> March 2010 - Transient Languages & Cultures

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March 2010

Every time I revisited my fieldsite I was asked for copies of photos or recordings and I wanted some way that these could be accessed without me having to be present. When I started visiting Erakor village in central Vanuatu there was intermittent electricity available, usually only in the evenings in the house I lived in.

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Check out Indigenous peoples, issues and resources for lots of stuff around the world, including jobs, such as this Australian one Project Officer, Aboriginal Languages for implementing "the Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority’s Web 2.0 Project on Aboriginal Languages". [Applications close 31/03/2010]

[ from Jeremy Hammond, who has just joined the MPI's group on Syntax, typology, and information structure]

This is a blog-post from Tanna, Vanuatu, where in the past few days I’ve seen two views on vernacular languages. Normally, I don’t take sides in politics but something I heard this morning spurred me into action.

I’ll start on Thursday which was the conclusion of a community workshop on Disaster Planning. An aside, it is good to see some aid projects in action with the community getting involved. The cyclone drill was enlivened when two bigmen of the village turned up to the practice evacuation centre with full rain gear, hurricane lamps and 20ltr jerry cans of water – getting right into the spirit of things.

Anyway, at the completion of the drill, the ni-Van project manager (a woman from another island) gave a nice speech to the new disaster committee which consists of young men and women. Part of the speech was close to our hearts as language and culture researchers. In sum, it was that it was now their responsibility to seek out the elders in the community who still retained some traditional indigenous knowledge of the weather systems. They were charged with the task to learn the signs of the terrain and the animals, that could otherwise soon be lost. While mobile phones (and to some extent radios) are omni-present nowadays, during a time of crisis it is likely that these links to the outside world will be lost and the community’s well being relies on them retaining an understanding of the weather systems. They were told to try harmonize their newfound western-based knowledge of disaster planning and their people’s history. Nice.

In contrast, on Friday morning I went up to the local French high school which was having a presentation for some new EU funding for upgrading the school buildings. While I wholeheartedly agree with this kind of investment in the infrastructure, the politics behind it leave a bit to be desired. I paraphrase from one speaker:

It is important that you talk French. It will help you in finding work and building better lives. If you only talk language, you will not have access to work. Our language is [sic] not useful.

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21st of March is Harmony Day in Australia, promoted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Among ideas for teachers' lessons are:

  • Language treasure hunt: Use your class/school mates as a resource to ‘collect’ basic words or expressions in other languages.
  • Borrowed words: Search the internet to compile a list of words commonly used in English that have been borrowed from other languages.
  • Where does your name come from? Research the cultural origins of first or last names. Do they have a meaning? Are there variations of your name in other languages eg John/Ivan/ Giovanni/Johann?
  • Linguists: Find out how many people in your class/school are bilingual or multilingual.
  • Body language: Ask schoolmates from various cultural backgrounds what gestures they would use to show the following: ‘Come here’, ‘Go away’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘Crazy’, ‘OK’, ‘Good’, ‘Yes’, ‘No’.
  • Roll call: Say “good morning/afternoon” in a different language each week.
  • Diverse scripts: Can any of your classmates write in another script (eg Korean, Arabic)? Ask them to write your name in this script.


A good start but I guess this assumes that primary students mostly WON'T be learning a language other than English in any depth.

So, what to do? Well, we can all comment on the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority's start on designing a curriculum on languages.

My initial comment is that the very first ACARA question 'what is an appropriate rationale for learning languages?' blurs the fact that there are different rationales depending on what the state of the students' knowledge of the language is, and what the state of the documentation of the language is.

2. With respect to Indigenous languages, at least the following situations should be recognised.

--Indigenous languages as L1: strengthening

--Indigenous languages as L2: learning from scratch - and this in turn will differ according to how well documented the language, and whether there are speakers left of it.

There's been a fair bit of work done on learning Indigenous languages as L2 (see for example the NSW syllabus [.pdf]. But there has been very little work done on how to strengthen children's command of Indigenous languages that they speak as first languages. Go Curriculum writers!

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[from Margaret Florey, Research Network for Linguistic Diversity]

Linguists, Students of Linguistics, Community Language Activists!
InField 2010: INSTITUTE ON FIELD LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE DOCUMENTATION is now open for registration. It will be held at the University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon USA)

The Institute on Field Linguistics and Language Documentation is designed for field linguists, graduate students, and language activists to receive training in current techniques and issues in language documentation, language maintenance, and language revitalization.

Workshops: June 21st – July 2nd
Laboratory week: July 5th – July 9th
Field Training: July 5th – July 30th

You can download a poster [.pdf] here

Read more...

Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
14 March 2010

The 3L Consortium (comprising Lyon, Leiden and London (SOAS) Universities) has been running an annual series of international summer schools on language documentation and description. The first was held in Lyon in 2008, and the second was in London in 2009.

This year the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL) will host the third 3L International Summer School on Language Documentation and Description from 5th to 17th July 2010. Registration for the Summer School is now open, and information on the program, courses, instructors, and more, is available on the website.

The 3L Summer School offers a variety of courses on aspects of language documentation and description for both current and novice field linguists. Courses cover both practical and typological issues and include:

  • Practical training in fieldwork methods and grammar writing
  • Recording techniques and software for documentation, description and archiving
  • In-depth courses on specific areas such as negation, tone, and kinship terminology
  • The documentation of endangered sign Languages
  • Courses investigating various aspects of languages found in Central and South America, Indonesia, Africa, and the Caucasus

A Student Conference will be held during the Summer School on 10th July 2010, giving students an opportunity to present their ideas or research and receive feedback from their instructors and peers.

The 3L Summer School draws upon the extensive expertise of the three paricipating universities in the 3L Consortium: DDL Laboratory, University of Lyon-2, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics and the Endangered Languages Academic Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

The 3L Summer School in 2010 will be followed by the Leiden Summer School in Languages and Linguistics, which will take place from 19th to 31st July.

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.. is showing TONIGHT on ABC television 9.25 pm. It describes how in the 1960s Martu people of the Western Desert of Australia first encountered non-Indigenous Australians. It's based on the book Cleared out by Sue Davenport, Peter Johnson and Yuwali, who appears in the film.

Yuwali has lived through contact, missions, remote settlements, Native Title and desperate efforts to hold on to language and culture. In effect, her story represents a microcosm of the Aboriginal experience since settlement in 1788. [from the media release]

Review of film in The Age here.

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