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November 2008

The problem: you have text files and audio files, but the text files are not aligned to the audio files.

I imagine there are a few readers out there who have transcriptions of audio files that never made it past an utterance per line text file. This is a post for you, if you'd like to know how to import and time-align those files in ELAN.

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Darkening clouds are looming over Indigenous languages in the Northern Territory. Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and national Race Discrimination Commissioner, has put up a defiant umbrella - the Eric Johnston lecture which includes a well argued section in support of bilingual education. I was struck by the comment that this year "seven students from five homeland communities in North East Arnhem Land will be the first homeland students to graduate with the Year 12 Certificate." Tremendously good news.

Other umbrellas are going up too - some honourable souls have leaked to AAP the following:

"preliminary results from the Evaluation of Literacy Approach (ELA) report, .., found that for "active reading skills in English" students at bilingual schools achieve better results than non-bilingual schools by the time they reach Grade 5."

[Update: And there's a good letter by Patrick McConvell in the Sydney Morning Herald, along with Wendy Baarda's letter in Crikey. Anggarrggoon has several posts on the topic.]

Gleams of sunlight come from the Araluen Art Centre in Alice Springs. They have a travelling exhibition about Darby Jampijinpa Ross of Ngarliyikirlangu, north of Yuendumu. Jampijinpa was an extraordinary man; there's a beautiful book about him, by Liam Campbell Darby : one hundred years of life in a changing culture, Sydney : ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ; Alice Springs, N.T. : Warlpiri Media Association, 2006. It comes with a CD of Darby singing in Warlpiri, as well as telling stories about early days, about the Coniston Massacre. For these he uses the language which he learned as a young man, the Aboriginal English/Kriol which has become the spine of the new mixed language Lajamanu Light Warlpiri.

Araluen also have a new exhibition which brings language together with art (including text, sculpture, etchings, installation, and digital media). Intem-antey anem 'These things will always be': Bush medicine at Utopia, is opening at the Araluen Gallery in Alice Springs,on Saturday November 29th at 2 pm, with Lena Pwerl and Josie Douglas speaking and a performance by Utopia women. The exhibitors are students from Utopia (Alyawarr and Anmatyerre) who are studying their own languages, art and craft at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education (BIITE), Alice Springs campus.

The exhibition runs until 8th February. A week after the exhibition opens, nine women from Utopia together with some BIITE staff will head to the World Indigenous People's Conference on Education to present on the teaching /learning aspect of the project.

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[Updated with pictures - 21/11/08, 25/11/08, 30/11/08 ]

Three excellent books were launched yesterday, on a misty rainy day in the area of Nyambaga (Nambucca Heads). Long may they float, and God bless all who read them, buy them and review them.

They are:

You can order the books from Muurrbay. More about the books below, but now to the launch.

Photo from Muurrbay: L-R Aunty Vilma Moylan, Aunty Jessie Williams, Uncle Ken Walker

"Thank you for supporting us as a people, and keep the spirit alive eh?" That's how the Master of Ceremonies, and Chairman of Muurrbay, Uncle Ken Walker ended a cheerful, joking, rousing morning's celebration of Gumbaynggirr language survival and revival. When you have 200 people to help launch three books, everything connects.
2-KWalker.jpg 3-Ricky-Dallas.jpg

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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS

Back in August I contributed a post on the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his idea that there can be totally unexpected events or discoveries that have a major impact on beliefs and theories of the world that require post-hoc revisions to accumulated wisdom.

Well, it seems my post has become part of a web of unexpected discoveries that reaches as far as Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I was just contacted by David Hirsch, a Sydney barrister, who recently came across my web post and told me the following story.


David Nash

Aspects of the Sydney Language are a perennial fascination. Last month recent events prompted me to look into the etymology of boomerang. In recent weeks the gripping SBS documentary First Australians first episode (available as a 227MB MPEG4) took us to the early days of Sydney.  And now I've noticed what I think is an unreported sound correspondence, as I've become more familiar with sources on the Sydney Language.

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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
12 November 2008

I began writing this post, appropriately enough it turns out, in Thessaloniki's Makedonia airport on my way back to London after an international conference on Language documentation and tradition with a special interest in the Kalasha of the Hindu Kush valleys, Himalayas. The conference ran from 7th to 9th November and included five plenary talks, over 30 papers, three workshops, and several ethnographic films made last summer in Pakistan. It was attended from researchers from around the world, including blog contributor Ana Kondic, as well as five Kalashas from north-west Pakistan.

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[Update: in Crikey 14/11/08 there's a good story by Samanti de Silva from the Areyonga community NT, on the community's concern about the decision to abandon bilingual education. It links to a letter signed by around 35 community members saying among other things:
"Learning in Pitjantjatjara first helps our children to learn better. It helps them to learn English too. Our children who are good at reading and writing in Pitjantjatjara are also the same ones who are good at reading and writing in English.... The teachers will use Pitjantjatjara when teaching to help the children understand things. How can you tell us the teachers must use only English even if the children don't understand what they are saying?"

The perilous situation of Australian Indigenous Languages has aroused some action. 'Friends of Bilingual Education Learning' [Thanks Wamut! I was back in FOB (education) support group mode - FOB tried to defend NT bilingual education in the early 1980s] have a Google Group for sharing information on the Northern Territory decision to teach most of the day in English. It contains letters that people have written to the Minister, Marion Scrymgour, explaining the problems with this decision.

Action on this is urgently needed, before the bilingual education programs are silently dismantled over the summer holidays. Before the first hours of the first school day, when next year's excited five-year olds realise they can't understand what the teacher is saying.

On the national level, the need for a National Indigenous Languages policy was discussed in Patrick McConvell's Lingua Franca talk last week. Ngapartji-Ngapartji (see their policy paper here) and FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages)are campaigning for this, and the FATSIL website has an online petition to the Federal government. You can click here, and see the petition, which can be printed out or signed online .


Further on the decision of the NT Government to require schools to teach the first four hours of each day in English.. a media release from Misty Adoniou, President of the Australian Council of TESOL Assocations (ACTA), the peak body for professional associations for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Ignorant decisions exacerbate declining outcomes for Indigenous learners

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Today on ABC Radio National there were two broadcasts of interest to TLC readers:

Lingua Franca had Patrick McConvell talking about the need for a National Indigenous Languages policy, (MP3 here, transcript here). It's a clear summary of the perilous state of Australian Indigenous languages and of the way present government policy is imperilling them further. He reinforces the points made by Inge Kral and David Wilkins that the best evidence on how children learn goes against the NT Government's move to dismantle bilingual education. Relevant to this are the material and links on the Ngapartji Ngapartji website.

And Life & Times rebroadcast a documentary, On the Shore of a Strange Land - the Story of David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri/Yaraldi man who recorded his people's stories and aspects of their daily lives. It was originally aired on Hindsight. MP3 here. A remarkable man. The documentary includes reminiscences by people who knew him

Some of Unaipon's work was published in pamphlets in his life, but the bulk was ripped off by William Ramsay Smith and published under Ramsay Smith's name. Unaipon's manuscript has since been edited and published: Legendary tales of the Australian aborigines , edited by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker (Carlton, Vic. : Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press, 2001)
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