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[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
02 December 2010
[ update 6/12/2010: some missing links now added ]
It is by now well known that around half (or possibly more) of the world's 7,000 languages are endangered and under threat of disappearance during the current century. Perhaps less well known is that many languages that are not (yet) endangered show certain genres, or ways of using the language, that are endangered in that there are few people who can perform them and occasions for their use are diminishing. We could refer to these as "endangered genres". (Doing a Google search on "endangered genre" turns up things like "English language programmes are an endangered genre on Singapore television" or "westerns are an endangered genre of movies" -- you won't find much of linguistic relevance).

One such endangered genre is a literary tradition practised by the Sasak people of Lombok, eastern Indonesia, of writing on the dried leaves of the lontar palm (Borassus flabellifer), or, since the 1970's, on paper. The lontar manuscripts are written in Kawi, a form of middle Javanese, or Sasak, or a mixture of both. The manuscripts are read during performances which must involve several readers and an audience. Historical evidence suggests that this writing and reading tradition originated from contact between the Sasak and their westerly neighbours the Javanese and Balinese, who dominated various parts of Lombok at different times from the 17th to the 19th centuries. In a paper just published in Volume 8 of the journal Language Documentation and Description I discuss the tradition and argue that it is now endangered as there are probably only 100 people (among a population of 2.5 million) who can read the manuscripts, and performances are discouraged due to cultural associations which conservative Islamic groups on Lombok do not approve of.

The Makassarese people of south-west Sulawesi have a similar literary tradition which they call lontara' (which is also the name for the script used to write Makassarese and several other Sulawesi languages, including Bugis and Mandar). There is a separate old Makassarese script which was used to write lontara' before the Bugis script replaced it in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are collections of Makassarese lontara' in the Netherlands, Jakarta and the National Archives of South Sulawesi (written in both old Makassarese and Bugis scripts), most of which have been microfilmed and catalogued, but are deteriorating. Last year the South Sulawesi government is reported to have allocated IDR 500 million (about USD 55,000) for the preservation of ancient lontara' in the Archives.

Anthony Jukes of the La Trobe University Linguistics Department has been working on Makassarese for many years and he found that many of his consultants living in the city of Makassar knew of the Makassarese lontara' and that a small number of them could read manuscripts written on the Bugis script (quite a few scholars and specialists in the city are still good at reading Bugis lontara' in Bugis script). No-one is able to read lontara' written in the old Makassarese script.

Anthony was recently awarded a small research grant by the Endangered Archives Programme run by the British Library to investigate contemporary use of lontara' and to identify whether there were any additional manuscripts held in private hands which might be able to be photographed. He is currently in Sulawesi and reports by Google chat that in a village outside the city he has found:

"quite a few. In the kampungs people still write them. I found a lot from the 1950s onwards, written in exercise books in ballpoint pen, and a few that look like they are over 100 years old. Mostly they are writing them as information, to be read individually: histories, myths, mysticism, calendars for planting etc. I recorded some performances of people reading yesterday. I'm also making a few sample images and generally testing willingness of people to let them be photographed."

This is an exciting discovery and suggests that further research in collaboration with local scholars may well reveal a wealth of new material, as well as opportunities to document both the manuscripts and reading and writing performances.

One interesting aspect of Anthony's research is that he is using his personal Apple iPad to display photographs of lontara' in old Makassarese script from Dutch collections -- the iPad is ideal in that it has long battery life and enables easy and rapid access to images, as well as zooming in to parts of them. He writes:

"I showed some of the old men the old manuscript pictures on my iPad. One of them, Daeng Tiro, had never used a computer or even a mobile phone before, but he got how to use the iPad in seconds. He was piching, twisting, scrolling etc. like a pro. Steve Jobs would have been proud"


So, the latest technology meets an endangered genre and a pilot project turns up exciting new material and potential opportunities for documentation, preservation and research.

Note: Many thanks to Anthony Jukes for reading and correcting an earlier version of this post and for sharing his experiences and photographs.


Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
26th September 2010

About 18 months ago I wrote a blog post about potential sources of funding for endangered languages research. I identified three main types of funders: governmental grant bodies, non-governmental grant bodies, and endangered languages grant bodies. The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP), which is a sister to the Academic Programme (ELAP) and the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS, is one of the largest in the last category, distributing around GBP 1million per year in competitive grants.

As part of my current interest in meta-documentation, that is the documentation of language documentation (see this recent conference abstract, and a differently focussed workshop abstract [.pdf]), I have been looking at how granting agencies, and ELDP in particular, spend their funds. Where is funded research being carried out and where is the money being allocated to? Are there any changes over time that can be observed?

I chose to look at ELDP because it has global coverage in terms of the research areas it is interested in and in terms of which researchers it is prepared to fund. It also publishes information about the grantees and the size of the grants awarded, so data collection is easy. Volkswagen Foundation, in contrast, requires a German component in their DoBeS projects, while NSF-NEH Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) grants are restricted to US Institutions.

I wish to make it clear that although ELDP is administered by SOAS staff, its grant decision making processes are entirely independent of SOAS and are carried out by an International Panel chaired by Andrew Spencer of the University of Essex. The opinions I am expressing here are also independent of ELDP itself.

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[from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
21 April 2010

The Institute for Linguistics and Language Studies (ILLS) at The University of Manchester and the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies are co-organising a fieldwork training workshop to be held in Manchester on 20th May. This event is aimed at both postgraduate students and lecturers with an interest in teaching field methods for the study of linguistic variation and non-standard varieties. Topics to be covered include the documentation approach to language data, quantitative and qualitative methods in urban sociolinguistic fieldwork, fieldwork challenges in the study of micro-variation at the syntax/semantics interface in cognate languages, and conducting large-scale dialect surveys (grammar and lexicon). There will also be a roundtable discussion on ethical issues in fieldwork and a forum on issues arising in teaching field methods.

The workshop is aimed at both postgraduate students and lecturers with an interest in teaching field methods for the study of linguistic variation and non-standard varieties. There is no charge to attend for employees and postgraduate students of publicly funded UK higher educational institutions and other institutions with a subscription to the Higher Education Academy. There is a small charge for others to attend, and travel bursaries are available. For more details and to enrol see the LLAS website.

This is the third fieldwork training event to be held in the UK in the past year. The previous two were in London at the SOAS Linguistics Department in May 2009 and December 2009.

This semester, I have been helping out Jane with her wonderful Field Methods class in technical matters such as recording, uploading files onto the server and allowing students to securely and quickly download both .wav and .mp3 files. I took this course myself some years ago, and it was a great experience for me and the whole class, and many members of that class have continued on in their studies to do field research of their own, and I'm sure the Field Methods class was as much a help to their research as it was to mine.

But this post is not about when I took the class. Instead, it's about how I almost buggered up this semester's class in what can best be described as a lesson in keeping backups of your recordings.

(Warning: Some computer nerd stuff follows after the fold.)

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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


In 2006 Tom Honeyman began an e-thread on the benefits of and complications relating to using digital video to record natural conversation in a fieldwork setting (see also here, here and here and here). For several years I have been trying to record conversation without actually being present to monitor the recordings. It can be quite tricky because there are so many variables. Mostly I haven’t been completely satisfied with the results. I began by using straight audio, partly because it is easier to bring it off successfully but then the visual information was sadly lacking. My first attempts with video were not very successful, partly because of inadequate equipment. I had a large imposing camera with a huge tripod. The resultant recordings were far from naturalistic. Three years ago I said that I hoped for success adapting techniques reported here, for audio, to video. It has taken a while to provide an update because even with a smaller camera, I felt I hadn’t got the mike placement right, or the images were overexposed, or they weren’t clear enough to see people’s faces easily. In fact I’ve been getting sick of trying to transcribe this sort of material. On my latest fieldtrip I was determined to do a really good recording. This meant getting outdoors in the bush, away from the sounds of ceiling fans, vehicles, aeroplanes and whippersnippers.

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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
17 October 2009

The Department of Linguistics at SOAS and the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies are jointly organising a workshop on teaching linguistic fieldwork and sustainability on Friday 4th December 2009. The workshop is intended for both experienced and novice lecturers and students of Field Linguistics, and will introduce them to knowledge and skills from a wide range of areas in linguistic theory and practice, with a focus on learning about "real world" language problems and solutions.

The workshop is aimed at students interested in learning more about fieldwork, and staff who are considering how fieldwork might fit into the linguistics curriculum. There will be two strands – one for beginners who are interested but have no experience of fieldwork, and one for advanced who have some fieldwork experience or have participated in a field methods course. For beginners, we will cover a range of fieldwork types, including language documentation and urban sociolinguistic fieldwork. For the advanced group topics will include language and culture documentation, sustainable documentation methods and phonetic fieldwork.

Presentations will be given by staff and post-graduate students from SOAS, Queen Mary University, Manchester University and Edinburgh University.



Now calling for papers and for registration of participants.

Following the successful recent Papuanists' Workshops in Sydney, the ANU Papuanists will be hosting a weekend of Papuanist talks at the Kioloa coast campus (c. 3 hours from Canberra and 3.5 hours from Sydney) from 2 pm Friday 30th October to early afternoon Sunday 1st November, with a bushwalk up Pigeon House planned for the Saturday afternoon.

Anyone who has an interest in Papuan languages and linguistics is invited to come and present a paper or just listen to other people's papers and join in the discussion.


From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
9th May 2009

It seems that linguistic fieldwork has become a topic that is attracting quite a lot of interest lately. As Sheena Van Der Mark from La Trobe University recently wrote, there will be a workshop on Non-linguistic aspects of fieldwork at the Australian Linguistic Society annual conference in July.

On the 22nd of this month, SOAS Linguistics Department will be hosting a workshop on Teaching field linguistics techniques, organised in conjunction with the LLAS, the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, the UK national body which supports teaching of languages, linguistics and area studies in higher education. We anticipate roughly 40 attendees, including students interested in learning more about fieldwork, and staff who are considering how fieldwork might fit into the linguistics curriculum. Presentations will be given by staff and post-graduate students from SOAS, Manchester University and Queen Mary, University of London, covering the following topics (in line with my remarks from two years ago here and here (see especially the comments section), we are aiming to cover a range of fieldwork types, including language documentation-type fieldwork and urban sociolinguistic-type fieldwork):


[passed on from the Foundation for Endangered Languages]

Media release:

Sacred Earth Network, a non-profit organization located in Petersham, Massachusetts, is continuing its Endangered Languages Program after its successful launch in 2008. Endangered Languages Program aims to support preservation and revival of those indigenous languages which are threatened with extinction and which are vital to indigenous cultures of Siberia and North/Central America. One of the components of the Program is financial assistance to projects working towards these goals. In 2008 we offered assistance to eight grassroots language preservation projects in Russia and the US.

With the deadline approaching soon - May 15th 2009, we would like to spread the word out to underfunded grassroots initiatives about financial assistance that we are offering to projects that work towards preservation of indigenous languages particularly in North America.

We are very much hoping for your assistance in dissemination of this information among interested organizations and individuals. If you would like to post this information on your website or newsletter you are encouraged to do this. If you would like to point out further contacts the coordinator would be very grateful as well.

Please address inquiries about the Endangered Languages Program to the Program's Coordinator, Mariyam Medovaya, at mariyamsacredearth AT gmail.com

The problem: you have text files and audio files, but the text files are not aligned to the audio files.

I imagine there are a few readers out there who have transcriptions of audio files that never made it past an utterance per line text file. This is a post for you, if you'd like to know how to import and time-align those files in ELAN.

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[from Jeremy Hammond, who's writing a grammar of Whitesands]

I was standing at the airport on Sunday night as you do, when I bumped into the director of Ausaid services in Vanuatu. One of the big things that they are doing this year is allowing volunteers to go and stay for long periods on outer islands. For linguists this means access to remote communities and languages that have had little work done on them.

Having just come back from living on an outer Island in Vanuatu I can strongly recommend going there to do work. Plenty of pluses; it is close and accessible to Australia/NZ so you will get plenty of visitors (if you want), the people are super friendly and the environment (outside of Vila) is not yet spoiled.

Languages there are changing very quickly (like elsewhere) but the kids still mainly learn a vernacular until about 5 years old and in general there is a strong attachment to their language, identity and culture. But change can happen quickly and who wants to lose more indigenous knowledge.

Anyway I was alerted to this position at the Malakula Kaljorol Senta (MKS) , who are looking for a resident cultural officer to particularly look after vernacular development (for 2 years).

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

On 28th and 29th February 2008 the CASTL,The Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics, at the Universitetet i Tromsø organised a Workshop om dokumentasjon og revitalisering av samiske språk “Workshop on documentation and revitalisation of Saami languages”. The workshop was attended by 52 people from nine countries, including Canada, UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, and all the Nordic countries, and brought together researchers and Saami scholars to create a network to support current and future work on documentation and revitalisation of all varieties of Saami.

I was invited to the workshop to talk about HRELP, the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, including the training, archiving and granting work that the three components of HRELP are concerned with. Following my presentation, and in the general discussion session on Friday afternoon, there was a great deal of talk about how to apply for funds to support endangered languages work and to set up research networks (a topic also covered in the Training Course David Nathan and I ran in Japan that I blogged about here).

There are three main competitive funding sources that researchers and communities can apply to for funding:

  1. General research grant bodies for the Humanities and Social Sciences set up by governments, such as the UK AHRC and SSRC, Australian ARC, Norwegian Forskingsrådet, German DFG and so on;

  2. Non-government grant bodies such as Unesco, the Christensen Fund, the Endangered Archives Programme sponsored by Arcadia and managed by the British Library (this funds archival work which can include endangered languages materials)
    and so on;

  3. Endangered languages grant bodies which deal with research on endangered languages only, such as:

    • DoBeS project of the Volkswagen Foundation
    • ELDP Endangered Languages Documentation Programme sponsored by Arcadia.
    • DEL interagency programme of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment of the Humanities
    • FEL Foundation for Endangered Languages
    • ELF Endangered Languages Fund
    • GBS, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen, whose current call for grant proposals is available in English here [pdf].

    I will refer to the second group as “NGO grant bodies”, and the last group as “EL grant bodies” below. Note that I am not discussing other funding sources that may be used to support language work such as local employment creation projects; these are usually specific to particular places and it is difficult to generalise about them.


A blog reader writes:

I am continuing at a painfully slow pace to try to organize old field notes on Language L. [..] I have recordings [from the 1960s]. Some are just word lists of no great significance now. However, others are stories of various kinds and I wonder about reproducing them at least in printed form. My question is about the need to obtain permission from the speaker. I know some speakers have died; some are still alive; others I have no idea about and making contact will be difficult. [But someone is hopefully willing to help]. I have read about the general question of rights but am not sure what is generally considered best practice.

So, at least for people I know are alive and I think I can contact and get a response from, is there a form you can recommend which I could use to obtain permission to reproduce in print the stories they recorded? Does your department have guidelines for this sort of thing?

The only people I am likely to be able to contact have sufficiently good English to know what they are signing. However, for some of the people I recorded a Language L version would be more appropriate, which then brings up the problem of creating such a document in L.

Few speakers currently have web access, although that could change quickly. For example, the number of mobile phones in villages was generally fairly limited until a few months ago. Now it seems that, due to a new phone company arriving in PNG, many people in the village of 3,000 plus people have them. And the phones are used a lot for intra-village communication. It would only take a drop in the current high price of internet access and the arrival of cheaper computers for a similar big change to occur.

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[ From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

We have a number of PhD students at SOAS who are working on languages spoken in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. In addition to the usual hazards of fieldwork like biting animals, malaria and other tropical diseases, and the occasional tsunami our students now have another thing to watch out for: Australian immigration officials. All of them have to stop over in Australia on their way to the field and if the recent experiences of one student (I’ll call him “AB” for convenience, mindful of the fact that he has to go through Sydney on his way back to London) are anything to go by, the apparent fear and paranoia that is present on entry to Australia is yet another fieldwork hassle.

The student concerned is of Greek descent, born in Romania and officially registered with a Romanian name (as required by that country, which, along with a number of others, demands that minorities take names that conform to the style of the majority population). The circumstances of his birth led to a problem when he got to Sydney.

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[From Lise Dobrin, our correspondent in Virginia]

The media blitz on David Harrison and Greg Anderson's recent Expedition to a Hot Spot has given everyone (including my mother!) a chance to reflect on what endangered language work really ought to be about. We shouldn't be parachuting in and out. We should be putting our money into *real* documentation, not demo documentation. We shouldn't be putting money into documentation at all, but into community revitalization programs (see Ellen Lutz's 24-9-07 letter in the NYTimes). We should be working to better use the press. No, we should become the press!

But what I find most remarkable about the whole story is this: a couple of linguists start a non-profit to further their own language documentation work. What? Since when do we do that? You can argue the finer points of Greg and David's methods, or who is (or ought to be) reaping the benefits, but irregardless, their model is an interesting one: if you want to do something that the academic/big agency funding model is not ideally suited to support, nothing is stopping you from creating an institution and doing it on your own instead. The university is not the only possible institutional setting for our work, and it may not always be the best one. It's just the one many of us are used to.

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To celebrate the article coauthored with Laura Robinson at Hawai'i just released (which Jane beat me to mentioning first!), here's an article I've had stored up for a while... Note that the LDC article brings together and extends many of the elements discussed in my 3 previous articles from last year (1, 2, 3). In that series I hinted at using a petrol generator as a potential power source. Today I'd like to look some alternative set ups, ranging from the practical to the bizarre.


[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

I have been thinking a bit about fieldwork methodologies (see my post on CDFM and the places where we can do fieldwork, such as London). It turns out I am not alone in this. In a recent discussion with David Nathan, Geoff Haig made the following points (thanks Geoff for allowing me to quote from your email exchange):

“The dominant paradigm for field-work / documentation still seems to be based on something like an "exotic village"-setting, where the fieldworker comes from outside into a very different culture, adapts, observes as much as possible "in situ" what is going on, and then leaves. But there is a vast potential for documentation among diaspora communities, that is, communities who have more or less permanently left (or been forced to leave) their traditional settlements for (mostly) urban environments in the west; such communities may well attempt to preserve their language/culture in the new environment. This kind of context actually demands a rather different approach from the investigator, because the respective roles of the investigator and the community are quite different - but it also opens up a host of quite interesting perspectives on how documentation can be done. One can of course bemoan the lack of "pristine authenticity" of such contexts, but with migration on a global scale increasing steadily, it seems to me that much language/cultural documentation in the future is simply going to have to take such mixed contexts seriously, and develop its methodology accordingly.”

Some commentators are dead opposed to this view. Perhaps the most vocal is Sasha Aikhenvald.

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[Nick Thieberger, PARADISEC, Melbourne University branch, sent in this post after The Puliima National Indigenous Languages Information Communication Technology Forum.]

This forum was held in Newcastle, Australia, 24-26 April 2007, coordinated by the Awarbukarl Cultural Resource Association (ACRA). Subtitled 'Modern ways for ancient words', it was organised by Daryn McKenny and his team (including Dianna Newman and Faith Baisden) who put together two and a half days of presentations on the state of ICT in Indigenous language (IL) programs. The forum had a number of sponsors, testament to Daryn's ability to pull in support from various quarters, including DCITA, Telstra, Microsoft among others.

Representatives of language programs and language centres came from far and wide, including Townsville, Cairns, Port Hedland, Kalgoorlie, Bourke, Adelaide, Nambucca Heads, Sydney, Melbourne, Walgett, the Kimberley and New Zealand. We were given lots of information over the two days that I was there (I missed the last morning) and I'll try to summarise it here. Apologies to anyone I've left out.

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

As someone who is currently supervising PhD students undertaking fieldwork in various locations around the world, the health and safety of my students is a fundamental concern. This was especially brought home a week ago when an 8.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated coastal villages in the western Solomon Islands, including the village on Ranongga Island where one of our PhD students is working. Fortunately she was in a boat at sea when the earthquake hit and was OK; the same cannot be said for Ranongga Island however. Communications with the area are difficult but it appears that several people died, many were injured, and the village and everything in it (including her fieldnotes and equipment) may have been destroyed.

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

I spent last week in Lyon working on plans for collaborative teaching and research with Colette Grinevald and her colleagues at Lyon-2 University and the CNRS DDL research laboratory. This will include a summer school on language documentation planned for June-July 2008 (we will announce more details soon), joint workshops and conferences, and development of a European Masters programme.

On Saturday (31st March) Michel Bert, who also teaches at Lyon-2 and is a researcher in the CNRS ICAR research laboratory, invited Colette and me to accompany him south from Lyon along the Rhône River to visit the field sites where he has been collecting data on the Franco-Provençal language over the past 10 years. Michel's PhD dissertation is a detailed study of this language based on data he collected from over 150 consultants.


This week was the start of the Field Methods class. There are about ten of us, undergraduates and postgrads, with a range of interests, from about-to-head-off-to-the-field, to thinking-about-maybe-heading-off, to love-hearing-language-sounds, to love-language-and-technology, to I-think-I'll-change-to-theory. I 'm hoping that our class can keep up a weekly commentary on what's been happening. I'm also hoping that together with the local PARADISEC people, Tom Honeyman, Aidan Wilson, Amanda Harris and Vi King Lim, we can create a space on the PARADISEC links web-site to put up final versions of useful information we create, and links to other people's useful information. And of course, I'm hoping that we get suggestions for improving all of this!


• the Central Australian Linguistics Circle call for papers on language description, education, literacy and indigenous knowledge. Friday 20 - Saturday 21, April 2007, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs Campus, Australia.

• the programme for the Pearl Beach Workshop on Australian Languages Friday 16 - Sunday 18, March 2007, Pearl Beach, Australia.

• a reminder that registration is open (and places are limited) for Puliima National Indigenous Languages and Information Communication Technology Forum, 24th - 26th April, 2007, Newcastle, Australia.

• a seminar on Maori tattooing (Tā Moko), 17 and 18 March 2007, at Wesley College, University of Sydney, Australia. (Information from curtis AT oceaniagroup.ac.nz)

A post by Valerie Guerin on the Research Network for Linguistics Diversity list leads to a new source of funding open to individuals, groups, and organizations for language work (the Genographic Legacy Fund) on endangered languages (grant application deadline June 15 and December 15).

It also leads to a rather interesting web-site which has time-aligned maps showing the distribution of human genetic markers, and 'highlights of the human journey'. The latter include sites of occupation like Panaramitee and Arnhem Land as Sahul sites, languages like Burushaski and Na-Dene, and a map of modern language family distribution (only rock-solid families included: Australia and the Americas are listed as "Indo-European" and "Other", while PNG is "Austronesian" and "Other" ).


I bought myself a new digital SLR camera for Christmas, and it revived in me a love for photography. Back in my teenage years I had an Olympus OM-1 - the classic journalism camera of the seventies. I'd run around shooting everything and then come back home to process the film. Fortunately my school had a great darkroom set up... although, it sucked up a lot of time I should have spent on other things.

Its great to have full control of the image again, and I'm not feeling too nostalgic about the darkroom side of things (although that was half the fun!). Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras give you a lot of control over your image, but there are several things that you need to know to get started. But even if you're not into the raw technicalities, you can take good photos with a point and shoot camera.

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15 Jan

Just spotted this nifty cross-platform (if your platform isn't linux...) app via makezine and had a go.



Dear ELAN Workshop attendees, and anyone who might find this of interest,

There were a few loose ends left at the end of the ELAN workshop last week. I'd particularly like to address one, the question as to whether we should aim for a standard set of ELAN templates which everyone uses.

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Yesterday brought two good news stories: an Indigenous linguist has been honoured as the Northern Territory's Australian of the Year, and the first relic of the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt's last journey has been authenticated.


Check out the latest Language Archives Network News [sorry Dave!]newsletter here. It's got helpful information on how the Max Planck Institute (Nijmegen) can help you set up a local archive, a system of cataloguing linguistics information (IMDI) about your recordings, and on getting permanent unique resource identifiers for stuff stored on the web. And it's also got an article on recording information about plants and animals in the field that you might read in conjunction with Tom's post on this topic.


from the website:

In the past, four International Conferences for East Nusantara Linguistics have been held; three in Leiden (1998, 2001, 2005), and one at the ANU in Canberra (2000). With this fifth conference the location moves to Indonesia, and more specifically to the East Nusantara region. Also, the focus of the conference has been expanded to include both language and culture. The conference will be hosted by Universitas Nusa Cendana (UNDANA), with the support of Prof. Dr. Frans Umbu Datta, Rektor.

The aim of this conference is to bring together linguists, anthropologists, ethnolgraphers, musicologists, and others who work in the east Nusantara region to share the results of their research with each other. The East Nusantara region includes eastern Indonesia and East Timor, and Austronesian as well as non-Austronesian languages.

The confernce will be held at the UNDANA Language Center (Pusat Bahasa) on the Penfui campus. A welcome gathering will be held on the evening of 1 August. Main conference presentations will take place 2-3 August, with a conference dinner on 2 August. The main conference will be followed by a one-day workshop on Alor-Pantar(-Timur) languages on 4 August. More information on this workshop will be circulated through a separate announcement.


Our December conference is almost full, so if you were thinking of coming along, now is the time to register! The preliminary schedule is up, papers have been reviewed, everything is going along nicely (touch wood).

The third day of the conference is a workshop, with sections on audio and video recording, transcribing and managing your data, and producing outputs from this data. If this is more your thing you can come to just that. If you're interested in ELAN for transcribing or shoebox/toolbox, I thoroughly recommend it, but there'll be plenty of other useful stuff.

In Central Australia, you often see Aboriginal people sitting on the ground, talking, and simultaneously drawing on the sand, smoothing it over when they've finished a point, and starting again. They might be recounting places along a journey, listing family members, drawing maps, or describing the movement of characters in a story. I'll call this 'sand talk'.

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The Australian Research Council's website today has survived the pressure of everyone wanting to know whether they've got winning tickets. I was in a few syndicates (PARADISEC, continuing the Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition (ACLA project), and a new project on Indonesian). And the lucky winners are...

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The preliminary schedule for the conference "Sustainable data from digital fieldwork: from creation to archive and back" is now up. There looks to be some really interesting projects on display. I had a sneak peek at EOPAS, a project to create a workflow and display interlinearised texts, and annodex, a project to display multiple streams of visual, audio and textual data, both of which look great. I'll also be talking about the FieldHelper tool I've been working on this year, a tool to add in the tagging of arbitrary metadata to field work data, amongst other things.

Our registration quota of 40 places is fast filling up. Please register now if you wish to come, also note that you can choose to come to the third day workshop if your interest in more in practical experience with current digital field work tools.


Behaving in a good way to the people one is working with is vital - unethical researchers do damage to communities in the short-term. And they do incalculable longterm damage, because communities that feel burned by researchers will reject other research proposals which might benefit them. There's a new publication addressed to Indigenous people on how to deal with health researchers. It's a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) booklet Keeping research on track: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about health research ethics. In the past, the NHMRC guidelines for working with Indigenous people have been taken as models in other disciplines. And so it's important for us to look at them, even though linguists don't go sticking needles into people, and a grammar is of less direct benefit than the results of a study of the causes of kidney failure.

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RNLD in collaboration with the conference "Sustainable data from fieldwork" is offering a day-long session on the creation, organisation, annotation and display of digital media. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in making digital recordings and annotating them. If you're new to shoebox or ELAN and have any questions about using it, and you have your own data, then bring along your laptop. The workshop will be held at Sydney University on Wednesday, December 6, 2006.

Read on for the specifics


Here is a technological update to my previous posting on recording conversation.
I consider myself very privileged to be able to visit the Department of Linguistics at UCSB, where I have been lucky enough to audit a number of courses, including Jack Du Bois’ course on discourse transcription. Today we were introduced to a very nice piece of equipment, the Edirol R-09 ultra-portable flash ram recorder. This piece of equipment is about the same dimensions as an i-pod, although a bit fatter.

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Every dead ethnographer (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) had a tin trunk in which all the information on the people, the language, the culture, anything, yes anything you want to know, could be found. But, I'm sorry, aunty died last week, and we don't know WHERE that tin trunk is now. (Source of observation: Michael Walsh). The anthropologist Ursula McConnel who worked with Wik Mungkan people on Cape York Peninsula, died in 1957, and people have been looking for her trunk ever since.

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Registration for the Human Communication Sciences Network SummerFest06 (Nov 27th - Dec 1st) opens today. There looks to be an interesting line up of courses. I'm hoping I can head along to the courses on Bayesian Networks and Markov Models and Statistics for Linguistics amongst others.

I heard that Trevor Johnston's course on sign languages was excellent. I'll definitely be going along to that one.

And... OK so this is a shameless plug: I hope Introduction to Fieldwork Methods will be fun ;-)

There's an interesting post on slashdot today, on a product that will geo-tag your photos. Geo-tagging a photo means recording some geographic information at the time you take your photo, typically the longitude and latitude.

At first glance I thought it might be another on of these data-loggers, but actually, with a minor addition, it's a pretty nifty bit of hardware.


(Following a previous post and a reply from Claire at Anggarrgoon)

Is it possible to reduce the intrusiveness of video taping someone?

Before I launch into this... let me just say: "flashing lights and ethical alarm bells!". What I'm going to talk about is the paradox of fully informing your informants that you're going film them, and then trying your hardest to seem like you're not there!

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Media Cannibals

19 Sep

Media watch devoted their entire episode on the 18th of September to analysis of this embarrassing stoush between channel 7 and channel 9. Until next monday, you can view this week's Media Watch online, the transcripts should be up for a bit longer than that.

Perhaps my only criticism on the Media Watch coverage is that they focused mostly on the content of the fight between the two channels, but didn't look so much at how ridiculously improbable the scenario was. I guess a follow up on this Paul Raffaele character, and a real discussion of life and hardships of people living in Papua (AIDS springs to mind...amongst many other issues), is content for a real news show rather than a show that critiques the media...

incidentally...I love the title "why 7 ate 9"

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It seems that Channels 7 and 9 want to persist in their policy of sensationalist misinformation about the Korowai of Papua. The only cannibals involved here are the news teams of Channels 7 and 9 feeding on each other. While the Korowai did practice cannibalism in the past, there have been no reported cases for over 20 years. There have been missionaries based the Korowai region since the 1980s and they have not reported any cases on the killing and eating of kakwa 'male sorcerers'. Nor is the group uncontacted or unstudied, as claimed by Channel 9; National Geographic made a 1 hour documentary on them and there is a grammar and dictionary published by a Dutch missionary and linguist who (van Enk, G and de Vries, L. 1997. The Korowai of Irian Jaya. Oxford University Press). It is clear that the Korowai quickly worked out what the Channel 9 reporter wanted to hear about cannibalism and they told him what he come to hear. The Korowai may have seen potential profit in selling such stories to a naive and callow Channel 9 reporter, pretty much as Channel 7 and 9 see profit in onselling this sensationalist tripe.

Jane's last post and a post on the ever excellent Language Log have got me thinking about permanence and accountability in the internet age. Its a theme that I encounter again and again, working for a digital archive.

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if you want to spend three years thinking and writing about languages and cultures of Australia and the Asia-Pacific region ...
Nod to Ethics committee: HEALTH WARNING: and you're not ESPECIALLY worried about whether you'll find a interesting job afterwards....

... applications for the 2007 APA/UPA scholarships at the University of Sydney are now open. Information and an application can be downloaded from:


In the field last year I meticulously gathered photos with audio recordings of many plants in the area I was working in PNG. I certainly don't like creating lexicon entries all with a gloss of "tree/plant species" and I figured in this digital age, including a picture and audio recording of each plant was one way of increasing the identifiability of each plant (and animal... but they're not so photogenic). Pictures are a much more salient identifier for speakers of the language than anything else. Never-the-less, scientific name are a good universal identifier for a plant, but they're hard to get if you don't have a botanist with you.

So earlier this year I sat down with Barry Conn at the National Herbarium of New South Wales to discuss interdisciplinary work between linguists and botanists. One of my questions was "what does a linguist need to do in the field to get a plant identified?".

Here are some of my notes from the meeting, with some comments from Barry:


In the last post in this series we figured out how much power we'd need. Now the really important part - we choose our panel and battery and stick it all together.

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I'm sure we've all done it from time to time: somehow, despite carefully trying to do something else altogether, we delete a critical and unique recording on our flash recorder... never to be heard again.

But all is not lost, in fact its often really quite simple to get it back... but only if you've taken the necessary precautions.

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"Digital" Video

25 Aug

Researchers are increasingly using video in their fieldwork. Starting with cheap analogue formats and now digital formats, it is easy and affordable to begin video-taping everything... In the same way that we can now record audio for everything.

...Well, actually I'm not quite convinced yet.

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Many academic disciplines depend on analysis of primary data captured during fieldwork. Increasingly, researchers today are using digital methods for the whole life cycle of their primary data, from capture to organisation, submission to a repository or archive, and later access and dissemination in publications, teaching resources and conference presentations. This conference and workshop will showcase a number of projects that have been developing innovative and sustainable ways of managing such data.

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OK, we've got together all the equipment that we want to use. Now we need to estimate the power consumption of these devices so that we purchase the right size of solar panel and battery. This also applies to portable generators too, which can be a good source of power...if its an option.


I don't know how many parts this will be all together, but writing up a guide to getting a solar power kit together is something I've been meaning to do for a while.

In today's instalment, we'll be looking at how to prepare for a trip.


Thanks to Linda and Frank for a very interesting workshop last Friday. I picked up some great tricks on using transcriber and audacity. Perhaps the best trick I learnt was how to remove cicada noise from my PNG recordings.

Maybe you already knew how to do this (or maybe you just fiddle with the EQ), but I always thought this was in the realm of Hollywood fantasy (like when the forensics guy magically "enhances" a grainy image to reveal the killer's face in a thriller). Removing the noise allows me to more easily transcribe a busy recording, and seeing as insect noise was pretty constant and loud through all my recordings, this is quite handy. There are some caveats, but here's how to do this using freely available, cross platform software.

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After a couple of very enjoyable Australianist mini-conferences at Crommelin Field Station, James McElvenny from Sydney University has decided to organise the same for Papuan Languages!. We're hoping to replicate the laid back style of the Blackwood by the Beach conferences, but specifically for Papuan languages. Read on for more details.


The latest Ogmios newsletter has just appeared as a pdf - lots of information about what's happening around the world, including excellent links to work on Indigenous languages around the world as well as reprints of interesting articles (local plug: they've reprinted Nicolas Rothwell's rave review of Allan Marett's book on Australian Aboriginal music) .

Back issues of the newsletters are at FEL's website. To get the current newsletter you need to be a subscriber - it's not very expensive - and they're doing a terrific job.

Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures / Sydney Humanities and Social Sciences e-Research Initiative Workshop

Presenters: Dr Linda Barwick, Director, PARADISEC and Frank Davey, Audio Preservation Officer, PARADISEC.
A free workshop covering: the range of research applications for recording and analysis of digital audiovisual media; questions of sustainability and archiving of audiovisual data; tools and resources for archiving, analysis and presentation of digital audio; the role of recordings in humanities disciplines; and using audio recordings in presentations and teaching. Includes hands-on sessions using Audacity sound editing software and Transcriber speech annotation software.


The Authors

About the Blog

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.


Papua New Guinea FAQs from Eva Lindstrom Papua New Guinea (New Ireland): Eva Lindstrom's tips for fieldworkers

Australian Languages Answers to some frequently asked questions about Australian languages

Papua Web Information network on Papua, Indonesia (formerly Irian Jaya)

Hibernating blogs

Indigenous Language SPEAK

Langguj gel Australian linguistics and fieldwork blog

Interesting Blogs

Omniglot Writing systems and languages of the world

LingFormant Linguistics news

Language hat Linguistics news and commentary

Jabal al-Lughat Linguistics news and commentary on a range of languages

Living languages Blog with news items and discussion of endangered languages

OzPapersOnline Notices of recent work on the Indigenous languages of Australia

That Munanga linguist Community linguist blog

Anggarrgoon Claire Bowern's linguistics and fieldwork blog

Savage Minds A group blog on Anthropology

Fully (sic)

Language on the Move Intercultural communication and multilingualism

Talking Alaska: Reflections on the native languages of Alaska

Culture matters: applying anthropology Australian anthropology blog: postgraduates and staff

Long Road ethnography and anthropology blog - including about Australia

matjjin-nehen Blog on Australian linguistics, fieldwork, politics and the environment.

Language Log Group blog on language and linguistics


E-MELD The E-MELD School of Best Practices in Digital Language Documentation

Tema Modersmål Website in Swedish with links to sites on and in many languages

Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project: Language Documentation: What is it? Information on equipment, formats, and archiving, and examples of documentation

Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources a worldwide network of organizations, academics, activists, indigenous groups, and others representing indigenous and tribal peoples

Technorati Profile

Technology-enhanced language revitalization Include ILAT (Indigenous Languages and Technology) discussion list.

Endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

Koryak Net Information on the people of Kamchatka

Linguistic fieldwork preparation: a guide for field linguists syllabi, funding, technology, ethics, readings, bibliography

On-line resources for endangered languages

Papua New Guinea Language Resources Phonologies, grammars, dictionaries, literacy, language maps for many PNG languages

Resource network for linguistic diversity Networking practitioners working to record,retrieve & reintroduce endangered languages


ACLA child language acquisition in three Australian Aboriginal communities

DELAMAN The Digital Endangered Languages and Musics Archives Network

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

Murriny-Patha Song Project Documenting the language and music of public songs and dances composed and performed by Murriny Patha-speaking people

PFED The Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries

DOBES Endangered language documentation and archiving, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and sponsored by the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen.

DELP Documenting endangered languages at the University of Sydney

Ethno EResearch Exploring methods and technology for streaming media and interlinear text