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I've had a wonderful time over the last 5 years attending various HCSNet (Human Communication Sciences Network) summer schools and workshops. So it was sad to take part in the last WinterFest a couple of weeks ago at Bowral. I learned heaps from the courses (slides for most here) - I've listened to 2 tutorials on aspects of psycholinguistics and speech pathology (which made me even keener than ever not to get a stroke) and a fabulous presentation by Katherine Demuth on prosodic effects on child language acquisition, enjoyed one by David Hawking on how search engines work, given one on the syntaxes of Australian Aboriginal languages, and learned heaps from Myf Turpin on songs in Australia and from Andy Butcher on the phonetics of Australian languages.

Andy was describing how, while each general property of the phonologies of Australian sound systems can be found elsewhere (many places of articulation, no fricatives, no voicing contrast, no really high vowels), the whole package is perhaps unique. And he was speculating about functional pressures that might lead to the development of such systems - a reduction in the need to hear high and low frequencies would benefit people with hearing loss from middle ear infections. Great talk, great slides.

Andy very kindly gave me a copy, and boy am I hoping to use them (with suitable copyright acknowledgement of course!). it made me realise that what I really really would like is an open access powerpoint collection of slides that people were happy for others to use (with acknowledgement on the slides). It takes me FOREOVER to prepare powerpoints. And even so my layouts and diagrams are usually prettttttttty low-rent. Doing a handout is so much faster.

I am sorry that HCSNet's funding is finishing. It's been an excellent pilot answer to a major problem faced by researchers in Australia. That is, very often our home departments are too small to nurture a really productive research climate, while the university funding system has unfortunately promoted compartmentalisation, so that researchers rarely come into contact with people from other disciplines - lack of opportunity and lack of time. This has bad consequences for research training. In the Netherlands, a country with a similar population to Australia, and similar problems with small departments, a country-wide graduate summer school system has been institutionalised and financed by the Government for fields such as linguistics, in order to esnure that graduate students are exposed to a wide range of ideas. The HCSNet workshops and summer schools have acted as a successful pilot for such a system.

If you, like me, have benefited from the HCSNet workshops and summer schools, and want to see them continue, Chris Cassidy is collecting letters of support - go here for more information.

Comments

One big problem with the Otitis media story is that there are plenty of other areas with infection rates which are just as high or higher (Iñupiaq/Yup'ik areas, for example). Forget causation, even the correlation isn't that great.

Jane - there is an open access Powerpoint collection of slides on Slideshare. You can find some of my presentation slides here (they have attracted 360 views in the past 3 months). I encourage colleagues to submit their slides as well so that this becomes the kind of resource you seem to have in mind.

Andy emphasised his correlation was speculative and fairly unverifiable, but he did note that apparently remote Australian communities are, sadly, off-scale in the rate of otitis media, and that the next highest rate in the world of long-term middle ear infection is in some Tamil-speaking areas.

Peter, thanks - good to know & use

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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