday night as you do, when I bumped into the director of Ausaid services in Vanuatu. One of the big things that they are doing this year is allowing volunteers to go and stay for long periods on outer islands. For linguists this means access to remote communities and languages that have had little work done on them.

Having just come back from living on an outer Island in Vanuatu I can strongly recommend going there to do work. Plenty of pluses; it is close and accessible to Australia/NZ so you will get plenty of visitors (if you want), the people are super friendly and the environment (outside of Vila) is not yet spoiled.

Languages there are changing very quickly (like elsewhere) but the kids still mainly learn a vernacular until about 5 years old and in general there is a strong attachment to their language, identity and culture. But change can happen quickly and who wants to lose more indigenous knowledge.

Anyway I was alerted to this position at the Malakula Kaljorol Senta (MKS) , who are looking for a resident cultural officer to particularly look after vernacular development (for 2 years).

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Alexandre Duchêne & Monica Heller. 2007. Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages. London: Continuum.

Reviewed by Nick Thieberger, University of Melbourne / University of Hawai'i

This collection of thirteen papers addresses language ideology, in particular the use of 'language endangerment' as a rallying cry with broader 'ideological struggles on the terrain of language'. If I could have done a concordance of the text, I'm sure that tokens including 'discourse' and 'essentialize' would have come out near the top of the frequency list. The use of the former is apparently necessary at least once a page (and preferably more often) and the second is a 'Bad Thing', although I have to say that most authors in this book essentialize linguists and the linguistic project as unproblematic, and not internally fraught in the way that everything else is (although the naivete of this postmodern critique would have one think that only they could consider such a thing to be possible).

Deconstruction is the trope of choice throughout this volume – unfortunately constructive critique is not. A certain amount of critical evaluation of linguists' engagement with endangered languages is necessary, but I find it in general to be dealt with in a heavy-handed and unhelpful way by many of the contributions to this volume.

In this review I will give a brief sketch of the contents of the book which I approached eagerly, keen to read a critical account of the endangered languages (EL) movement in which I have had some interest over almost three decades now. My interest in ELs has focussed on small languages, typically spoken by marginalised groups in what used to be called the fourth world, pre-industrial people living largely traditional lives and, in general these language were not provided with much in the way of resources or existing documentation. This book, on the whole, deals with languages ranging from Corsican to French as endangered in some way and it takes some changing gear in my mind to sympathise with their plight. One chapter deals with indigenous languages (of Canada) but otherwise the volume has a strong European focus (the other exceptions being a chapter on the 'Official English' movement in the USA and another on Acadian French in Nova Scotia).

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

As I pointed out in a previous post, there have been a lot of new developments in the field of endangered languages research in the past five years. One of those has been the publication series Language Documentation and Description which we produce annually at SOAS. We started the series in 2003 with the launch of HRELP, the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project (in fact, the first volume contains papers from our launch event and the workshop that followed). Hot off the presses this week is the fifth volume of papers, containing six papers on three topics: data and language documentation, digital video and archiving in language documentation, and training and activism in documentary linguistics. Here is the table of contents (for more details including a downloadable PDF of my Editor's Preface and an order form go here):

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About the Blog

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)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

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

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

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