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January 2010

Australia Day, ah. Sizzling like a sausage, I read Junga Yimi (true stories), the Warlpiri magazine started in 1978, and restarted in 1994. This issue is a wonderful words-and-pictures round-up of what's been happening at Yuendumu - in Warlpiri and English, translations by Ormay Gallagher, and lay-out and editing by Donovan Jampijinpa Rice.

There's news of the very young (Kurdu Kurdu Kurlangu childcare centre), of old (Mampu Maninja-kurlangu Jarlu Patu-ku old people's program), of people generally - the winners of the Alice Pest Control Tidy House competition (Serena Shannon, newsletter editor Donovan Rice and their family), and the Little Sisters of Jesus. Of work - more Warlpiri are working at the Tanami Gold Mine, news of the Warlukurlangu Artists and of the Yuendumu Mining Company (including the current prices for native plant seeds - $680 for a full drum of Wardarrka (Acacia ligulata)). Lots of news of school-age children and young adults, from what Jaru Pirrjirdi (Strong voices/words/language..) and Mount Theo are up to - ranging from swimming carnivals, homework centre, life guard training, night club and youth programs - to what's happening at the school - classes, culture nights and country visits.

There's news from the Warlpiri branch of PAW Media - the Yapa Beats compilation CD, a radio program Yapa patu wangkami, (oral history docco in Warlpiri and English about life at Yuendumu before settlement, during the settling and during the NT Emergency Response aka the Intervention). And finally ...football! Flying South when the Yuendumu Magpies AFL team travelled to Melbourne to play at the MCG against the Anangu All Stars from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and Maralinga Tjarutja Lands. [I can't resist mention here of a favourite recent successful ARC grant -- Mark Dras, Myfany Turpin et al.s' project Natural Language Generation for Aboriginal Languages - they hope to "generate a simplified version of reports on AFL matches" - in Indigenous languages....]

Junga yimi gives a lively picture of life at Yuendumu (check out also Yasmine Musharbash's equally lively ethnography Yuendumu everyday). Good things are happening, people are doing good things.

But, very sadly, this issue starts with an obituary (by Lizzie Ross Napurrurla) for J. Nungarrayi Egan, a passionate advocate and worker for Warlpiri people and Warlpiri language. Nungarrayi was there at the start of the bilingual education program, and worked there most of her life before retiring to help set up Jaru Pirrjirdi for young adults. She fought for the continuation of bilingual education, up until the end when she wrote a letter [quoted here] to Marion Scrymgour, protesting the "First four hours of English" decision. She could foresee what the decision would mean for Warlpiri children, Warlpiri communities and Warlpiri language. It dooms much of her life's work.

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You're in a disaster area and you want to get information urgently to the right people. But you only speak your own language. That's what's happening in Haiti. So, a simple solution - text your message through to an emergency number. On receipt, there's crowd-sourcing: "100s of Kreyol-speaking volunteers translate, categorize and plot the geocoords of the location if possible" and then channel it through to the immediately relevant aid organisation, and also to a central database accessible by other organisations.

Average time from receipt to having it "translated, categorized and back on the ground with coordinates, message and return #"? 10 minutes.

Brilliant. Read the report on it by a linguist, Rob Munro, who's been coordinating the volunteer efforts. Praise be to the good, clever and imaginative people who make this possible.


Next week, Mr Tom Calma steps down as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. Calma is "an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group", both in the Northern Territory.

Calma came to the position with experience in many aspects of Indigenous life, from education to housing to public administration, as well as overseas. He has held office in a turbulent time for Indigenous people- turbulence caused on the one hand the recognition that many Indigenous people and communities are still suffering appallingly, and on the other by attempts to place the blame for this suffering on Indigenous people, traditions and languages, and on non-Indigenous do-gooders and their focus on human rights. Despite this, he has held firmly to the responsibility of his office of "keeping government accountable to national and international human rights standards". The Apology to the Stolen Generation he sees as the great symbolic triumph of the period, but he sees also continuing injustice.

Yesterday he delivered his final Social Justice Report 2009 and Native Title Report 2009, in the Redfern Community Centre, in Sydney, along with a community report, and a stirring speech. His speech and community report summarise in plain languages his three main concerns in 2009, while the major report provides supporting references and case studies.

He sees his three main concerns as interlinked.

  • getting at the causes for why so many Indigenous people are in gaol by investing in communities rather than gaols,
  • supporting Indigenous languages
  • supporting the rights of Indigenous people to live in outstations and homeland centres by showing the benefits of living in well-run communities compared with the well documented problems of fringe camps and housing estates in urban centres

His plea for Indigenous languages is plangent, and grounded in his long experience in Indigenous education. Here's a quotation from his speech.

The Australian Government has made some effort to support our languages by introducing Australia’s first national policy exclusively focused on protecting and promoting Indigenous languages – Indigenous Languages – A National Approach 2009. While this policy provides a starting point to preserving and revitalising our invaluable languages, it will not be enough on its own. State and Territory governments have to come on board.

They have responsibility for school education and they need to make sure that their policies support our languages. If they don’t take action soon, Indigenous languages will be extinct within the next few generations. I urge you – if you are able – to do whatever you can to bring this injustice out into the open. The parents of the school children who are losing bilingual education are very distressed – many of them have contacted my office. They are doing everything they can to preserve the bilingual programs but their pleas are falling on deaf ears.


[From Margaret Florey]

The Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity's web site has had a makeover! Visit the site to check out the changes, and the new information. If you've been using the site, you may need to refresh it in your browser to view the updated site. We'll continue to add information to the site, and please contribute any relevant links and information you may come across.

RNLD now has a Facebook group which we will use to update members about events.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to RNLD's Advisory Panel members for 2010:

Australian representatives:
Jeanie Bell (Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education, NT, Australia)
Kevin Lowe (Aboriginal Curriculum Unit, Office of the NSW Board of Studies, Australia)
Patrick McConvell (Australian National University, ACT, Australia)
Paul Paton (Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Australia)
Anne Poelina (Madjulla Inc. Western Australia)
Jane Simpson (University of Sydney, NSW, Australia)

International representatives:
Alec Coupe (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)
Toshihide Nakayama (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
Yusuf Sawaki (Center for Endangered Languages Documentation in Papua, State University of Papua, Indonesia)
Mark Turin (University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, UK)
Hannah Vari-Bogiri (University of the South Pacific, Vanuatu)

I've been galvanised [ thanks Jason!] out of deep gloom over what's happening and not happening in the education of Indigenous children in Australia. There IS something we can do.. We can all make submissions to the National Indigenous Education Action Plan draft put up for public comment. OK they may go "Sigh...another submission from a linguist...." But they do say they're going to publish the submissions. Deadline 28 February.

So here's roughly what I'm saying to them:

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Some recent accessions on Indigenous languages to the Sydney eScholarship repository:

  • Jeremy Hammond's Honours thesis The Grammar of Nouns and Verbs in Whitesands, an Oceanic Language of Southern Vanuatu. A ripper read for Oceanists thinking about arguments for there being distinct categories of nouns and verbs.
  • Aidan Wilson's Honours thesis Negative Evidence in Linguistics: The case of Wagiman Complex Predicates. What's a possible complex predicate? Good to read in conjunction with Stephen Wilson's University of Sydney Honours thesis also on Wagiman which was published by CSLI as Coverbs and Complex Predicates in Wagiman. NOTE: Aidan is not Stephen.
  • My 1985 paperlet "How Warumungu people express new concepts" published in the long dead, still lamented journal Language in Central Australia (issue 4, the last issue before it morphed into Language in Aboriginal Australia and died a couple of issues later). It was inspired by Geoffrey O'Grady's 1960 paper, "New concepts in Nyangumarda: some data on linguistic acculturation" [1], and was followed by Rob Amery's 1993 paper "Encoding new concepts in old languages: a case study of Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains" [2]. I think the topic is due for further exploration. Psycholinguists are getting into it experimentally, but it's important to understand what actually has happened when people have had to find new ways of talking about things.


[from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
1st January 2010

To paraphrase John Lennon: "and so this is New Year's Day and what have we done ..."

Well 2009 has been a pretty hectic year for the Endangered Languages Project based at SOAS in London - lots of changes and some exciting new developments. Here are the highlights (you can download our 2009 Annual Report [.pdf] for all the details):

  • the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) entered its sixth year of operation and enrolled 17 MA and 4 PhD students in September, the largest intake since we began in 2003. Five PhD and 14 MA students completed their degrees in 2009. ELAP has now graduated 62 MAs in Language Documentation and Description
  • the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) moved into the Linguistics Department at SOAS in February 2009 under the leadership of Head of Department (and Interim ELDP Director) Peter Sells. ELDP's sponsor, Arcadia Fund, agreed to extend its support until 2016 and to create a new post of Director of ELDP, to be filled by an appointment in 2010. ELDP had a busy granting year in 2009, with two grant cycles attracting 136 applications; 35 grants were awarded totaling GBP 1.4 million. ELDP has now funded around 250 projects on endangered languages
  • the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) purchased a 48 terabyte NAS storage unit, and designed a new data curation workflow that takes advantage of the storage hardware with fast, transparent access to the archived data. The second stage of the ELAR catalogue, based on a Drupal content management system with a customised and innovative "Web 2.0" approach to access management, went live in February 2009. This provides user accounts to depositors, including facilities to edit and update catalogue entries; development to enable safe access to data, observing depositors' access conditions, will be operational in early 2010

We also held the 3L Summer School and the LDLT2 Conference, both of which attracted 100 participants, oh and Endangered Languages Week that brought in 500 visitors.

Early indications are that 2010 is going to be a busy and productive year both for us at SOAS and for language documentation and endangered languages more generally. For example, the Linguistic Society of America 2010 Annual Meeting in Baltimore 7-10 January features a range of sessions, talks, tutorials and meetings on relevant topics. Friday evening's Invited Plenary Symposium Documentary Linguistics: Retrospective and Prospective followed by Saturday morning's Invited Symposium on the same topic are likely to attract a lot of interest. Add to that Friday morning's Tutorial on Archiving ethically: Mediating the demands of communities and institutional sponsors when producing language documentation, and Saturday morning's Symposium on Findings from Targeted Work on Endangered Languages: 13 Years of the Endangered Language Fund's Projects and you have an LSA meeting unlike any other in the past in terms of the attention being paid to documentation and endangered languages.

In another development that is likely to have important ramifications in 2010 and beyond, the LSA Executive Committee in November 2009 approved and endorsed the following policy statement, which was a revision of an earlier statement approved in 1994 (both statements were drafted by the Committee on Endangered Languages and Their Preservation):


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