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This blog is now well into its fifth year and in all that time, not much has changed (apart from the new 'look' which was imposed on us from above). But a major development has now taken place: we have moved to a new home.

Regular readers will know that many contributors to this blog (such as Peter Austin, Jenny Green, David Nash among others) do so under Jane Simpson's user account. This is because the blog's user accounts are managed as part of the University of Sydney's wider authentication system, meaning that only staff or students of the university could have an account.

Now, Jane Simpson has moved to the Australian National University, so we decided late last year to migrate the blog out of the confines of the Sydney University user authentication system and host it ourselves, on a server that PARADISEC won in 2008.


[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS

5th January 2011

Alongside all the talk about Last Speakers and loss of particular endangered languages, it is important to remember that not all the world's minority languages are endangered. Languages can be small (having relatively few speakers) and yet be strong, in the sense that they are spoken by everyone in the community and show no signs of language shift or replacement by some other language.

A reminder of this came last month when Steven Bird sent a message to RNLD email discussion list asking:

"Can anyone suggest the names of languages having small speaker populations that still have a good level of intergenerational transfer and good survival prospects?"

This elicited a number of responses that identified small and strong languages in Africa, Brazil, and the Australia-Pacific region (probably reflecting more the readership of the RNLD list rather than anything particular about these regions). The full details are here (scroll down to topic 13), but I thought a short summary might be of interest to readers of this blog.

3 comments |

[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS

3rd January 2011

Today marks the 20th anniversary of a symposium on "Endangered Languages and their Preservation" that was held on the 3rd January 1991 at the 65th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Chicago. The symposium was organised by the late Ken Hale and featured presentations by him, Michael Krauss, Lucille J. Watahomigie, Akira Y. Yamamoto, Colette Craig (now Grinevald), and La Verne Masayesva Jeanne -- they were published, together with a contribution from Nora C. England, in revised form as a collection of "essays" in the journal Language in March 1992 (see Hale et al. reference below).

This was the first time that endangered languages was the topic of a symposium at a major professional association meeting, and it served as a clarion call to the discipline of linguistics to pay attention to the widespread loss of languages. Parallels were mentioned with biological species endangerment and after presenting a statistical overview Michael Krauss gave his dire prediction that "at the rate things are going the coming century will see either the death or the doom of 90% of mankind's languages". He asked:

"What are we linguists doing to prepare for this or to prevent this catastrophic destruction of the linguistic world? It behooves us as scientists and as human beings to work responsibly both for the future of our science and for the future of our languages, not so much for reward according to the fashion of the day, but for the sake of posterity. If we do not act, we should be cursed by future generations for Neronically fiddling while Rome burned."

Krauss called for documentation of the most highly threatened tongues and support and promotion of stronger endangered languages. Hale concluded the collection of essays by arguing that linguistic diversity is important to human intellectual life ‚ not only in the context of scientific linguistic inquiry, but also in relation to the class of human activities belonging to the realms of culture and art. He presented the ritual register of Lardil from Australia with its unusual phonology and lexicon (showing abstract semantic principles at work) as an example of this loss of human creativity.

How things have changed in the past 20 years. A quick glance at the programme for this year's LSA annual meeting shows that the study of endangered languages (and related topics such as language documentation and revitalisation) is now front and centre in mainstream linguistics. Here is a sample listing of sessions from the preliminary meeting programme:

Friday 7th January
08:00-09:00 Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation
09:00-10:30 Tutorial: Metadata in Language Documentation and Description
10:30-12:00 Symposium: Documenting Endangered Languages: NSF-NEH Del Projects in Honor of the 20th Anniversary of the LSA Panel on Endangered Languages
14:00-17:00 Symposium: Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages

Saturday 10th January
09:00-10:30 Symposium: Maps and Map Making in Linguistic Research
14:00-17:00 Symposium: Minority Language Contact

Sunday 9th January
09:00-12:00 Poster sessions on Metadata in Language Documentation and Description, Documenting Endangered Languages and Maps and Map Making in Linguistic Research

The Friday 9am session on Metadata in Language Documentation and Description, organised by Jeff Good and myself, will include presentations by linguists, archivists, cultural anthropologists and an archaeologist about how metadata is thought of and used across their various disciplines. It is probably the first time in a long time that specialists from anthropology and archaeology will be presenting at an LSA meeting, and hopefully opens the door for further collaboration in the future.

The LSA annual meeting is just the first of a whole series of endangered languages events that will be happening this year. In February there will be the second International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation in Hawaii on the theme of "Strategies for Moving Forward", and March will see the first Cambridge International Conference on Language Endangerment with the theme of "Language Endangerment: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization". In May we will be holding our annual Endangered Languages Week at SOAS that will include a workshop on "Applied Language Documentation in sub-Saharan Africa". And that's only the first four and a half months of the year!

So, happy anniversary endangered languages! May the field continue to grow and prosper as it has done in the past 20 years.

Reference Hale, Ken, Michael Krauss, Lucille J. Watahomigie, Akira Y. Yamamoto, Colette Craig, La Verne Masayesva Jeanne and Nora C. England. 1992. Endangered Languages. Language 68(1): 1-42.

[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
24 November 2010

I have a soft spot for La Trobe University (LTU) in Australia.

LTU is where I got my first tenured job 30 years ago (just over two years after finishing my PhD -- ah, those were the days) and still the place I have worked the longest in a somewhat peripatetic academic career (summarised here. I went there in 1981 as first full-time head of the Division of Linguistics and by the time I left in 1995 the Linguistics Department was booming under the leadership of Foundation Professor Barry Blake. We had an excellent group of colleagues (several of whom went on to professorships themselves) and great students, including this blog's Nick Thieberger, now at Melbourne University and Hawaii.

After this time linguistics at La Trobe changed its complexion somewhat. In January 2000 the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology (RCLT moved from the Australian National University to La Trobe as an independent research facility not directly associated with the Linguistics Department. As the document [.pdf]) outlining RCLT's history up to 2006 puts it:

"Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, La Trobe had one of the leading linguistics departments in Australia (indeed, this was a major reason that RCLT sought to relocate here). The Department was then considerably weakened by retirements and resignations."

In 2008 RCLT itself saw leadership changes that led to retirements and resignations at the end of the year as the former Director and Deputy Director left to move to another Australian University.

And now the good news. RCLT and the Linguistic Department have recently hit the research jackpot with several successful large grant applications, including two highly competitive and prestigious Future Fellowships. These are five-year posts that, according to the Australian Research Council, were set up:

"to promote research in areas of critical national importance by giving outstanding researchers incentives to conduct their research in Australia. The aim of Future Fellowships is to attract and retain the best and brightest mid-career researchers."

Congratulations to Future Fellows Birgit Hellwig, who will be working on 'Verb semantics in the Baining languages, East New Britain (Papua New Guinea)' and Steven Morey, whose project is 'A multifaceted study of Tangsa: a network of linguistic varieties in North East India'. (Congratulations also to the only other linguistics Future Fellow, Mark Donohue of ANU).

These positions are bolstered by Yvonne Treis, who has an ELDP post-doctoral fellowship to work on a grammatical description of Basketo (Baskeet), one of the little known Omotic languages spoken in South Ethiopia, and Anthony Jukes, who will start a post-doctoral fellowship at RCLT in 2011 as part of an Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project 'The languages of Minahasa: documentation, description, and support'.

Well done La Trobe Linguistics!


[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
22 November 2010

This month the eighth volume of Language Documentation and Description (LDD8) hit the streets (you can order it at a 25% discount, and also get 25% off any of our other volumes ordered before 31 December 2010). It's a special issue on documentation of endangered oral literatures and is guest edited by Imogen Gunn and Mark Turin of the World Oral Literature Project (WOLP) at Cambridge. This is the first time we have had a guest edited issue, but it won't be the last.

Planning for the next three issues of LDD is already under way: LDD 9 is scheduled for mid-2011 and will be edited by Julia Sallabank. It will contain papers on endangered languages and sustainability, arising out of a workshop she and Friederike Luepke organised earlier this year, together with other papers and book reviews. LDD 10, scheduled for December 2011, will be a special issue on documentation of endangered languages and musics and will be guest edited by Jan-Olof Svantesson and colleagues of Lund University. LDD 11, scheduled for mid-2012, will be edited by Oliver Bond and Stuart McGill and will contain papers on issues in applied documentation for African languages.

Back in October 2002 when I first started work at SOAS and was planning what became the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) I had a vision that we could start a publication series for the newly emerging field of language documentation (this was just one year after DoBeS began its main phase, and the same year that ELDP was launched). ELDP was holding the first grants meeting of its International Panel in February 2002 so I hatched the audacious plan to ask the panel members if they would stay in London for an extra day and present talks on language documentation in a workshop format. They all kindly agreed and then when Colette Grinevald (from Lyon), Dan Everett (who was at University of Manchester at the time), Eva Csato (Uppsala) and Nick Ostler (Foundation for Endangered Languages) heard about the workshop they offered to come and give talks too. I then asked David Crystal (author of the book Language Death who I had met in Australia in 2000) if he would present a public lecture to kick off the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, which he did on 28th February 2003. In retrospect this was all a bit crazy -- we had no staff other than myself and Zara Pybus, the then newly-appointed Administrator of ELAP, and we were also trying to write and get approved a new MA programme with all its constituent modules, plus appoint staff, recruit students, and so on. To add to the craziness, all the workshop presenters agreed to write up their papers for publication and did so within six months. SOAS colleagues Lutz Marten and Justin Watkins refereed them all, and Zara designed and formatted the whole lot so that in December 2003 we published Volume 1 of LDD.

Over the past eight years we have sold almost 2,000 copies of LDD (Volume 1 is still our best seller at 480 copies so far, with a respectable 50 copies per year still going out the door) and we normally sell around 500 copies in total annually. I think this is pretty respectable for what is effectively a "spare time" operation, as we have no dedicated publication staff and each volume is edited and published on top of our other usual obligations.

LDD is a small, though useful, source of income for us and helps support MA and PhD students through offering them paid part-time editorial work on production of the volumes that are edited at SOAS. On several occasions I have been asked why we charge for LDD rather than making it freely available, like the online journal Language Documentation and Conservation. The simple response is that we do keep the price of LDD as low as possible (try finding another similar linguistics publication of 250-300 pages that sells for GBP 10.00!) and that income from sales is the only way we can pay for editorial support and first class design and layout (by Tom Castle who does publication work on top of his usual day job as Digital Technician). This is particularly the case now that support for ELAP from Arcadia Fund finished this year (Arcadia will continue to support ELDP and the Endangered Languages Archive until 2016).

We are currently planning for the introduction of an online store for LDD in 2011 and are also looking at developing a new series of e-publications that will include articles published in the journal, as well as other new materials. Stay tuned for more details early next year.


It was very sad to learn* of the death of the linguist Michael Clyne. He will be remembered for his original work on the immigrant languages of Australia, on sociolinguistics (pragmatics, language contact and quantitative work on census data), and on bilingualism.

But most of all, many of us will miss his great generosity and his passion for helping speakers of all languages use the languages of their choice. Two strongly-held beliefs which he fought hard to get his colleagues, Governments and people to share were:

1. the importance of language rights: the right to learn a language and the right to learn through a language

2. the dangers of the monolingual mindset which, through ignorance, both discriminates against speakers of other languages, and destroys the social, cultural and economic resources that multilingualism affords a country.

Letters, speeches, opinion pieces and articles flowed from him in support of these causes (e.g. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010). Good that his efforts were recognised - he was made a Member of the Order of Australia.

Another cause was the need to bridge the divide between applied linguistics and general linguistics, a divide that he strongly believed was unnecessary and counter-productive. Bridging it in himself, he was a member of both the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and of the Australian Academy of Humanities. Until illness slowed him down, he faithfully attended annual meetings of both the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia and the Australian Linguistics Society. And he devised a delightful way of bringing them together - by establishing a prize administered by both societies - for the best postgraduate research thesis on some aspect of immigrant bilingualism and language contact.

What a man. Vaarwel, adieu, farvel, addio, farewell.

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[from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
25th October 2010

Back in 2003 David Crystal published a paper entitled "Endangered Languages: what should we do now", in the first volume of Language Documentation and Description in which he suggested that it was time that the Arts got interested in endangered languages and he wondered when we would be seeing TV programmes, novels, plays, paintings, symphonies, sculptures etc. about the general issues of language endangerment and loss. He says (page 27):

"the genre which puzzles me the most, because it is the genre most applicable to expound our subject, is theatre. Where are the plays? ... there have been works which deal with the problems of a particular linguistic/cultural situation ... But what plays deal with the problems of language endangerment in general?"

He then tells the story of his own play Living On and the difficulties he had with getting it staged in the UK. Since that time David's play has had several readings (including one at SOAS during our innaugural Endangered Languages Week in 2007) but it has yet to see a full performance.

Well suddenly, this year, there are two new plays dealing with endangered languages issues. Julia Cho's The Language Archive was staged in Costa Mesa, California earlier this year and is currently on stage in New York City. The play deals with George:

"a brilliant linguist whose obsession is cataloguing the world's dying languages. He estimates that every two months, one of the world's existing 6,500 languages dies, either from its last speakers perishing or from their dropping it in favor of a more culturally dominant tongue.

George's name for this project is The Language Archive, which he works on with his devoted assistant, Emma ... It consists of finding the last speakers of an endangered language and recording them in simple conversation in order to fully capture the human dimension of their tongue, rather than merely writing down what certain words mean.

Into George's office step Alta ... and Resten, the last speakers of Ellowan, a vaguely Eastern European-sounding language. The problem is that Alta and Resten are no longer speaking to each other: Decades of married life have apparently caused them to loathe one another."

And so it goes on (the OCR Weekly has a detailed positive review of the California production -- the New York Daily News review is rather less keen on it).

The latest news from the RNLD mailing list is that another new play called Mother's Tongue written by Kamarra Bell Wykes (see her brief biography[.pdf]; she is also the daughter of linguist Jeanie Bell) is to be staged for a month by the Yirra Yakin Aboriginal Corporation in Perth starting on 29th October. It is described as follows:

"Mother's Tongue is a contemporary Indigenous story about David and Ngala, a brother and sister trying to find their way in life after the death of their grandmother, the keeper of secrets and last custodian of the knowledge of a whole language group. After her death, David is the only person left alive that can speak his mother's tongue."

So perhaps David Crystal was just seven years ahead of his time.

In a recent blogpost I mentioned the decline of Cook Island Māori and Niue. I later learned that there had been some support for the use of these in schools - in 2007 the then NZ Education Minister Steve Maharey announced guidelines for using Niue in early childhood education in NZ schools, joining other Pasifika languages (Samoan and Cook Island Māori).

Now the current NZ Government has decided to ditch 33 Pasifika bilingual education units. What evidence did they use to justify this? They clearly haven't studied what has happened in the NT following their decision to stop bilingual education. There's no sign yet that the NT changes are producing good educational results. And looking to a distant future, saying change is slow, doesn't help those kids in classes right now.

I don't know if they discussed this decision with the families. If they did not, then the message this sends the children and their families is that your wishes, your views on education and your languages are of no value.


Ísland: Iceland
Population: around 313,000

For the traveller to Iceland, the first sign of clever marketing of Íslenska (we speak English but think about what else we speak!) is in the Icelandair aeroplane, in which Icelandic is used for

  • announcements
  • briefing cards
  • on the seat antimacassars, Icelandic phrases and commentary e.g. on the 'soft and cuddly sound' of Góða nótt 'good night' [check the cuddly claim here].
  • and on the paper cups, 14 words for drinking vessels


[ Photo courtesy of David Nash]

Surely the smallest language group to have its own airline.

In Reykjavík, there are plenty of signs of belief in the power of writing. Despite its location on the route between several big English-speaking countries, it has managed to resist much of the pressure to advertise in English and have signs in English. For print-addicts, the city language-scape is a treasure-house - vocabulary is reinforced by seeing words in other languages in signs and notices both public (roads, schools, monuments) and private (shop and business names and windows, advertisements, churches, graveyards). And hey! vanity plates using Icelandic diacritics [Gróa was a witch healer in Norse mythology].


[ Photo courtesy of David Nash]

Cyber-space is also sparkling with .is pages in Icelandic for enterprises, commerical, public and sociable - even the knit cafes get mentioned.. (see Handprjónasamband Íslands (the Hand-knitting association of Iceland). BUT the website for the parent airline group appears in English and doesn't advertise an Icelandic alternative. Uhuh. Commercial decisions are probably the coal-mine canaries for language health.

We went into several bookshops (Eymundsson and Mál og Menning) with cafés. It is impressive how much is written in Icelandic, and how much is translated (check out Forlagið). It's wide-ranging - from Richard Dawkins on God (a big display) to translations of Finn Family Moomintroll, Astrid Lindgren and Harry Potter, to Bill Bryson, to a whole heap of airport reads (John Grisham, Jodie Picoult, Charlaine Harris). All this with a small population, and having to import paper.

All of this must be helping standardise ways of talking about new ideas, so expanding the domains in which it is easy to talk Icelandic. The Berlitz guidebook to Reykjavík shamed its parent company by sniffily commenting on the Icelanders' 'pedantic' habit of compounding Icelandic roots to form words for new concepts. But does that reflect the views of outsiders complaining about Icelanders not using loanwords, or the frustration of some at the language purism of others? Anyway I am sorry now that I didn't check how 'vampire' was translated, let alone 'true blood'.

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Last week in Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, Norway, at the Sámi allaskuvla, the Sámi University College, was the first International Conference on Indigenous Place Names - "Exploring ways to reclaim cultural identity through place names" , beautifully, minutely and intricately organised by Kaisa Rautio Helander. The name 'Guovdageaidnu/KautoKeino' illustrates the range of the topic:

  • meaning: in Sámi Guovda 'what is in between', Geaidnu 'road'; in Norwegian, Kautokeino is a name only
  • layering: Kautokeino is the Finnish spelling, now adopted by Norwegians
  • official naming policy: which name to use officially, which name comes first on road-signs

In the spring, a single snowflake melts, joins other snowflakes, becomes a trickle, a stream, a river, a sea - this metaphor with many interpretations is the heart of a poem by an early twentieth century Sámi writer, Pedar Jalvi which Kaisa recited at the start of the conference. You could use it for place-names - one Indigenous place-name on a map doesn't convincingly show prior occupation/ownership, but thousands do. Or you could take it for this first conference itself - a river of understanding formed from trickles of people from different places - Māori, Zulu, Xaayda Gwaay.yaay (Haida Gwaii), Masai, Shipibo-Konibo, and particularly the Arctic (Sámi, Inuit, Nenets and Veps). They all have reasons to be passionately concerned about the nature, recognition and transmission of place-names.


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.


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?


Last Saturday was the launch of Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and re-naming the Australian landscape by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, at University House, ANU. You can find the details on this excellent book, (edited by Harold Koch and Luise Hercus) here, although not, alas on the publisher (Aboriginal History)'s website. Facebook friends of Julia Miller can see rather good piccies. And there's a little bit about it in the news.

Rudd started with his favourite rhetorical structure: Why am I launching this book? He answered himself: Three reasons. First, Harold and Grace Koch are Decent Human Beings. (Wild applause at this point). Second, interest in Indigenous studies. And third, appreciation of scholarship.

All good reasons*..

Scholarship shines through the book -- lots of papers stuffed with interesting data, from careful linguistic reconstructions, to fine observations of attitudes to introducing names, to details on the stories behind names, to methods for studying placenames. It's interdisciplinary: Indigenous owners of places, linguists, historians,geographers, pastoralists, archaeologists, anthropologists all have ideas to share. Workshops and meetings of the Geographic Names Boards have provided places for this sharing. And, as so often, Luise Hercus's paper brings us back to the places themselves, with photographs that show us why people wanted to give them names.

More will be done - Rudd noted a reason why another book on place-names is needed - the table of contents reveals Only One Paper on Queensland placenames - Paul Black's paper on Kurtjar.

The lovely thing was celebrating unusual achievement - in this case, intelligent, modest people gathering and interpreting information in sensible and enlightening ways, and producing a book whose wealth of material will make it last.

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The first bilingual education program for children speaking Indigenous Australian languages ran in Adelaide around 1840. A hundred plus years later, the first university position in Australian languages was offered at the University of Adelaide, held by the Arrernte-speaking linguist T G H Strehlow - albeit combined with English literature at the start... [The other competitor for firstness would be Arthur Capell at the University of Sydney but that was in Anthropology and Oceanic Linguistics].

And now.. Australia's first chair in the "Linguistics of Endangered Languages" is being offered at the University of Adelaide.

Job description here. Closing date: 25 June 2010


The Economist 24/4/2010 p.76 has a moving obituary for Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, and someone who did an extraordinary amount of practical good against extraordinary odds. She co-wrote Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women (2004) with Vine Deloria, Jr., and Gloria Steinem.

The obituary doesn't mention her involvement in the Institute of Cherokee Literacy (where apparently Sequoyah's orthography was taught). But it does note that the modern equivalent of the Trail of Tears forced relocation of Native Americans was the attempt to persuade Cherokee like Mankiller's father that they could find a better life off the tribal lands in a "drab violent housing-project" in California. Wilma Mankiller thought the Cherokee had been most damaged by the loss of commonality and interdependence caused by the 1907 breakup of tribe land into allotments. At a time when the worldly powers in Australia are pressuring Aborigines into something quite similar - change common title to individual title, move to the cities, we should think about the costs that Mankiller observed.

On 14 April, the US House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1237 honouring her life.

Language work has been one of the main areas in which Indigenous people and people working with them have used special purpose software, and have had to confront the problems of data management. There's a call for papers for a conference, Information Technologies and Indigenous Communities, to be held at the Australian National University, 13-17 June, 2010. Be nice if there were a few papers on what we've actually learned from managing language data.

Extended deadline for call for papers - 21 May.
Further Information
Anna Johnstone tel: (02) 6246 1144
E-maill: publicprograms AT aiatsis.gov.au

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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Today is UNESCO's International Mother Language Day (IMLD) which is intended to "promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism". The UN have just launched UN Language Days, "a new initiative which seeks to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the Organization." There's a press release about IMLD here [.pdf] from the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity (RNLD).02-19-mother-lang.jpg [ from http://www.un.org/News/dh/photos/2010/02-19-mother-lang.jpg].

The date was chosen to commemorate the deaths of Bangla students on 21 February 1952 who were protesting the then government's decision to make Urdu the only official language of East and West Pakistan. And the Bangla community continues to honour it - as Amar Ekushey day - in Australia through the Ekushe Academy.

Here are some ways it's being honoured around the world. In London, SOAS is running Endangered Languages Week, with talks, displays, discussions, films, lectures and workshops on the general theme of "sustainability: can the world's languages be sustained, and if so, which ones, and how?" In Melbourne, RNLD showed the film In Languages We Live — Voices of the World [.pdf] last Thursday, Kununurra is showing it twice, and we're showing it at Sydney University on Wednesday 24th (3.30 pm). [BTW, RNLD has an excellent set of links to news on endangered languages]. In Alice Springs, there's said to be a display of Indigenous language materials and posters thanks to the Town Library and linguists.

And in Canada, the Winter Olympics had commentary in several native Canadian languages including Cree, (see here) - but complaints about not enough French in the opening ceremony...).

As of 23:16 Saturday 20th, Google News had stories about International Mother Language Day from Armenia, Azerbaijan (a school contest whose title provides the blog post heading), Bangladesh, Canada, Dubai, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and the US. Not to mention Benetton's logo for IMLD, and IMLD the t-shirt.

Stories from Australia? Well, ABC Kimberley, good on them, have Vanessa Mills (19 February, 2010) on Celebrating and protecting languages other than English which involves discussion with a Nyikina speaker, Jeannie Wabi, and linguists Colleen Hattersley and Frances Kofod. A book of Nyikina stories is coming out, thanks to the Nyikina Language Hub in Broome.

Elsewhere... Good news is that Greg Dickson managed to get an article on the NT government's 'First 4 hours in English' policy published in "Green", the national magazine of the Greens party. There has also been a "money or monolingual mouth" story suggesting that the number of Japanese tourists in Australia is declining because we Australians are rude to them, and we stick to English, the mother tongue of most of us. In major public places we don't have enough information in foreign languages. (Against this, Tourism Australia goes for the money, not the mouth - countering that there are plenty of cheaper places than Australia for tourists, and the Japanese economy has suffered greatly in the GFC.)


Check out Nicolas Rothwell's article in Saturday's Australian. It's about yes well maybe after all it wasn't such a good idea the way the Intervention demoralised Indigenous people and engendered a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of Government and its bureaucrats. So, which newspaper has hammered Indigenous people for incompetence and dysfunctionality over the last 4 years? Which newspaper has been applauding itself for triggering the Intervention?

And thinking of other misusable data, the My School Site was launched recently, showing how students across Australia performed on the NAPLAN tests of English literacy and numeracy.

I'm all for numbers, but I do share Bruce Petty's concern about how these are being used. The numbers we've been given are seriously flawed for understanding what's happening in Indigenous schools in the NT.

These are ENGLISH literacy tests administered in ENGLISH. So if the kids start monolingual in a language other than English it's kinda obvious that they're going to do badly in reading and writing English in their first years at school. And they'll continue to do badly if they don't get good ESL teaching and if they get so bored at school that they stop attending.

Lots of the remote NT schools (bilingual and non-bilingual) do really badly. What is unforgiveable is the comparison with so-called "statistically similar" schools. They do not seem to have factored in first language. So, among the schools compared to Yuendumu (majority of children speak Warlpiri as a first language) are schools where most children's first language is English, Aboriginal English or an English-based creole. Here are some (there are probably more but I don't know all the communities).

Borroloola School, Borroloola NT 0854
Camooweal State School, Camooweal QLD 4828
Goodooga Central School, Goodooga NSW 2831
Moree East Public School, Moree NSW 2400
Wilcannia Central School, Wilcannia NSW 2836

Even if you speak an English-based creole rather than standard English, you'll still do better than a child who only speaks a traditional language - just as English-speaking children find it easier to learn French than Chinese. There are so many similar words.

Who could be surprised that these children do better on English tests?

And, the information one really wants isn't there on the site. You can get mission statement blah. So the Feds have said they'll give more information - what parents think about schools.... Brilliant, what blame-avoiding PR person thought that up?

I bet parents would be MORE interested in the following sets of numbers, which the State and Federal Departments could provide MUCH more cheaply than by conducting an expensive survey of parents:

  • How much do the State and Federal governments spend per child in the school?
  • how many students per teacher?(see a nice opinion piece (1/2/2010) in the Sydney Morning Herald)
  • how many first year out teachers are there in the school?
  • what's the teacher churn in the school?
  • in schools with high numbers of children who don't speak English, how many properly trained ESL teachers are there? (and I don't mean ESL training via a day's workshop with a department trainer)
  • how long has the principal been there>

Throw those into the statistical blender and see how that changes the "statistically similar schools" clumping.

Apparently the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, wants us to use the My School website to 'hold schools and teachers to account'. Give us the numbers ON THAT SITE so we can hold Governments to account.

On the other hand, take the much maligned bilingual education programs. Last year the NT government demoralised communities with bilingual education programs by unilaterally abolishing those programs, against the communities' wishes. All in the name of improving NAPLAN scores.

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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)

[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):


[from Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
24 December 2009

The Endangered Languages Academic Programme at SOAS is holding a workshop on Endangered Languages, Endangered Knowledge and Sustainability on Saturday 27th February 2010, from 9.30am to 6.00pm. The goal of the workshop is to explore sustainable approaches in our field: sustainability of endangered languages, and sustainability of research (in both theory and practice).

Issues to be discussed include:

  • how communities can sustain languages and linguistic ecologies
  • links between language maintenance and sustainable human development
  • preservation of traditional knowledge and indigenous paradigms of teaching, learning, and research
  • making the outcomes of our research sustainable
  • whether sustaining languages and knowledge is something that researchers can contribute to, or is solely the responsibility of communities and speakers

The keynote speaker at the workshop will be Professor Lenore Grenoble, Carl Darling Buck Professor at the University of Chicago. Prof Grenoble is a world leader in research on endangered languages, with several influential publications and extensive fieldwork experience. She is an ELDP panel member, Vice-president of the Endangered Language Fund, and is involved in several other major international projects, with a focus on the impact of climate change on languages and cultures of the Arctic.

Proposals are invited for papers which present cutting-edge research on any of the topics outlined above. Each speaker will have 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion, followed by further plenary discussion. Abstracts should be a maximum of 300 words (not including any references) and should be sent to: elap -AT- soas.ac.uk.

The deadline for abstract submission is Friday 15th January 2010. Notification of acceptance will be sent by 30th January. We plan to publish the proceedings of the workshop in our journal Language Documentation and Description.

The workshop is one of the events planned for Endangered Languages Week 2010.

To attend the workshop, you need to submit a booking form [.doc] by Friday 19th February 2010. The cost is GBP17.50 for full registration and GBP12.50 for student/ELAP alumni/staff registration. Registration will include a reading pack, tea and coffee and lunch.

[ from Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS

4th December 2009]

The Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) has established a fieldwork scholarship to sponsor one MA student in the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) at SOAS. The scholarship, funded by income from FEL book sales through the SOAS Endangered Languages Project website, will support one student to undertake fieldwork during 2010 in Guernsey on the endangered language Guernesiais.

SOAS is very grateful to FEL for this support.

[From our man, temporarily in India, Peter K. Austin, Department of Linguistics, SOAS]
23 October 2009

Last January I wrote a blog post about how Facebook is being used in various ways to present and document endangered languages.

My former student and colleague Domenyk Eades of Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, has just written to tell me about another use of Facebook, this time by speakers of Gayo, an endangered language spoken in Aceh, Indonesia. Domenyk did his PhD research on Gayo and published a grammar of it. He writes:

I recently found that there is a large group of Gayo people who are communicating on Facebook in their language, many of them have a rudimentary command of the language. Some university students from Takengon have a project called "Kamus Gayo Bergambar" (illustrated Gayo dictionary). Every day they send out a photograph and a list of about 5-8 Gayo words and their Indonesian equivalents. The Gayo Facebook friends of the dictionary, who live in Gayo and elsewhere in Indonesia, read and comment on the words. There have been some good discussions on the different words. At the moment the spelling of the words is a problem, and I have been trying to get them to use the orthography I developed in my PhD study. It is very interesting to see the enthusiasm. I can't remember anything like it when I was doing my study of the language.

The Gayo dictionary Facebook Group is here (requires membership of Facebook to view). There is a map of Takengon and the Gayo area here and English language blogs developed by Gayo speakers here and here.


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

On Tuesday 6th October at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, the Sorosoro Project of Fondation Chirac held a press conference and launch of their new website (currently only available in French but with English and Spanish versions in the works). The launch was hosted by Rozenn Milin, Director of the Sorosoro project, and attended by ex-president Jacques Chirac, who gave a thoughtful speech about the need to preserve and support linguistic and cultural diversity.


[Media release from Nicholas Ostler, Foundation for Endangered languages]

This year's conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages will take place in the High Pamirs, at Khorog in Tajikistan, on 24-26 September 2009.

The conference will discuss the contribution of Endangered Languages to History and how the study of history can encourage the preservation and promote the revitalisation of endangered languages.

Tajikistan itself, although a small and remote country with a population of 7 million, is home to nine languages, most of them in the mountainous south, the Pamirs. Unlike its surrounding Central Asian countries, where the national languages are Turkic, its primary language is Tajik, a form of Persian. It also shares a long border with Afghanistan, where Dari Persian is also widely spoken.

Conquered by Tsarist Russia in the 1870s as part of the Tournament of Shadows, the "Great Game" played between the British and Russian Empires, Central Asia had its languages re-organized and re-alphabetized in the 1920s and 1930s, all its scripts changing from Arabic to Roman to Russian in the course of 15 years. Nevertheless, this was the basis on which Tajik literacy has leapt from a tiny minority to almost 100 percent. The relative roles of languages, Tajik, Russian, Uzbek, and Yaghnobi and the many languages of the Pamirs, remain a highly charged issue in Tajikistan's policy.

Tajikistan is heir to many peoples who played key roles in ancient struggles between East and West: the Sogdians, great traders of 'heavenly' horses for silk at the courts of China; the Tajiks, who transmitted the fresh news of Muhammad's revelation within Central Asia at the forefront of an invading army, and brought the Persian language with them; the Samanids, who created the first civilization that used New Persian, the poetic culture made familiar in the west by the Rubai'yat of Omar Khayyam, and the Golden Road to Samarkand. As well as being a stage on the Silk Road, it was home to Tamburlaine the Great, whose bloody conquests straddled Asia from Ankara to Delhi, and to Babur, who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. Truly Tajikistan can be called the home of History. And the peoples who speak its surviving languages have seen more than most.

The conference will be held in collaboration with:

  • The Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan,
  • The Institute of Humanities, Khorog, Tajikistan
  • The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

Conference delegates will also visit the Ishkashimi language community in the Badakhshan region of the country. Badakhshan was long famous as a source of rubies, emeralds and lapis lazuli.

Further details of the conference can be found at the FEL website. Or contact Nicholas Ostler,
Chairman, Foundation for Endangered Languages
Registered Charity: England & Wales 1070616 nostler AT chibcha.demon.co.uk


[Meladel Mistika points to Steven Bird's new paper in the open access journal Computational Linguistics.]

Steven Bird's promoting for there to be more Comp Ling research to be aimed at assisting field linguists in maintaining and organising their data. He's redefining what should be included as part of core Comp Ling research. Studies that would assist in language documentation should be valued as much, well actually more than the current studies in Comp Ling, which is too often aimed at squeezing out an extra percent on whichever evaluation metric they are using based on somebody else's Machine Learning algorithm to form a small part of a solution to an NLP problem.

[An extraordinary and disturbing story about Ainu teaching at the Hokkaido University of Education has emerged in the Times Higher Education Supplement (3/9/09) (thanks Sadami!)].

Ryuko Kubota, Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia, writes:

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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
5 September 2009

The programme is now available for the second biannual Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory conference to be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies on 13th and 14th November 2009.

The conference aims to bring together researchers working on linguistic theory and language documentation and description, with a particular focus on innovative work on under-described or endangered languages. This year the focus is on Africa, with invited speakers:

  • Prof Larry Hyman, University of California Berkeley Good things come in small languages: grammatical loss and innovation in Nzadi
  • Prof Tania Kouteva, SOAS and Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf Grammatical categories and linguistic theory

Early bird conference registration at reduced cost closes on Monday 14th September 2009 and general registration ends on Monday 12th October 2009. Registration is available via an online form. For payments, follow the instructions at the top of the page. Note that registration for the conference includes a book containing all the papers being presented. (Papers from the first LDLT conference are now available online at: http://www.hrelp.org/eprints/LDLT).

We look forward to seeing you in London for this event.

From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
5 September 2009

Just a reminder to blog readers that the special offer for Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL) publications is ending soon.

The proceedings of the FEL unique annual conferences are currently available through the Endangered Languages Project at SOAS for 12 pounds, a saving of 40% off the normal retail price (usually 20 pounds). This offer is for a strictly limited period and must end on 15th September.

There are 11 volumes available, covering a wide range of topics linking endangered languages to literacy, literature, land, language learning, media, multilingualism, migration and social impacts.

To order one or more volumes at this special price go to http://www.hrelp.org/publications/fel/index.html and complete the order form before 15th September.

Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
9 July 2009

The website of a new project called World Oral Literature Project: Voices of Vanishing Worlds has just gone live at the University of Cambridge. The project kicked off early this year under the leadership of Mark Turin, an anthropological linguist whose major research area is Nepal (his PhD thesis was a grammar of Thangmi, a hitherto undescribed Tibeto-Burman language spoken in eastern Nepal). The project is supported by private donors and "has been established to support local communities and committed fieldworkers engaged in the collection and preservation of oral literature by providing funding for original research, alongside training in fieldwork and digital archiving methods". Small research grants are available (follow the link for details of the application process), and a two-day workshop on oral literature with a focus on collections from the Asia-Pacific will take place at Cambridge 15-16 December this year. People interested in contributing papers to the workshop should contact Mark directly (I plan to present a talk on documentation of lontar reading performances in Lombok, eastern Indonesia).

Mark is also involved with the Digital Himalaya Project that began in 2000 with the aim of archiving and making available ethnographic materials from the Himalayan region (via the web and on DVD). The currently available collections include films, scanned copies of rare books and manuscripts, maps, an interactive tool to access 2001 census data for Nepal, dictionaries, fieldnotes, folktales and music, and Thangmi songs. It is an incredibly rich collection of data and analysis that has an interface that is both beautiful and easy to navigate and use. As fellow blogger Jeremy Hammond has recently pointed out, publishing materials on the internet is a good way to make both data and analyses available to a wide range of users. The Digital Himalaya Project is an excellent model of how to do this in a highly appealing and usable fashion.

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

The financial difficulties currently facing the world's economies are having an impact on funding and support for research on endangered languages in various ways. (I heard the current situation referred to in Australia last month as The GFC ("Global Financial Crisis"), an acronym that I initially confused with The BFG (as a Roald Dahl fan) and that doesn't seem to have much purchase outside Australia -- even Wikipedia is taking the G out of GFC.)

Here are some of the signs:

  • the Sorosoro Programme of Fondation Chirac has postponed its planned annual events at the Musée du Quai Branly from early June to the end of 2009, or possibly even later (videos of last June's events are here)
  • the planned World Language Centre initiative of the Vigdis Finnboggadottir Institute in Iceland is being scaled back and no new international activities are now planned until early 2010
  • the laying of the foundation stone for LINGUAMÓN - Casa de les Llengës that had been scheduled for last year will now take place in November this year with the building planned to be open in 2011 (Linguamón continues to be active and an electronic newsletter is now available in Catalan, Spanish and English)
  • the DoBeS programme of the Volkswagen Stiftung will not have a funding application round in 2009 -- the next application deadline will be in September 2010 with funds available from 2011

Things look a bit gloomy for the next year or so, however there is some good news. The grants from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme that is administered by SOAS have not been affected as the funding base was established by a commitment from Arcadia (formerly the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund) back in 2002. In fact, under new arrangements recently negotiated with Arcadia, ELDP's budget end date has now been extended until 2016, some four years later than originally anticipated. There are two grant cycles this year: the second cycle of grant applications opens on Friday 15 May, with a closing date of 3rd August (see here for details).


From: Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS

6th February 2009

The Department of Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies is proud to announce the second 3L International Summer School on Language Documentation and Description to be held in London 22nd June to 3rd July 2009 (information about the summer school is also available en français). Courses will be in English, with tutorial and practical sessions in French and English. There will be two conferences associated with the summer school (see below).


This two week summer school aims at introducing the concepts and practices of language documentation and its links to language description for future and novice field linguists. It will draw upon the extensive expertise of the three organising universities in the 3L Consortium: University of Lyon, Leiden University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. It follows on from the success of the first 3L Summer School held in Lyon in 2008.


Puliima 2009 National Indigenous Language and Information Communication Technology Forum
Koori Heritage Trust and William Angliss Institute Conference Centre, Melbourne, Australia
1st and 2nd April 2009

[UPDATE 11/2/2009
Puliima have announced that they have limited travel funds to be able to assist people, especially Indigenous people from North Queensland and Victoria, to attend. E-mail puliima2009@acra.org.au with your request

This is a joint production from the Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association Inc (ACRA), and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) .

"Our goal is to create a learning environment that not only exposes language workers to the various ICT support available to them, but also provides them with skills that will enable them to forge ahead in their language reclamation work"

There's still time to register, to exhibit relevant information and to give presentations. Check on the Puliima website for more information.

This year they are showcasing material on Marvin 3D Character Animation, photography, audio recording , publishing resources, education, culture & language in a e-learning environment, and other general technology for language workers, including Miromaa.

Over at the Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries, we've finally got the first version of Wunderkammer, our software for displaying multimedia electronic dictionaries on mobile phones, ready for release. We've also developed the application wkimport, which allows electronic dictionaries in a variety of formats to be imported relatively painlessly into Wunderkammer.

The packages for importing dictionaries, a demonstration Wunderkammer dictionary, all the source code and plenty of documentation are available at the Wunderkammer website: http://www.pfed.info/wksite There's also an online demo of a Wunderkammer dictionary that shows off some of what Wunderkammer can do without having to download it to a mobile phone. The emulator for the online demo does not always load properly, but it should work in most cases. If the online demo doesn't work, just try the real demo on a mobile phone.


Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
12 January 2009

About a year and a half ago I joined Facebook (see my blog post from July 2007 about it and other Web 2.0 applications). At first, it was just a bit of fun, but over the last few months, especially during the end of year holidays, some aspects of Facebook (FB) have attracted my attention in terms of what it can be used for in relation to endangered languages.

It seems I am not alone in becoming a bit of a "FB junkie" recently. Blogger Tom Leverett, who teaches English as a Second Language as his day job, has recently posted that:

"Like many people, I have found myself drawn more and more often to Facebook over [the term] break. Have free time? Check in and see what any of my extended friends are saying, doing, posting, etc. Late at night, I might troll through lists of friends' friends, finding people I grew up with or went to college with; next thing I know, I'm finding out what they're doing every day, or chatting with them. I keep up with my children, in various cities: what they do, what they say, what they say about me ..."


"I know enough about it to know that millions of people are doing this just like me, though my tech colleagues are less likely to be doing it, than just my everyday friends, other teachers, social people attracted to FB like moths to light."

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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
23rd December 2008

Due to the hard work of Mike Franjieh who is doing a PhD on a language of Ambrym, Vanuatu, the Endangered Languages Project at SOAS now has an on-line catalogue of the more than 300 books and journals we have acquired over the past few years. The materials in our collection come from several sources, including:

  • donations by publishers, such as the Atlas of the World's Languages that we launched two years ago
  • donations by colleagues, including ELDP grantees, of outputs from their research projects, such as Adivinanzas en mixteco a collection of stories in Mixteco, from Mexico. Some of the materials in this part of the collection are otherwise difficult to find in Europe
  • MA dissertations written by students in the MA in Language Documentation and Description, including original work with native speakers of endangered languages, such as Aromanian, Bajjika, Dolpo, Dulong, Khasi, Khorchin Mongolian and Uighur

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Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal declaration of human rights (UDHR). On the UN's website you can find translations of UDHR in 337 languages. Given Ethnologue's current claim of 6,912 living languages, there's a long way to go. But they claim it is the "most translated document in the world" (I'd've thought Genesis probably beat that). Recent additions include Seselwa Creole French, Sierra Leone Krio and Cook Islands Maori. And you can hear it read in 60 plus languages [1] on the World Voices site. They're mostly large languages, apart from Chamorro, Gaelic and Icelandic, and there are no Indigenous Australian languages - not surprising, since translating it would not be easy.

According to Amnesty Australia, "Australia is the only Western democracy without a Human Rights Act or similar human rights protection". They are running a campaign for human rights protection. Ditto Get-Up. An Amnesty supporter, Julian Burnside, writes:

"I once shared the formerly popular view that we don't need a Human Rights Act in Australia, but events of the past decade convinced me otherwise. They revealed that we cannot rely on our rights being protected by the common law. In Australia's constitutional democracy, the parliaments are able to set aside the common law if they choose to do so." Human Rights Defender 27,4, Dec. 2008-Feb.2009: p.9.

So, to language rights. These have come to attention recently with the decision by the Northern Territory Government to introduce a standardised curriculum into primary schools which will make it difficult to run properly managed bilingual programs using Indigenous languages as the medium of instruction. "The first four hours in English", a few words uttered by a Minister in Parliament, can change irrevocably how Indigenous children experience school, and the use of their languages in school, and will probably cause the irreversible loss of their first languages.

The Minister could not have made a decision so quickly, if Australia accorded recognition to Indigenous languages officially. She would have had to consider the educational evidence for and against using the Indigenous language as a medium of instruction, and there would have been public debate before the policy could be implemented. This would have been an excellent thing, because there is no magic bullet for improving Indigenous children's knowledge of spoken and written English. It has many many causes, from massive hearing loss, to poverty, to truancy, to lack of good ESL teaching, to failure by Governments to spend equitably on Indigenous communities. But bilingual education isn't one of the causes.

There's a stupid opposition made in the media between 'a rights agenda' and 'basic services'. As if pushing for recognition of human rights somehow gets in the way of providing basic services. In fact, what recognition of human rights does is require governments to reflect a little before forming policies which damage human rights.

UNESCO has a general site on language rights. Here's Australia's position as I see it. Corrections, improvements etc gladly received!


Following on from Jane's announcement during the week of all the great news regarding successful grant applications, I have another bit of good news to share: James McElvenny and I recently applied for, and even more recently received, a grant from a philanthropic foundation to support our current work in compiling dictionaries.

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Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
19 October 2008

In celebration of the International Year of Languages and the diversity of London's languages and cultures, East Gallery in Stratford (home of the 2012 London Olympics) is hosting an exhibition called Living Language.


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[Update! See the comments! Darkness is lightened! How I overlooked Nick Thieberger's QE2 I don't know, but it is FANTASTIC news for PARADISEC! And on the computational linguistics side, good about Tim Baldwin's project]

It's Poverty Action Day. Whaddya know, speakers of small endangered languages are usually the poorest of the poor, and often don't have the time/money to work on their own languages. That work gets done in partnerships with linguists and others from rich countries like Australia. No joy for this in the Australian Research Council funding results. This must be the worst year for funding endangered language work for a very very long time. (I whinged in 2006 about the ARC lottery results - but that was a FAR better year).

After wading through piles of .pdfs, I could only spot two grants for endangered language work - both for work on new languages in the Northern Territory, [plug! stemming in part from the Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition Project]. Congratulations to

  • Caroline Jones, (based at the University of Wollongong) Phonological development in child speakers of mixed language
  • Felicity Meakins (based at the University of Queensland) Life after death: Exploring the birth of Gurindji Kriol, a new Aboriginal mixed language.

Also connected to Indigenous languages and cultures are:

  • PARADISEC's Linda Barwick, who is a CI on a Linkage grant (Sustainable futures for music cultures: Toward an ecology of musical diversity [.pdf], first CI Prof Dr H Schippers, Griffith University)
  • Paul Burke's ANU anthropology project Indigenous Diaspora: a new direction in the ethnographic study of the migration of Australian Aboriginal people from remote areas. Dead relevant to the Intervention...

Please lighten my gloom by noting if I've missed any projects of direct relevance to Transient Languages readers.

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The appalling war in the Caucasus is the subject of an article "Barriers are steep and linguistic" by Ellen Barry in the New York Times, 24/8/08 [thanks Philip!]. She looks at it from the point of the view of the languages of the region (mostly Georgian - about 4 million speakers, Abkhaz and Osetin with about 100,000 speakers each according to Ethnologue), and interviews several linguists (One of them, Bill Poser, has a useful post (plus Map! ) on Language Log about the linguistic background to the article, which has attracted some interesting comments on linguistic diversity and political clashes ).

Most of the quotations from linguists show their helpless grief over the fate of the people whose languages they study. There's the odd statement to take issue with - e.g. the claimed lack of language documentation in the Soviet era. It was no worse than in America and Australia at the same time, and for some (not all) small languages in the USSR it was better - they got orthographies, material published in their own languages and recognition.

Here's how the article ends.


[From our woman in the Victoria River District and Manchester, Felicity Meakins]

"Humans have an in-built ability to do mathematics even if they do not have
the language to express it, a research team has suggested. A study in Australian Aboriginal children, whose languages lack number words, found they did just as well as English-speaking children in numeracy...." (BBC)

This study [1] compared Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa kids with English-speaking kids from Melbourne between the age of 4-7 years. Check out the article for the tasks the kids were made to do.

In essence, though, the Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa kids didn't perform any differently from the English kids. So the results from this study contradict similar studies from the Amazon [2].

I am kinda curious though about whether they had any age-related differences. Surely 5-7 year old Warlpiri and Anindilyakawa kids are already being exposed to English and English counting - unless perhaps they are in transition bilingual programs. They might find some differences with the 4 year old Warlpiri and Anindilyakawa kids in that respect. A bit more info about the kids' language input might validate the findings a bit.


Loved the fireworks.
Loved history on and through paper.
Loved the moving movable type.
Loved the delighted athletes of the world.

Loathed the goose-stepping soldiers.
Loathed the mass synchronised movements.
Loathed the rhythmic grunts.

Bit worried about the cute young people in ethnic minority dress.
Hope that unity doesn't mean homogeneity.
Hope that harmony comes from welcoming difference.

Wish Crouching Tiger Roy and Hidden Dragon H.G. were doing the TV commentary.

Early this morning, a delivery of audio files was quietly sent from Paradisec's local server at the University of Sydney to permanent near-line tape storage at the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing in Canberra. This happens on many days, as you might imagine, but what makes today's delivery special, was that somewhere in that bunch of files was our 2000th archived hour of audio.

Moreover, we will soon be celebrating five years of operations, in which case, 2000 hours might not seem so impressive - it's just 400 hours per year after all - but we at Paradisec are very proud of our collection. Especially given that just about everything here is done on a shoestring budget and there have been some lengthy hiatuses of funding lately.

Speaking of which, this may be an opportune time to mention that we are always amenable to generous donations from people wishing to sponsor the digitisation and preservation of a collection of data. See our website for more details.

So, just which file was the lucky 2000th hour? Well, we can't really be sure, but we do know that it was among a collection of Mark Durie's research into the dialects of Aceh, an area that was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of Boxing Day 2006.

To help us celebrate both these milestones, Mark has kindly written a small piece for us about Aceh's dialects, his research of them and the importance of preserving the collection. He has also allowed a small portion of one of these recordings to be posted with this piece, which you can download here.

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Two great supporters of Australian Indigenous language work died recently. Dr R. Marika was widely known and well-respected for her passionate advocacy for Yolngu languages, and the importance of maintaining them and using them in schools. She was only 49. Short obituaries are on the web from ANTar, and The Australian.

J. Jampin Jones died yesterday. In 1998, as a middle-aged man, after many years of hard manual work, and in the midst of the grief and the havoc wrought by kidney failure on many of his family, he went to Batchelor College to learn to read and write Warumungu. An astonishing thing to do, and his charm, enthusiasm, and undauntedness gave hope and encouragement to other Warumungu students. Those of us studying Warumungu were helped immensely by his gift for explaining meanings, and by his belief that it was a good thing we were doing together.

We honour them both.

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LingFest HQ (aka Transient Building) is stacked with boxes of large blue bags paid for by publishers in return for inserting flyers (that's why the bags are so large). You could probably eat the bags, they're so enviro-friendly. 30 keen student volunteers are zooming around in between (we/they hope) doing brilliantly on their exams, (they have set up a Googlegroups for coordinating volunteers with an online spreadsheet and forms that beat hands-down our Open Conference Systems/Events Pro conference site (I like the idea of OCS, I liked the old version (used in the Papuan Languages workshop successfully), but the implementation of this one at the hands of an inexperienced central IT crew..., sigh and super sigh). And the organising committee is pondering deep questions such as - is it possible to have a book launch without alcohol? (Answer: of course not - this is Australia, we Don't DO teetotalism).

The program for the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (Marshallese, Malagasy, Indonesian, Seediq, Samoan...and more), is here.. The program for the Papuan languages workshop is here (One, Fas, Oksapmin...). The program for the International Lexical Functional Grammar Conference is here (Gunwinyguan, Turkish, Sinhala, Welsh..). Other programs include those for the Australian Linguistics Society [.pdf], and for the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia [.xls].

You can find out all about the units on offer for the Australian Linguistics Institute here [.pdf]. Units of particular interest to Transient Languages readers include:


[ from Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

The recently established Fondation Chirac in collaboration with the Musée du quai Branly and Unesco is organising a one-day public event to be held on Monday 9th June in Paris called "SOROSORO pour que vivent les langues du monde!" (SOROSORO long live the languages of the world! ). Sorosoro in the Araki language of Vanuatu means ‘breath, word, language’. The event will highlight the current situation of language diversity and endangered languages and includes presentations by linguists from France, Gabon, Guatemala, UK and Vanuatu.

The programme begins at 3pm in the Claude Levi-Strauss Theatre at the Museum and includes the following presentations (my translations of the French original):

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The Australian Computational and Linguistics Olympiad (OzCLO) is a linguistics competition aimed at high school students from years 9 to 12. The state rounds will be held at University of Sydney, and University of Melbourne on the afternoon of June 25th 2008, with the national round to be held (in each location) on August 6th 2008. OzCLO will consist of teams of up to three students.

Target student population:
The program is designed for students from years 9 to 12. Any secondary school student who enjoys the sample problems on the web site is a potential contestant. High School students don't typically know what linguistics and computational linguistics are, so they probably won't know if they are interested until they try the problems. However, students who like languages, maths, computers, and the natural sciences are most likely to be interested in this competition.

Information sessions:
Information sessions for students and teachers who are interested in the competition will be held at each location. At these sessions we will explain the details of the competition, introduce the fields of linguistics, computational linguistics, and language technology, and give tips for solving sample problems.

Sydney: Wednesday 11th June 4:00 – 6:00pm at University of Sydney
Contact Elwin Cross (elwin AT ozclo.org.au)

Melbourne: Wednesday 4th June 4:00 – 6:00pm at University of Melbourne
Contact Saya Ike (saya AT ozclo.org.au)

Competition Format:
The State round on June 25th 2008 will be a two and a half hour session, and the successful competitors will go to the National Round, which will also be held in Sydney and Melbourne on August 6th 2008.
Although this is a team competition format, individual students are also encouraged to join. They will not be disadvantaged in any way.

Registration in the competition is free. The registration form can be downloaded from the website ( HYPERLINK "" www.ozclo.org.au). The participating students will be contacted through a nominated teacher to protect their privacy.

The competition is being sponsored by HCSNet, the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne, Macquarie University, the Australasian Language Technology Association, and the Australian Linguistics Society.

[ from Peter K. Austin, Linguistics Department, SOAS]

A series of five documentaries on languages is scheduled to air on OBE (Original Black Entertainment) TV in the UK starting on 13th April 2008. OBE TV is a freeview 24 hour Channel on Sky Digital Channel 204 with a primary target audience from the African, Caribbean and other ethnic communities in the UK and Ireland, Europe, North Africa and beyond. OBE TV reaches over 7.8 million satellite subscribers in the UK and Ireland alone.

The documentary series is called World – Speaking in Tongues and the episodes are.....

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It's been almost two years since the first Papuanists' Workshop and now it's time for another. The linguistics departments at Sydney University and in RSPAS at the ANU are organising the second Papuanists' Workshop. It will be held on Saturday and Sunday 28-29 June 2008 at the University of Sydney, right before Lingfest gets started. 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.

Papers should be 20 or 40 mins long and on a topic related to Papuan languages or linguistics. We're hoping to have one day dedicated to talks on the theme of 'giving back to the community', making practical use of our linguistic research for the benefit of the community by such means as developing orthographies and producing educational materials. Talks related to topics of this sort are especially welcome.

For more information on the conference, see the conference website, which is being constantly updated.

The closing date for abstracts is 20 April 2008. To submit a title and abstract for a paper or to register, e-mail James McElvenny at james.mcelvenny at arts.usyd.edu.au

A theatre production by Ngapartji Ngapartji (who run the interesting online Pitjantjatjara course I posted about in 2006) is having a sell-out run at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, with amazing reviews (links here) (e.g. The most important Australian work to inhabit our theatres for a long time. AussieTheatre.com).

(Information: Belvoir St Theatre on (02) 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au | www.sydneyfestival.org.au)

[Update 4/2/08 - this has led to more publicity for the plight of Indigenous languages, e.g. here on the ABC]

They are also having a public forum on Australian Indigenous languages Can you say 'how do you do' at Uluru? together with Big hART.

WHEN: 6-7pm, Wednesday January 30th 2008
WHERE: Belvoir Street Theatre. Belvoir St, Surry Hills, Sydney
HOSTED BY: Prof. Larissa Behrendt - Research Director, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS


The Endangered Languages Academic Programme at SOAS is holding a Workshop:

Issues in Language Revitalisation and Maintenance
Saturday 9 February, 2008

Convenors: Peter K. Austin, Julia Sallabank

The theme of this workshop is issues in language revitalisation and maintenance. The goal of the workshop is to highlight and discuss theoretical and practical issues in revitalising and maintaining endangered languages, and especially issues of goals, models and methods for revitalisation of threatened languages. Among the issues to be considered will be:

1. What are the aims/goals of language revitalisation?

2. What part should teaching play in a revitalisation programme?

3. What is the role of media and technology in language revitalisation?

4. Are there limits to the applicability and transferability of models of language revitalisation?

Speakers include Viv Edwards (Reading), Meili Fang and David Nathan (SOAS), Lenore Grenoble (Chicago), Susan Penfield (Arizona)and Suzanne Romaine (Oxford).

For further details and a downloadable registration form go here. Registration closes on 1st February 2008.


[From our legally permanent resident blogger in the UK, Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

One of my prized possessions after having lived in the UK for five years now is a “Pass Notification Letter” which I received on 30th October 2007 when I sat for the Life in the UK Test administered by the Border and Immigration Service of the Home Office. The letter states:

“Following your test today in knowledge of life in the United Kingdom this is to certify that you have reached the level required for the purposes of obtaining indefinite leave to remain … Your success in this test also demonstrates that your level of competence in English meets the required standard for naturalisation or indefinite leave to remain. No further proof of this is needed.”

I had to sit the test because my work permit ended on 10th November and I wanted to apply for “indefinite leave to remain”, ie. permanent residence (rather than apply for a further 5 year work permit extension). Since April this year everyone applying to stay in the UK or become a naturalised citizen has to sit and pass the test, or else take a certified ESOL course. The test is administered by computer and has 24 questions that must be answered within 45 minutes – a pass of at least 75% is required. I bought a Life in the UK Test Study Guide (which says on the cover it is “the essential study guide for British citizenship & settlement tests, over 100,000 copies sold”) for £7.99 and boned up on the five chapters (A Changing Society, UK Today: A Profile, How the United Kingdom is Governed, Everyday Needs, Employment) and took the 10 sample tests in the back. Feeling apprehensive but somewhat prepared I paid my £34 fee and joined 25 other hopeful applicants in the basement of my local registered test centre where we were shouted at by a Test Authoriser that we were “under examination conditions – if anyone looks at another person’s computer screen they will be removed from the test room, reported immediately to the Home Office for cheating which is sufficient grounds for deportation”. Thanks, just what we all needed. Anyway, I managed to answer enough questions correctly and passed.

So what does the test actually test?

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The Canadian territory of Nunavut, created in 1999, has a population of 26,665, of whom 85% claim Inuit identity (2001 Census data). Of these approximately 85% claim to speak the Inuit language at home. (ibid. "Inuit Language" subsumes two major dialect groupings: Inuinnaqtun in the west and Inuktitut in the East.) With their huge political majority and their geographical isolation, the Inuit ought to have no trouble maintaining their language, but the challenges they face demonstrate that minority language maintenance is a difficult process, even when the odds appear to be extremely favourable.

The government of Nunavut has recently introduced two language-related bills, which have now progressed to second reading in the legislative assembly. The first, Bill 6, is an official languages act which establishes Inuit Language, French and English as official languages of the territory. The second, Bill 7, is an Innuit language protection act that seeks to promote the maintenance of the Inuit Language.

Prof. Ian Martin, language policy consultant to the Nunavut government and to the Inuit organization, NTI (Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated), presented his assessment of the stituation in a talk at Glendon College of York University this past week.

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As I was waiting for the tram the other day in İstanbul I spotted an ad for Sony digital cameras on the side of a bus. The text of the ad ran:

Herkesin bir Sony Cybershot'ı var.

This could be glossed as:

Sony Cybershot-ı
Sony Cybershot-3p.possessed

The sentence can be translated idiomatically into English as 'Everyone has a Sony Cybershot.' The term 'Sony Cybershot', a trademark used to identify a particular model of Sony camera, has clearly been coined in English, from 'cyber-', a prefix normally used to describe something that relates to computers or other modern digital technology (and which sounds really cool), plus 'shot', meaning a photograph. This trademark could be pronounced in several different ways, depending on which variety of English it is said in. But the text of the original Turkish ad provides a hint as to what pronunciation the advertisers intended.

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If you have an outstanding track record of publications, and you got your PhD between 1 January 2002 and 31 December 2006, and you'd like to work in the Department of Linguistics, University of Sydney, or PARADISEC, then, consider applying for a University of Sydney postdoctoral fellowship. They're open to all disciplines, so they're highly competitive. But on top of your salary they give you a once-off research support grant of $25,000, which is pretty useful for doing fieldwork.

If you want to work on endangered languages, especially in the Australia-Pacific area, then e-mail me (jhs AT mail.usyd.edu.au) for help with an application, and copy it to the chair of department, Professor James Martin (jmartin AT mail.usyd.edu.au). If you want to work on music or digital archiving, then e-mail Linda Barwick (lbarwick AT usyd.edu.au). Deadline to get to us: 9 August.


Call for Papers

Conference on Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory: 75 years of Linguistics at SOAS, 5 years of the Endangered Languages Project

7-8th December 2007
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

In 2007 the Department of Linguistics at School of Oriental and African Studies celebrates its 75th anniversary. Founded in 1932 as the first department of general linguistics in Britain, the research carried out by linguistics within the department has made a significant and lasting impact on the fields of language documentation and description and linguistic theory.

This conference commemorates both the 75 year tradition of linguistics within the School and the 5th anniversary of the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project, comprising the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP), the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), and the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP).

The conference aims to bring together researchers working on linguistic theory and language documentation and description, with a particular focus on innovative work on underdescribed or endangered languages, especially those of Asia and Africa. Our goal is to provide a forum to discuss the ways that linguists and others, especially community members, can respond to the current challenges to linguistic diversity and build on experiences of the past.

1. implications of language documentation and description for linguistic theory
2. implications of linguistic theory for language documentation and description
3. experiences of language documentation and description and linguistic theory at SOAS
4. new techniques and opportunities for documenting and describing languages
5. community-oriented outcomes of endangered languages research


People in Sydney concerned about Indigenous affairs may have the changce to attend two community forums this week with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

The first is entitled Directions in Indigenous Policy and Decision Making: Ways Forward, at the launch of the Agenda for Social Justice and Native Title Reports at which he and Pat Anderson (co-author of the Wild-Anderson report Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”) will be speaking.
Tuesday 3 July 2007, 10 for 10.30am
Turner Hall, Building B - Ultimo College, MaryAnn Street, Ultimo NSW 2007
To attend, contact asap Janet Drummond (JanetDrummond AT humanrights.gov.au)

The second is on on Australian Indigenous participation at a recent meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As well as Tom Calma, guest speakers will include:

Jason Field, Director of Research and Policy Development, NSW Aboriginal Land Council
Dr Ngaire Brown, Menzies School of Health Research
Mr Neil Gillespie, CEO of Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement

Thursday 5 July 2007, 4:30 - 6pm,
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Level 8, 133 Castlereagh St, Sydney (Piccadilly Tower).
To attend, contact asap Emilie Priday (emiliepriday AT humanrights.gov.au)

Sociolingo's Africa is a general blog which includes posts about languages (the writer's based in Mali but draws together material from across Africa). There are some interesting posts on linguistics, literacy - including mother tongue language education. So much seems so familiar. Thanks to this blog I've learned about Litcam, Google, and UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning Launch “The Literacy Project” and of practical handbooks which looks it might be useful in our region: Handbook for Literacy and Non-formal Education Facilitators in Africa, and its predecessor, designed for use in Asia, Handbook for Non-formal Education Facilitators.

Other blogs I've come across recently:
• Will Owen's blog Aboriginal art and culture: an American eye - has extensive and thoughtful reviews of art shows, books and films related to Australian Indigenous ethnography. (thanks David!)

• the blog of a graduate student, David Kaufman, who includes glossed texts of different Northern and Central American languages in the blog, as well as discussions of the language.

• The Lexique pro blog has been created for information sharing on Lexique Pro which has the potential to be a useful tool for dictionary-makers and publishers. (Thanks to a posting by David Ker of the Nyungwe Project - Mozambique on the Lexicography list)

Fulbright journey to Turtle Island ( USA) is the travel-blog of Samia Goudie, an Australian Bundjalung / Mununjali woman visiting the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship to find out about "inter-generational trauma, healing and resilience in Indigenous communities". So far, mostly travel, but some stuff on work with Native Americans.

Thanks to prowling around the web, we've come across Vakaivosavosa, a blog about Fiji and the Pacific, life, history and culture, which has lots of links to material on the Pacific and other blogs.

AND - how cool is this.. TLaC's first citation in a blog about a minority language in that minority language! o chemeco d'as parolas (en aragonés) is written in Aragonese, spoken in Spain. The writer comments on the applicability of Joe Blythe's post on video recording, and the blog has links to a number of blogs in Aragonese.

We'd like to find blogs written in languages of our region - send us the URLs!


I got inspired to preen our blogroll, by following up blogrolls on other linguistics blogs (notably Language Log). This meant hours of pleasure going through musings, dead blogs, frozen blogs, (very!) personal blogs, e-learning blogs exhorting us to use blogs in teaching, e-learning blogs exhorting not to use them, pictures of cats, gardens, parrots, business blogs, meta-blogs..

The results?

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The Central Australian Ngumbin-Yapa languages Warlpiri and Gurindji feature in this entry, together with obituaries for a Nyamal lawman, and an anthropologist who studied Maori oral literature.


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:


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.

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