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June 2010

from David Nathan, SOAS, London
29 June 2010

On Wednesday 30 June, the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS, University of London, will launch the new version of our website. The site now offers access to endangered languages (EL) resources, subject to conditions applied by depositors.

ELAR implements a new approach to the archiving and dissemination of EL resources. Our system uses a “Web 2.0” or social networking model, where information owners and information users can interact with and via the web-based system. For example, depositors can update their deposits, and manage and monitor access to them. Registered users can apply to depositors for access to restricted materials. The archive becomes redefined as a forum where users can negotiate with depositors (initially, about access; we plan to add to the possibilities of depositor/user interaction in the coming months).

ELAR’s archive system is designed specifically to meet the needs of EL community members and researchers. The processes, conventions, and interfaces of social networking are a good fit with our understanding of the needs of endangered languages documentations and its various stakeholders. While protocol (collection and observance of sensitivities and restrictions) is important for documentary linguistics, conditions of access can be diverse, yet need to be accountably managed by a “system”. Using a flexible, web-based facility makes access control, monitoring and authorisation more flexible, nuanced, and dynamic. In fact, the majority of our depositors have already indicated that they prefer to allow access as a result of application from potential users on a case-by-case basis.

We also felt that the existing genre of EL archives finds it difficult to fully meet the often-expressed, but rarely met, goal of making it equally feasible for community members to access resources. For example, viewing deposits at ELAR will show resources easily accessed by the languages speakers’ names, enabling community members to locate resources in terms of their own community/social perspectives, rather than technical or linguistic ones.

While hoping that ELAR will make a significant contribution to the development of documentary linguistics, we understand that fixes and improvements will be needed, so we sincerely invite feedback and suggestions for improvement of our site (we’ll do our best to respond, even though we are a team of only 2.5 people!).

ELAR’s online system is built around a set of protocol categories, derived from the categories on our deposit form. There are 4 major categories, each of which matches rights to access resources with the recognised roles of users. The categories are U (User - allows access to all non-restricted resources), R (Researcher - allows access to those recognised as researchers in an area relevant to linguistics or endangered languages), C (Community member - those affiliated with the language documented), and S (Subscriber - those granted individual rights to access by the depositor).

What to see: anyone can see the top pages of the site, with metadata for the deposits. For those deposits which are access-enabled (see the front page, elar.soas.ac.uk), anyone can see basic information about the deposit. To go further and see resources, all users have to register with ELAR. If you already have an ELAR user account then you can access resources, subject to their restrictions, and any additional user roles you may attain.

While about 30% of materials are completely open to access, all but a few resources in the collection are accessible to those who become recognised as a community member (decided by each depositor or their delegate), a researcher (decided by ELAR) or as a subscriber to a particular deposit (decided by the depositor or delegate upon application).

Initially, we have prepared 12 deposits for release, with the co-operation of their depositors. These deposits cover many geographic areas and a range of access types. Deposits by Lahaussois (Koyi Rai, Nepal), Chambers (Kumbokota, Solomon Islands), Jukes (Ratahan, Indonesia) and Morey (Singhpo and Turung, India) are open. Deposits by Bowern (Yan-nhangu, Australia), Jany (Chuxnabán Mixe, Mexico), Morrison (Bena, Tanzania), Caballero (Choguita Rarámuri, Mexico), Mendez (Ayutla Mixe, Mexico) and Budd (Bierebo, Vanuatu) are accessible upon application for subscription approved by the depositors. Kono’s deposit (Kiksht, USA) is currently accessible to recognised community members only. Throughout the year we will release further deposits at the rate of about one per week.

Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
22 June 2010

The Aboriginal Languages Network is a team of teachers and Aboriginal language and culture experts in Port Augusta, South Australia, and is working on language revitalisation and materials development for threatened languages spoken in northern South Australia. Mohamed Azkour at Augusta Park Primary School in Port Augusta, has developed a website of Aboriginal language materials for Adnyamathanha, Arabana and Pitjantjatjara, all spoken in Port Augusta and points north. The materials presented were developed by him and Greg Wilson of the South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS) with input from local teachers and community members.

The online materials include:

  • background information on each of the three languages
  • teacher resources that can be downloaded and printed
  • interactive games and quizzes
  • equipment and dozens of resources available locally for teacher use, including CD-ROMS, DVDs, videos, books, posters and other materials

The website is particularly useful for Arabana, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Adnyamathanha language programs, but will be of interest to others wanting to explore language learning materials and outcomes. I personally found the website design with its heavy use of Adobe Flash 10 and many animated headings a bit off-putting, but I expect children will find it encapsulates an engaging and fun approach to learning.

from Robert Mailhammer
14 June 2010

When I started working on Amurdak in 2007, I was told that the last speaker of that language had just passed away. I wasn’t discouraged by that at all, since I had spent virtually all of my previous linguistic life examining “real” dead languages, some of which we don’t even have records of. However, it soon became apparent that it was very frustrating trying to make sense of Amurdak without being able to go to a speaker and ask them about who killed whom in a particular story or what the 2nd person non-singular future tense of a particular verb was, all of which slowed down the investigation of Amurdak considerably.

However, it was known that there was at least one partial speaker of Amurdak, who lived on Croker Island, and who was also an accomplished songman of an Amurdak song series, but I never got a chance to go and work with him.

Then in late 2009, there was some indication that there might be another (partial) speaker of Amurdak in Darwin and there was also some money to go and find out. With the kind and generous help from Bruce Birch, Nick Evans and Sabine Hoeng, supported by the DobeS Iwaidja Documentation Project, plans were made to travel up to Croker Island to firstly help Bruce with some Iwaidja transcriptions and secondly to find out about this “new” speaker, and thirdly see whether I could work with Charlie Mangulda, the Amurdak songman.

When I arrived in Darwin in early May 2010, Bruce and I met up with that potential last speaker and it became quite clear that I wouldn’t get very far. On top of this we received news that Charlie Mangulda wouldn’t be available for consultation, which was particularly disappointing. But we had heard that a relative of one of Bruce’s consultants supposedly could translate the stories from the text collection Rob Handelsmann and I had published a few weeks earlier* and Sabine and Bruce had distributed among the Amurdak-affiliated community into Iwaidja when she listened to the CD. So the plan was at least to see about that.

With Bruce as an extremely generous and kind host and expert mentor I set out on my first fieldtrip...
After the first session with Rae Giribug, the above-mentioned relative, it became obvious that the story was true. Much like a professional interpreter she was translating a 20-year old recording from Amurdak into Iwaidja, one of the local languages. She could say back the words in Amurdak, translate words from Iwaidja into Amurdak and I was even able to ask about specific grammatical forms! So working nearly every day, we managed to transcribe and translate three narratives, which had been previously untouched, and we also filled in some blanks in existing transcriptions. On top of that I started trying out my theoretically and passively acquired Amurdak and by the final day of my stay we had little conversations in a language that I had only known from recordings from last century. We had started the resuscitation of Amurdak as a means of communication!

3 comments |


The latest version of the Wunderkammer mobile phone dictionary software, Wunderkammer Import Package 2 Beta, is now available for download. The major advance in this distribution is a new easy to use graphical user interface. There's also a new set of documentation to go with the new user interface.

This is a beta release. We invite bug reports and suggestions for improvement on the PFED discussion board or by e-mail at james followed by the at sign pfed dot info.

The Wunderkammer website has also got a new layout and look.

Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
8 June 2010

As I reported in this recent blog post, at least one family in South Australia is still speaking the Dieri (Diyari) Aboriginal language. During our discussions last week I took down a genealogy for seven generations of the family, and noticed something interesting about the names given to children of each generation.

The first generation for which I have information were children born around 1880 (such as Frieda Merrick, born in 1885). Many Dieri at that time were associated with Killalpaninna mission run by German Lutheran missionaries. The English language names given to children of this generation have Biblical and Germanic sources, eg. Frieda, Gottlieb, Timotheus, Katerina, Selma, Alfred and Walter.

Children of the next generation, born around 1900, typically have 'Anglo' names that were also common among the non-Aboriginal population at the time, eg. Ben, Ernest, Shirley, Myra, George, Martha, Albert, Suzie. This practice continued for the next three generations, born in the 1920s to 1960s, who had names like Arthur, Rosa, Eileen, Nora, Robert, Joan, Jeffrey, Reg and Ian. By the 1970s other names (also used among the wider population) make an appearance, such as Donica, Trevan, Kyle, Liam, Kristen, Brenton and Michele.

A change seems to have happened in the last 10 years for children born around 2000 and later. The names given to them are all 'unusual' in not being 'typically Anglo' but rather based on African-American names, especially those of popular black singers and rap artists (with a number of girl's names ending in -esha). Additionally, names of the current youngest generation are spelled in many unusual ways, with lots of unexpected consonant clusters, and even the use of punctuation in the case of De'Ron. The following are the names I collected:

Iesha Jaima Jaran
Jenola Kaiha Kanolan
Katasha Kyrahn Lailani
Lamiah Latesha Mikayla
Nikkiesha Quandelia Quanesha
Quintella Ronice Shareena
Shekogan Shonesha Sianne
Talesha Trayton Trevan
Tyrelle Vaniah Virion
Zander Zysdonehia

Colleagues living in New South Wales have noticed a similar phenomenon and reported the presence of highly distinctive and unusually spelled names among young Aboriginal children there too. There is clearly a distinctive naming system evolving for some Aboriginal groups, a system with its own dynamics though influenced by exposure to popular US black music culture.

3 comments |

Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
6 June 2010

From 1974 to 1978 I worked intensively on Dieri (Diyari), an Aboriginal language spoken in the far north of South Australia, mainly in Port Augusta and Marree. I completed my PhD, which was a descriptive grammar of Diyari, in 1978, and published a revised version with Cambridge University Press in 1981. I later published some texts in Diyari, and in 1988 together with Luise Hercus and Philip Jones published a life-history of Ben Murray, one of our main consultants, in the journal Aboriginal History.

Since 1978, jobs in the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany and the UK have kept me busy working on other languages and other topics. My last fieldtrip to South Australia was in 1977. At that time there were about 12 fluent speakers of Diyari, all aged over 50, and in the intervening years all of them have died (Ben Murray passed away in 1994 aged 101). According to the latest edition of Ethnologue Dieri (DIF) is now "extinct".

This year I am taking my first sabbatical leave since starting work at SOAS over 7 years ago, and have had the opportunity to return to Australia for an extended visit and to start to think about Diyari again. In 2009 I was contacted by Greg Wilson, South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS), who told me about a pilot project to introduce the language into schools in South Australia with sponsorship from the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) (which just last year purchased Marree Station for the Dieri people - see photos) and financial support from the Australian Federal Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). For the past year Greg has worked on creating a CD-ROM of basic language materials in Dieri (as the community members prefer to call it) recording words and simple sentences from a number of people in Port Augusta, Whyalla and Adelaide. At the beginning of this year DAC, with DEWHA funding, asked Greg to start a main phase project to develop Dieri language lessons for R-12 students. He had already produced a massive program for the neighbouring Arabana language, using materials from Luise Hercus' grammar and dictionary, and working with a number of Arabana speakers, however it looked like the same would not be possible for Dieri as the level of language knowledge seemed much more fragmentary.

Last week Greg organised for me to visit South Australia and travel with him to Port Augusta to meet members of the Dieri community, especially Winnie Naylon and Renie Warren, and their children and grand-children. They are sisters, and the grand-daughters of one of my main consultants from the 1970s, the late Frieda Merrick. Frieda was born in 1885 (she passed away in 1978) and had spent her early years at Killalpaninna Mission that was run by Lutheran missionaries and where Dieri was the main language in use. Her husband Gottlieb Merrick had also been involved with the mission. Frieda spoke only Dieri to her daughters, one of whom was Suzie Kennedy, the mother of Renie and Winnie. I once had the opportunity to interview Suzie Kennedy in 1974 but she was very busy with her family and the opportunity to work with her didn't arise again.

Renie Warren and her son Reg remembered me from my visits to study Dieri with their grand-mother (and great-grand-mother), and once initial shyness had passed, helped along by a few jokes (my saying nhawu parlali nganayi yingkangu and yidni piti thungka nganayi had the whole room in stitches), it turned out that Renie was very fluent in Dieri, easily able to converse and tell stories. She even told me yidni manyu marla yathayi Diyari yawarra 'You speak Dieri really well', quite a complement for someone who hadn't spoken the language for 33 years!

Greg and I got to work on Lesson 1 of the Dieri language program, recording Winnie and Renie, as well as Reg, who is pretty fluent, despite having spent the past 20 years away from Dieri country working on various mining projects (he is currently working as a driving instructor for the massive dump trucks used to cart ore in the Pilbara). Renie's grandson Robert also joined in with recording bird names.

So, Dieri (Diyari) is not extinct, indeed far from it. The language has been kept alive continuously within this family, and now I have had the pleasure of studying Dieri with five successive generations. In the future I hope to assist Greg and the community with development of further language learning materials.

1 comments |

A handsome invitation to Ingkerr anyent-antey, the language of batik dropped into my e-mail this morning ( thanks Margaret!).
ingkerr anyent-antey - the language of batik invite.jpg

1 comments |

If you are forced into evaluating scholarly work, consider the Linguistic Society of America's resolution on annotated language documentation materials (and see the RNLD list on this).

"Therefore the Linguistic Society of America supports the recognition of these materials as scholarly contributions to be given weight in the awarding of advanced degrees and in decisions on hiring, tenure, and promotion of faculty. It supports the development of appropriate means of review of such works so that their functionality, import, and scope can be assessed relative to other language resources and to more traditional publications."

To which add grant applications [ update [ tx Claire!]- as places where track records get brutally evaluated by strangers ].

An article in an edited conference proceedings published by a scholarly vanity press counts for something. But it counts for NOTHING to have a carefully recorded, annotated, translated and archive corpus of recordings from say a year's fieldwork, which would have taken at least a further year to create. The one creates something that most people will never read; the other creates something whose value is enduring. Result: scholarly vanity presses are springing up to cater for people's need for publications. Possible solution: set up a scholarly vanity press for 'publishing' corpora. Call them books?


Thanks to Margaret Florey on the RNLD list, I was led to the webpage of the Aboriginal Languages Research and Resource Centre (The Languages Centre) of NSW. It has a fair bit of useful information.

Money for one - they're offering grants for work on NSW languages - $5,000 per project for smaller projects and $25,000 for larger projects. Applications for the larger grants close on 11 June 2010..

And they're going to have "a state-wide Aboriginal languages forum"

And they have useful information - like the existence of language programs in gaols.

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