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August 2009

Professor James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, has given his preliminary impressions of the situation in Australia - see today's Crikey. Most media attention is focussing on his comments about the Northern Territory Emergency Response,

...affirmative measures by the Government to address the extreme disadvantage faced by indigenous peoples and issues of safety for children and women are not only justified, but they are in fact required under Australia’s international human rights obligations. However, any such measure must be devised and carried out with due regard of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and to be free from racial discrimination and indignity.
In this connection, any special measure that infringes on the basic rights of indigenous peoples must be narrowly tailored, proportional, and necessary to achieve the legitimate objectives being pursued. In my view, the Northern Territory Emergency Response is not.

But also important are his comments that any partnership between Government and Indigenous people must be one that is


[From Felicity Meakins]
Hi all,

I have just made and ordered new 'Don't Cut Off Our Tongues' postcards. They
have been ordered to coincide with a Four Corners documentary on the
Lajamanu Two-way language program which will be one of the bilingual
programs to be axed soon. This program will air on 14the or maybe 18 September. The
postcards will be some follow-up lobbying, so please send some out!

The postcards exist in two forms:

1. The first has 'Don't cut off our tongues' on the front and is addressed
to Paul Henderson.

2. The second has 'Reinstate bilingual education' on the front and is
addressed to Julia Gillard.

The image on the front isn't the greatest quality, but the point is still
made. They will be ready in a couple of weeks.

If you are interested in getting your hands on some, send an email to Greg
Dickson (greg.dickson AT batchelor.edu.au). Let him know which postcards you
want and how many. Get them out bush, get them to your friends, family and
students. But please make sure they are sent!

Alternatively, you could send Greg a return self-addressed envelope:

Greg Dickson
Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
Katherine Annexe
PO Box 1896
Katherine NT 0851

E-mail me for any other questions: felicity.meakins AT manchester.ac.uk


From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
24 August 2009

The Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), based at SOAS, has recently published two new articles on the Endangered Languages Project website that may be of interest to readers of this blog:

  1. Bernard Howard's detailed review of the new Zoom H4n audio recorder. Bernard puts the machine through its paces and concludes his review with the words:
    "Overall, compared to its similar-priced competitors (such as the Edirol R-09HR or Olympus LS-10) the Zoom H4n is our current favourite due to the flexibility of being able to use fully professional microphones via its phantom-powered XLR sockets."

  2. Stuart McGill and Sophie Salffner's ELAR advice document on Power solutions in the field: solar power for laptop computers. Based on their extensive experience with using solar power in Nigeria, they present a practical "how to" guide to setting up a solar power system in the field, and offer advice on how to, and not to, support laptop use in linguistic fieldwork. Readers may also want to look at Tom Honeyman's blog post from 2007 and the links and references in it as well to complement what Stuart and Sophie have presented.

Both publications include lots of images of various sizes and links to relevant web materials. Other ELAR publications are available, including David Nathan's ever popular advice on microphones in sound recording.

From David Nash
Narcisse Pelletier1 (1844-1894) spent half his adult life (1858-1875) with Aboriginal people on the eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula. He learnt their language and had no contact with outsiders, and in time he lost command of his native French. His removal from the coast at Night Island was as out of his control and as sudden as had been his arrival there seventeen years earlier. He then regained command of French over subsequent weeks and months, and upon return to his birthplace in France, he was interviewed by Constant Merland (1808-85) a French surgeon-turned-savant. Merland's 1876 book Dix-sept ans chez les sauvages: Narcisse Pelletier is quite rare and apparently not held in any Australian library. It had been overlooked as an ethnographic source but last month it has appeared afresh and "Now, for the first time, this remarkable true story is presented in English, complemented by an in-depth introductory essay and ethnographic commentary" as the blurb accurately states.

The translator and annotator Stephanie Anderson has marshalled the help of anthropologists and linguists Athol Chase, David Thompson, Bruce Rigsby, Peter Sutton, and Clair Hill. Between them they show that the people who adopted Pelletier were speakers of a dialect of the language now known as Lockhart River 'Sand Beach' language comprising Kuuku Yaʔu and Umpila, probably the dialect known as Uutaalnganu, AIATSIS code Y211.


The full account is spread through Pelletier : the forgotten castaway of Cape York published by Melbourne Books. The volume includes an ethnographic commentary by Athol Chase and an introductory essay by Stephanie Anderson who you might have heard talk about this in mid July on ABC's Late Night Live.

Merland has a chapter on language. He had taken down some 70 words and a few longer expressions as recalled by Pelletier, but before he presents these, he starts from the general, "How thought is expressed":

one point on which most people agree is that the degree of civilisation of different peoples can be gauged from the degree to which their language has evolved (p185)

Merland found that the language he recorded from Pelletier did not have the primitive properties that contemporary theorists described. Merland refers to the view that

Man’s first words were necessarily imitative words, onomatopoeic words, as grammarians call them (p185)

then points out that, on the contrary, judging from Pelletier's vocabulary,

while there are still numerous monosyllabic words in our highly evolved language of French, these have completely disappeared from the language spoken by the savages of Endeavour Land. (p191)

Indeed, Merland records not one monosyllabic word -- just as we with hindsight would expect of a Pama-Nyungan language(!).

Merland's transcription (possibly influenced by Pelletier's own spelling suggestions) has a few words with syllable-initial tr. These words match up with phonemic apical stop (apico-alveolar or possibly -domal) in Kuuku Yaʔu as recorded by the Rev DA Thompson (1988):

7 comments |

Two Ministers responsible for different aspects of Indigenous Affairs in Australia, Jenny Macklin and Peter Garrett, have jointly announced $9.3 million of funding for Indigenous languages. The grand aim is to "to help take 113 indigenous languages off the critically endangered list."

Some good stuff:

"A focused and coordinated national approach is critical to safeguard indigenous culture and save these unique languages."
Communities will be encouraged to use endangered languages as much as possible and all efforts will be made to pass them on.
... The policy will also encourage the teaching of indigenous languages in schools"

Some bad stuff:

"although it is understood not to alter the course in the Northern Territory, where bilingual education is set to be scrapped in 2010." (out of date... in several schools, energetic principals and superintendants have already enthusiastically closed down bilingual programs).

9 comments |

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