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Around Australia, honours degrees are under threat from academic administrators who see them as resource-intensive and fee-sparse. Often terrific work is done in honours theses. But this work often doesn't get publicised, and we need that kind of publicity to show just why honours degrees are worth doing, and worth fighting for. So it's great when students get around to depositing their theses in electronic archives, such as the e-Scholarship repository at the University of Sydney - it takes a lot of prodding to overcome post-thesis-parting blues. So, prod away!

You can browse the Sydney list - which is discoverable on the web, thanks to its software, the open source DSpace. A recent addition is Janet Watts' Conversational Analysis thesis, Children's Silences in Mareeba Aboriginal English. This list is incomplete of course, since our prodding isn't always successful. Oh, and ignore the awful handling of the authors' name - a weirdness induced by a mix of submitter and a rare DSpace glitch. Otherwise - a wonderful thing.


Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
6 June 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From David Nash
Narcisse Pelletier1 (1844-1894) spent half his adult life (1858-1875) with Aboriginal people on the eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula. He learnt their language and had no contact with outsiders, and in time he lost command of his native French. His removal from the coast at Night Island was as out of his control and as sudden as had been his arrival there seventeen years earlier. He then regained command of French over subsequent weeks and months, and upon return to his birthplace in France, he was interviewed by Constant Merland (1808-85) a French surgeon-turned-savant. Merland's 1876 book Dix-sept ans chez les sauvages: Narcisse Pelletier is quite rare and apparently not held in any Australian library. It had been overlooked as an ethnographic source but last month it has appeared afresh and "Now, for the first time, this remarkable true story is presented in English, complemented by an in-depth introductory essay and ethnographic commentary" as the blurb accurately states.

The translator and annotator Stephanie Anderson has marshalled the help of anthropologists and linguists Athol Chase, David Thompson, Bruce Rigsby, Peter Sutton, and Clair Hill. Between them they show that the people who adopted Pelletier were speakers of a dialect of the language now known as Lockhart River 'Sand Beach' language comprising Kuuku Yaʔu and Umpila, probably the dialect known as Uutaalnganu, AIATSIS code Y211.


The full account is spread through Pelletier : the forgotten castaway of Cape York published by Melbourne Books. The volume includes an ethnographic commentary by Athol Chase and an introductory essay by Stephanie Anderson who you might have heard talk about this in mid July on ABC's Late Night Live.

Merland has a chapter on language. He had taken down some 70 words and a few longer expressions as recalled by Pelletier, but before he presents these, he starts from the general, "How thought is expressed":

one point on which most people agree is that the degree of civilisation of different peoples can be gauged from the degree to which their language has evolved (p185)

Merland found that the language he recorded from Pelletier did not have the primitive properties that contemporary theorists described. Merland refers to the view that

Man’s first words were necessarily imitative words, onomatopoeic words, as grammarians call them (p185)

then points out that, on the contrary, judging from Pelletier's vocabulary,

while there are still numerous monosyllabic words in our highly evolved language of French, these have completely disappeared from the language spoken by the savages of Endeavour Land. (p191)

Indeed, Merland records not one monosyllabic word -- just as we with hindsight would expect of a Pama-Nyungan language(!).

Merland's transcription (possibly influenced by Pelletier's own spelling suggestions) has a few words with syllable-initial tr. These words match up with phonemic apical stop (apico-alveolar or possibly -domal) in Kuuku Yaʔu as recorded by the Rev DA Thompson (1988):

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Buffet style linguistic eating was available in Melbourne last week - first the Annual Conference of the Australian Linguistics Society, and then the Conference of the International Pragmatics Association's annual conference. Galactic conference fees put IPRA out of many people's reach (earlybird rego 350 Euros), but ALS still sticks to the cost recovery principle and makes sure the costs are low. Thanks to the La Trobe University organisers!

Australian Indigenous languages featured heavily at ALS: fieldwork, a whole session on the language Murriny Patha, papers on historical linguistics, word order and information structure... and the future of linguistic work at AIATSIS, and information about projects happening there. On non-Indigenous stuff, there was a brilliantly argued plenary by Anne Cutler (MPI and MARCS) on native listening - she has a book in progress which will be a must-read. I almost regretted not having followed a psycholinguistics path.

And there were good outcomes from the ALS AGM:

  • The Society is continuing to support Pacific Linguistics, about the only place that continues to publish books on languages of our region that are properly copy-edited and don't command galactic prices. (Disclaimer: I'm on the board)
  • The Society is expressing its concern about the decision to close down bilingual education in the Northern Territory
  • The Society's journal AJL is going to appear more often, and is now ISI indexed which means
    • better awareness of the work published therein
    • more people will want to publish in it
    • probably more work on Australian languages will be published, and will become better known

The first plenary at IPRA was also on Australian languages - Peter Sutton's musings on how Australian Indigenous people's beliefs and practices about languages have been altered by the move to settlement life, and how this leads to them speaking English, a creole or a lingua franca instead of their traditional language.

Sutton's book, The Politics of Suffering was launched, and has been much discussed in the news. Gotta read it, because I bet the arguments are more subtle than their portrayal in the media. Another book has hit the streets and the media too -- Nick Evans' Dying Words: Endangered languages and what they have to tell us. Oh to have time to read them! Class preparation..sigh. Nick's book has attracted a long and luscious piece from Nicolas Rothwell (The rest is silence (18/7/09). He mentions Nick's joy in learning from speakers of other languages, but the piece exudes the melancholy of a healthy man at the burial of a distant acquaintance.


[From Alex Kelly, Ngapartji Ngapartji and BIGhART]

Dear friends and supporters,
After 5 years working on Ngapartji Ngapartji, building the language website [and see blogpost] and touring the show, we have the opportunity to engage with the people who can help move the issue of Indigenous languages forward in leaps and bounds. Currently, without any supportive Indigenous languages policy at a federal level we are left with a culture of fragmented and unspoken policy that prioritises English at the expense of Indigenous languages.

There is a long history of campaigning and lobbying for Indigenous languages in Australia, with some successes, and periods of regression. Hopefully Australia is emerging from a particularly unsupportive period in the last 15 - 20 years. At the end of June we will make our contribution to that process by going to Canberra to talk to the Ministers for Indigenous Affairs, Education and the Arts to talk about the need for a long term whole-of-Government strategy on Indigenous languages and a National Indigenous Languages Policy.

We would love to be able to present each of the Ministers with a pile of letters from individuals and organisations about why it is so important, and why the Australian government needs to provide national leadership on indigenous languages - NOW OR NEVER.

Please take the time to write a letter - handwritten or typed, with or without letter-head - and send it to us by the 10th of June. You can email them to alexATngapartji.org, or post them to Ngapartji Ngapartji, P0 Box 2765, Alice Springs NT 0871.

You could include references to the importance of Indigenous languages

  • to a sense of identity, belonging and self
  • as a key to unlocking education participation
  • to improvements in mental health
  • to improvements in literacy and numeracy
  • being taught alongside English and not subordinate to it
  • and being taken out of the 'too hard' basket before it is too late
  • or any other issue that you think is relevant

It's going to make a big difference too, if we can demonstrate to them the reach and difference that this one area of policy could make. We look forward to being able to place your letter directly in the hand of the Minister who can make a difference.

Alex Kelly
Creative Producer, Ngapartji Ngapartji

The first few weeks of semester have been a game of snakes and ladders, and I've tumbled down some very long snakes. So it's good to report on a few ladders.

First was the Kioloa Australian Languages Workshop, of which more below.

Then there was the launch of Gayarragi Winangali, an electronic version of the Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay Yuwaalayaay Dictionary at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney. It's a wonderful resource which features a lot of data, a lot of sound, and a lot of ways of accessing the data. (Not to be compared with the expensively produced Multilocus Indigenous language CDs, most of which are depressingly data-light...).

And finally, ANU ePress have republished The Land is a map, a collection of papers on place-names in Australian Indigenous speech communities. (Bizarrely and sadly, they had to scan the book because their predecessor, Pandanus Press, wasn't into digital archiving).

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David Nash

How English acquired the word wombat is another story which began in early Sydney, after dingo (1788) and before boomerang (1820s).  The way that the form and denotation of wombat came together for the colonists is notable for its convolutions, and for the record we have of some of the twists along the way.

The intriguing story of the European discovery of the common wombat Vombatus ursinus was assembled recently by museum specialists Pigott and Jessop, focussing on how "the Governor's wombat" comes to be in Newcastle upon Tyne.  There was a string of coincidences, with one sequence leading to general adoption of the word wombat for this marsupial.  It spread also through the genus Vombatus (É. Geoffroy 1803) (with the synonym Wombatus (Desmarest 1804)) which was an early incorporation of an Australian word into a biological genus name — and through Family Vombatidae (Burnett 1829), up to Suborder Vombatiformes (Burnett 1830) and superfamily Vombatoidea (Archer 1984).

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I was sad to learn that Geoffrey O'Grady [1] has died - on 28th December at home in Victoria, British Columbia. He was a fine linguist, who documented Australian languages (Nyangumarta most extensively), wrote the report with Ken Hale that started bilingual education in the Northern Territory, and loved with a great passion the work of understanding relationships between Australian languages. Above all, he was a generous and kind man. He is survived by Alix O'Grady, his wife and collaborator for over fifty years, and their two daughters.

More about his life and work can be found in: 'Geoffrey O'Grady: pioneer of Australian linguistics' in his aptly titled festschrift Boundary rider: studies in the lexicology and comparative linguistics of Australian languages, edited by Darrell Tryon and Michael Walsh (Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, out of print but available as a .pdf $37.80)

[ Update: an obituary has appeared here.]

[1] BA Hons thesis, 1959, University of Sydney, Significance of the circumcision boundary in Western Australia. PhD thesis, 1963, Indiana University, Nyangumata grammar


Late in the nineteenth century, probably on the left bank of the Hawkesbury River, Tilly Clarke and Annie Barber took the trouble to teach a surveyor, Robert H. Mathews, something of their language, Darkinyung. He wrote down words, sentences and phrases in his No. 7 notebook, and published a little about it. The notebook is preserved among his papers in the National Library of Australia. This is the main surviving written source for the Darkinyung language.

On Monday 15 December, at the Ourimbah campus of Newcastle University, the Darkinyung Language Group launched Darkinyung grammar and dictionary: revitalising a language from historical sources, by Caroline Jones. It's another terrific Muurrbay/Many Rivers product. At the launch, Darkinyung people were centre-stage, but celebrating too were Wiradjuri, Gamilaraay, Gumbaynggirr, non-Aboriginal people, and the staff of Muurrbay and Many Rivers who made the publication possible.


[Updated with pictures - 21/11/08, 25/11/08, 30/11/08 ]

Three excellent books were launched yesterday, on a misty rainy day in the area of Nyambaga (Nambucca Heads). Long may they float, and God bless all who read them, buy them and review them.

They are:

You can order the books from Muurrbay. More about the books below, but now to the launch.

Photo from Muurrbay: L-R Aunty Vilma Moylan, Aunty Jessie Williams, Uncle Ken Walker

"Thank you for supporting us as a people, and keep the spirit alive eh?" That's how the Master of Ceremonies, and Chairman of Muurrbay, Uncle Ken Walker ended a cheerful, joking, rousing morning's celebration of Gumbaynggirr language survival and revival. When you have 200 people to help launch three books, everything connects.
2-KWalker.jpg 3-Ricky-Dallas.jpg

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David Nash

Aspects of the Sydney Language are a perennial fascination. Last month recent events prompted me to look into the etymology of boomerang. In recent weeks the gripping SBS documentary First Australians first episode (available as a 227MB MPEG4) took us to the early days of Sydney.  And now I've noticed what I think is an unreported sound correspondence, as I've become more familiar with sources on the Sydney Language.

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[from Eva Schultze-Berndt, School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures, University of Manchester]

This is to remind you of the upcoming Australianist workshop at the University of Manchester. As the interest seems to be high and 12 December was a better date for some participants, the workshop will start on Friday 12 December around noon and continue for all or most of the day on Saturday 13 December.

So far I received two abstracts (thank you!). I still welcome abstracts on the theme of "Prosody and information structure" but it looks as if many contributions will be on other topics, so feel free to offer a presentation on any topic of interest to Australianists (and possibly others!).

Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested in presenting, or just attending as a participant. If you would like to present a paper, please send me a title and abstract ASAP. I will then get back to you with a preliminary program and accommodation information by the end of October.

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you in Manchester soon.

Eva Schultze-Berndt
E-mail: eva.schultze-berndt AT manchester.ac.uk


[From our kartiya in Washington, Barry Alpher]

In a query to David Nash's posting (4 October) on munanga 'white person' in languages of Arnhem Land, Joe Blythe asks "So what about kartiya [the term for 'white person' in a number of Ngumpin-Yapa languages]? Any ideas?"

Here are a couple.

At least three languages attest kartiya: Walmajarri, Gurindji, and Warlpiri (in the form kardiya). Mudburra attests kardiba in the same meaning, and Gurindji attests kartipa as a variant of kartiya. (Note that in view of the Gurindji change *rt > r [Pat McConvell, pers. comm.; see under *kartu below], both of these Gurindji variants must be reckoned as loans.)

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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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Wow! Sally Dixon has just pointed me to Wangka Maya (the Pilbara Language Centre)'s free downloadable interactive Pilbara language dictionaries for the following languages: Bayungu, Burduna, Jiwarli, Martu Wangka, Nyamal, Nyangumarta, Thalanyji, Warnman, and Yulparija.

"These may be downloaded and used for personal use at no cost."

What a fantastic resource! And what a good way of ensuring that the material isn't lost.

Lucky PC users, unlucky Mac users - they're made in Lexique Pro, and so they run under Windows only. Off to the Windows emulator sigh.., as the LP people say firmly that they have NO plans to make Mac or Linux versions.

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David Nash

The (in)authenticity of accounts of early Sydney have been in the news recently. The fictionalised account of Lt William Dawes and his pioneering documentation of the Sydney Language in Kate Grenville's new novel The Lieutenant has had mixed reviews, but the concurrent story about a possible 1770 boomerang has gripped me more.

Ten days ago the Sydney Morning Herald reported

A boomerang claimed to have belonged to Captain James Cook appears to have been withdrawn from sale on the eve of a London auction after advice from the National Museum of Australia that it was probably not the real thing.

The Times reported bluntly that

Arthur Palmer, an Australian ethnographer who independently appraised the boomerang, described it is [sic] an “unsaleable bent stick” which hails from about the 1820s — 40 years after the explorer's death.

The colourful Arthur Beau Palmer's sizeable bucket of cold water can be hefted here; it is worth consulting for the view of early Sydney weapons. The story began in The Times of 21 August (with a photograph) and here in The Age on 22 August; there was an update in the SMH on 10 September.

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Ngapartji Ngapartji has launched a policy paper regarding Australian Indigenous languages. You can download it [.pdf] from their website. The press release is below.


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

At the Australian Languages Workshop 2008 held in March at the ANU field station at Kioloa (recounted in Jane Simpson's blog post) there was an after-dinner quiz organised by Harold Koch. It consisted of a series of trivial pursuit style questions to identify scholars who had published on Australian Aboriginal languages (some recent, some not so recent). The questions went something like this (some of these are ones I remember from Harold's quiz, others I have made up):

Identify the following six people each of whom published on Australian Aboriginal languages and:

  1. also wrote a book on scurvy in sheep
  2. published on middle-Indo-Aryan under another name
  3. prepared a handbook for coroners
  4. was a jackaroo on a station in the north-west of Western Australia
  5. is an expert in Ergodic Theory and has published a book on Multidimensional Continued Fractions
  6. spent time in an Australian internment camp as a Nazi spy during the second world war

The answers to most of these questions are to be found in a new 526 page book published this month by Pacific Linguistics and edited by William B. McGregor entitled Encountering Aboriginal languages: Studies in the history of Australian linguistics. My copy just arrived in London and I am having trouble putting it down, the contents are so interesting.


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[from our woman in Kununurra, Eva Schultze-Berndt]

This email is a call for expressions of interest in a 5th European Australianist workshop, to be held at the University of Manchester in September 2008.

The suggestions for dates are either of the following:

a) Su/Mo, 14th/15th September. This is adjacent to the LAGB conference in Colchester/Essex from 10-13 Sept; train travel between Colchester and Manchester is about 5 hrs.

b) Fr/Sat, 19th-20th September.

c) Sat/Su, 20th-21st September.

Of course depending on the number of participants we might only need one day. But hopefully many of you will be able to come!

The suggestion for a workshop theme is "Discourse, prosody and information structure in Australian languages". As usual, participants would be free to present papers not related to this theme.

I will be able to apply for a very limited amount of funding towards accommodation and travel costs of students or other participants who are not in full-time employment (success not guaranteed of course). Please indicate if you are interested in participating and belong to this category.


Mirabile dictu... The 2020 summit background material on Indigenous Australia, ">Slide 10 of the 11 slides, notes the terrible state of Australia's languages, and the need to do something about them. Considerable urgency is required if we are to preserve Australia's Indigenous languages and traditions.

BUT, the urgency and importance have disappeared from the interim report arising from the summit. The Indigenous section doesn't mention Indigenous languages once. Education ranks highly, but it's the kind of education that focuses on the problems caused by the differences between children's home languages and school languages (send the kids to boarding schools, make parents send kids to school), rather than on helping children negotiate between the two languages, and learn to value them both.

Some of the ideas from Yuendumu that didn't make it into the summit appear in Wendy Baarda's piece in the Education News of the Age . I quote a bit, but go read the whole!

After 30 years living and teaching at Yuendumu - a remote community about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs that speaks Warlpiri as its first language - I have watched literacy attainment levels slowly declining over the past decade. I believe there are two main reasons for this. One is the reduction and neglect of our bilingual or Two-Way program, a key to community involvement and pride in schools at Yuendumu and other bush schools.

The other factor has been the difficulty in attracting school principals of sufficient calibre and experience to be able to navigate complex relationships between two vastly different cultures and to develop innovative, community-based solutions.

There has been a steady loss of positions for Warlpiri staff since the early '90s. Fifteen years ago our Two-Way program was thriving. We had 10 Warlpiri and 10 mainstream staff members, including a mentor and a teacher linguist to support Warlpiri staff.

Now we have only one trained Warlpiri teacher and four Warlpiri assistant teachers with seven mainstream teachers. With fewer Warlpiri staff in the school there are fewer families represented and therefore a declining interest in the school and fewer children made to attend. Attendance has declined over the past decade, a symptom of a malaise within the community itself.

The Aboriginal schools whose Two-Way programs were discontinued have not since lifted literacy standards. Across all remote indigenous schools, whether English-only or Two-Way, the standard of spoken and written English is very low.
Boarding schools may be the answer for some, but why should Aboriginal children need to be sent far away to boarding schools to become literate, when much more could be done to improve education and build strong communities at home?

In the 2020 interim report the only place that Indigenous languages do get mentioned is in the arts section:

• Creativity is central to Australian life and Indigenous culture is the core to this. To measure, document and leverage the strengths of this culture, to articulate our role and improve protection of indigenous culture, language and heritage through a National Indigenous Cultural Authority.

Ho hum, I thought that helping preserve Indigenous languages was part of the job of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Studies. They hold the major archive of language material, and they presently employ two research linguists on short-term contracts. They advise on maintaining and documenting Indigenous languages. It's a specialised field, and good advice could save Government departments and language centres heaps of time and money. And it could save Indigenous people much heart-ache.

There's a bit more on languages of the region in another section

• To reinvigorate and deepen our engagement with Asia and the Pacific.
• To ensure that the major languages and cultures of our region are no longer foreign to Australians but are familiar and mainstreamed into Australian society.

Again, amplification of this in an opinion piece by Matthew Davies in the Age. Again a BUT. Not sure about this word 'major'. Leaving aside the many small endangered languages of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia etc, is Tok Pisin major? Is Solomons Pidgin? Is Bislama? Not in number of speakers, perhaps, but in being important languages for use in the region, undoubtedly.


Dhanggati people (Dhanggati is the language of the Macleay Valley) and linguists are well served by a new 205 page reference book on the language.

Lissarrague, Amanda. 2007. Dhanggati grammar and dictionary. Nambucca Heads: Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative 14 Bellwood Road, Nambucca Heads NSW 2448.

It's another Muurrbay product (in 2006 they published a reference book on the Hunter River language by Lissarrague) which really justifies the funding from the Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records programme, now housed in the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.


Mari Rhydwen is working with people developing resources for teaching Indigenous languages of New South Wales. She asks if speakers of traditional languages in Australia have engineered terms for talking about age in years and, if so, how they did it. It's quite possible that they have invented terms for other things (reading, school, money), but haven't felt the need to talk about people's ages in terms of years, except in English.

I could only think of age grade and status terms (child, woman with children etc) in traditional languages to describe someone's age, and of the use of 'Christmas' to mean 'year', but I couldn't recall an instance where someone described someone's age in terms of Christmasses.

Over to blog-readers for their ideas. Here's a start from Robert Hoogenaad:

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One of the "pleasures" that come with being known as a specialist in Australian Aboriginal languages is the string of requests one gets to translate various things into "Aboriginal", especially names for pets, houses, boats or even children (one of my favourites happened when I was at La Trobe University and someone called wanting a translation for "Happy Anzac Day"). Sometimes the reverse holds and the "meaning" of a word "in Aboriginal" is asked for. Nowadays there are websites devoted to this task, such as this one which promises: "Thousands of ABORIGINAL NAMES for your DOG, CAT, HORSE, PET AND CHILD! From Chinaroad Lowchens of Australia". This site at least mentions "these names/words are taken from several different Australian Aboriginal Languages", though none is mentioned by name.

Recently, David Nash pointed out to me that an Aboriginal word, which he identified as coming from the Diyari language, had made its way onto a koala at the Planckendael Zoo in Belgium (located near Antwerp). The zoo established an "Australia" section in May 1998 where various Australian animals are exhibited, including koalas, each of which has been given an "Aboriginal" name. Information about the koala names can be found in both Dutch and French, Belgium being officially bilingual. Here is my translation of what they say:

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Murriny Patha is fun. Especially if you like "“kintax"” (Evans 2003), cause it’'s got it in spades. Murriny Patha keeps delivering weird phenomena that require unconventional nomenclature (see for instance Walsh 1996). "So “what”", I hear you asking, "“is the '‘elided progeny'’ construction?"” In Murriny Patha it constitutes a subclass of what are clearly a group of "“triangular"” referring expressions, – whereby a person-referent is referred to via “"triangulation"” -– that is indirectly, via another person or persons. The most common of these are possessed kinterms: my father, your uncle, their cousin etc. The person that the kinterm is anchored to is frequently termed the propositus. Other classes of people may also take a propositus: e.g., John’'s bank manager. Arguably all kinterms are anchored to a propositus, regardless of whether the propositus is expressed overtly or not. Thus when an adult addresses a child, “"Hey, where'’s daddy?"”, the “altercentric” kinterm Daddy has an implied 2nd person propositus. However the same adult, when talking to another adult, may use egocentric kinterms with an implied 1st person propositus i.e., "“Mum is driving me mad”."

The “"elided progeny”" construction is a kind of kin-based triangulation, but the kinterm corresponding to son or daughter is just missing. These things are very common in Murriny Patha conversation. In fact "“triangulation"” is generally a very common means of referring to people. I wouldn'’t say it’'s the default method of referring to persons, but it probably is the preferred choice for "“upgrading”" reference to persons. So how does this construction work? It’'s basically a special case of the Murriny Patha possessive construction.

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(Guest post from David Nash)

Mark Liberman's post at Language Log 'On the origins of 'American Indian hyphens' (with updates) locates "the practice of writing American Indian words -- especially proper names -- with multiple internal hyphens" in the 19th century.  The earliest usage Mark has found so far is in an 1823 publication about an 1819-20 expedition across the USA.

Here in Australia, by about 1791 hyphens between syllables were common when the Sydney Language was being written down by the English colonists (who had arrived in 1788).

A good example is David Collins' list near the end of his 1798 An account of the English colony in New South Wales (pp.407-413 in 1975 edition; at "What follows is offered only as a specimen, not as a perfect vocabulary of their language").

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'Tis the season for workshops.
Deck the walls with electropalatograms and nasal airflow measurements

These blazed out of powerpoints in the David Myer Building at La Trobe University, where about 25 or so people interested in the sounds of Australian languages gathered for a workshop organised by Marija Tabain.

Many of the papers were collaborative, often between descriptive linguists and phoneticians or phonologists, named as authors or in acknowledgments. The success demonstrated a point that Gavan Breen made (Reflecting on retroflexion):
"grammars, especially of languages that have been worked on by only one researcher are likely to have systematic errors in them, and they need checking"


Recently Jangari proudly told me that his Wikipedia page on Wagiman was ranked as "good" by wikimedia. Well they got that right. Check it out, it's fantastic. Good on you Mali. Give the man a PhD scholarship! He's clearly ready for big things.


[ From our man, temporarily in the Netherlands, Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

On Saturday 27th October the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Nijmegen hosted a European Australianists workshop, organised by Ruth Singer, post-doctoral fellow at the Radboud University. The workshop was attended by about 15 people and had a packed programme of nine talks from 9am to 6pm. Unfortunately, I had to leave in the early afternoon to catch a flight back to London and missed some of the later presentations.


A new wiki has been set up: Sharing Aboriginal language. Longterm it's for general discussion "for all Aboriginal language people to work together, share ideas, develop exchanges programmes, discuss language matters and be able to contact each other quickly".

But most immediately the current discussion is on recommendations for Australian government policy on Indigenous Languages (you can find information on the main Australian language policy resources up to late June at David Nash's site). The recommendations arise from the successful Indigenous Languages Conference held last month at the University of Adelaide (See Matjjin-nehen, Anggarrgoon and Langguj gel for discussion of ideas arising in the conference).

Noel Pearson sets up a deliberately provocative contrast between 'we' (Indigenous Australians and good guys) and 'they' ('middle-class culture producer's and bad guys) in The Australian (21/7/07).

* They say we should respect Aboriginal English as a real language.
* We say we should speak our traditional languages and the Queen's English fluently.

False contrast.

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A nice reversal: Mount Nameless has got its name back. The Western Australian Government has adopted dual naming guidelines. (The good people of the Geographic Names Boards. Hurrah hurrah!) The Shire of Ashburton agreed to the mountain being called both Mount Nameless (apparently this name was bestowed by a Hamersley Iron survey team in the early 1960s), and Jarndunmunha, the name used by the Eastern Guruma people. (The people are also known as Kurrama*).

[Further update, you can see a picture of Jarndunmunha/Mount Nameless and more discussion at
Filipiniana & Cunning Linguistics
[ further to further update, Piers Kelly has sent a photo of the long long view from the top [.jpg]]

The Western Australian Lands Minister, Michelle Roberts, is quoted as saying:
"There are probably hundreds of traditional Aboriginal names, virtually unknown by the general community, for features such as mountains, lakes and rivers that currently have a well-known European name."

'Hundreds'? Wrong ball-park.

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The only fluent speaker of the Thaynakwith people's language, Dr Thanakupi Gloria Fletcher, has just produced a dictionary "that includes the traditional stories, songs and art of the Thaynakwith people" of western Cape York, with the help of other community members, and Bruce Sommer and Geoff Wharton. It was praised by Peter Beattie - wonderful to see a major government figure interested in Indigenous languages.


LingFest 2008 will be held at the University of Sydney, Australia, 1 – 13 July 2008. LingFest is a series of linguistics conferences and the Winter Linguistics Institute.

In conjunction with LingFest 2008 , the Indigenous Languages Strand will run between 7 – 11 July 2008. It will be held at the Koori Centre of the University of Sydney. The Indigenous Languages Strand will be a useful forum for a wide range of people working in the area of the revival and maintenance of Australian Indigenous languages.

More details follow, or download the form for expressions of interest here - deadline Friday August 24.

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Lewis O'Brien continues to be one of the mainstays of Kaurna Warra Pintyandi, the Kaurna language movement. There's a favourable review in the Sydney Morning Herald of a book about him And the clock struck thirteen - assembled by the linguist Mary-Anne Gale from conversations and archival research. Nothing on the language in the review - but read the book to find out more...

I posted a while back about the very interesting Ngapartji Ngapartji Pitjantjatjara course. Here's their call for some feedback.

Linguist, teacher, linguistics student or curriculum expert to review, critique and provide constructive feedback on structure, content and flow of Ngapartji Ngapartji online Pitjantjatjara language and culture site.


Please contact alex AT ngapartji.org for more information or to express your interest in being involved and supporting the future development of this innovative project.

Alex Kelly
Creative Producer
0422 777 590

Sign up: Ngapartji Ngapartji updates list:

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

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

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

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Last week the Victorian government announced its first step towards a policy on Indigenous languages. So, Noel Pearson was onto something..

I wonder what's on their wishlist? Dual naming of places (that'll be slow after the Grampians fiasco)? More ceremonial language used on ceremonial occasions and in official publications? Some Indigenous languages to be taught in schools (that will require a big investment in preparing teaching materials and training teachers, to avoid alienating kids)?

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It's been a week for Indigenous Australian languages here in the Sydney area - the annual Australian languages workshop at Pearl Beach brilliantly directed by Joe Blythe, a new film on teaching NSW languages in schools, and finally the launch of Jennifer Biddle's new book Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience (UNSW Press).


Check out Noel Pearson's opinion piece in The Australian 10/3/07. He suggests that the two most important pieces of work in "saving" Indigenous languages so far have been the language documentation work undertaken by linguists (yes!) sponsored by AIATSIS, and the translations of the Bible done mostly by Summer Institute of Linguistics linguists. (And to this let's add the importance of gospel song writing mentioned by Bulanjdjan and Wamut). He gently makes the point that linguists' grammars are often inaccessible to speakers. We should listen; we can do better.

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Several Indigenous Australian music stories.

Last year's Stanner Award went to Allan Marett for his ethnomusicological study, Songs, dreamings, and ghosts: The Wangga of North Australia: Wesleyan University Press (2005). This is an award for "the best published contribution to Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Studies that is considered by Council to be a significant work of scholarship in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Studies and which reflects the dynamic nature of Professor Stanner’s life and work."

And the award ceremony was moving. Yes there were speeches. And then Allan explained how the wangga songs link the living and the dead (and check out also the radio program Ghost songs). He showed three short clips of performances of wangga. Then Joe Gumbula, a Yolngu scholar and musician, and the first Indigenous Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, sat down on the floor with his didgeridoo. Allan sat down next to him with clap sticks, and they performed two songs, Allan singing. Many traditional Indigenous Australian songs are HARD, hard to learn the words of, and hard to sing, but he made it seem effortless. Two scholars and musicians, Yolngu and non-Indigenous-Australian, performing traditional songs together. A future for us all.

And then the other way around. Indigenous Australians have been writing and performing modern Anglo-Australian songs in traditional languages for a while now.

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March is the month for Warlpiri in Sydney. Some people from Nyirrpi, a southwest Warlpiri community are putting on an exhibition of paintings, Emerging at Gallery Gondwana, 7 Danks Street, Waterloo, until March 13.

And then, just as they leave, some women from Lajamanu, the northernmost Warlpiri community, will be down as artists in residence for painting workshops at the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales from the 13th to the 23rd. They'll finish their visit by performing a public yawulyu (women's ceremonial dance and song series) on 23rd March. This will take place during the launch of a book Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience by Jennifer Biddle (UNSW Press).


Two items for people who haven't read the Australian Linguistics Society February 2007 newsletter (subscribe! get all the goss AND the Australian Journal of Linguistics).

• LINGAD 2008 25 - 28 September, Adelaide comprises 3 meetings, including:
••the Australian Linguistics Society Conference 26 - 28 September, abstracts due 16 March; (reminder: same due date also for the associated workshop on the language of poetry and song - 300 words abstracts in word or PDF format to christina.eira AT adelaide.edu.au.)
•• Indigenous Languages Conference 2007, 25-27 September 2007,

CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) got squillions from DCITA for work on endangered languages and now want a linguist to help them do it. (In several procrastinatory moments I searched the DCITA website to find out how many squillions, but the site didn't yield the information in an obvious way. Can anyone tell us?)

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

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

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

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

In a previous posting “Modern Grammar from nineteenth century mission materials” Jane Simpson refers to the 2005 University of Adelaide doctoral dissertation, The language of the chosen view: the first phase of graphization of Dieri by Hermannsburg Missionaries, Lake Killalpaninna 1867-80 by Heidi Kneebone who, she says “takes linguists to task for NOT looking at early grammars of the languages they're working on”.

Now I don’t have a copy of this dissertation and only had a few hours in Canberra recently to skim through a copy lent to me by Luise Hercus. I was impressed by the historical work Kneebone had done with Lutheran sources (some written in an old German handwriting that is incredibly difficult to read, at least for me) and how she turned up materials written in Diyari by native speakers that I had not seen before. But since the thesis makes claims about my own research on Diyari, spoken in northern South Australia, and appears to suggest that the language I recorded thirty years ago from the last generation of fluent speakers was in part a missionary creation, I would like to take this opportunity to make a couple of points.


After weeks of hot weather and blame-firing over failed native title compensation land deals, rape, gangs, children taken into state care etc., it was like a fine lemon gelato to come across a couple of good news stories on Australian Indigenous languages. New flavour-of-the-year language and tourism, and long-term favourite language reclamation.

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God and languages are in the air. The Australian Federal Government is cross with a radical Islamic sheik who preaches in Arabic (translator spooks required!). The sheik points out, correctly, that many churches advertise services in Korean, Tongan, etc., and this causes no offence (= no drain on the spook translator budget). The NSW State Opposition leader wants immigrants to Australia to learn a subject called "English as a first language", not "English as a second language". "Second", he thinks doesn't reflect the importance of English. Maybe he wants immigrants to talk to their gods in English. Clearly, what linguists think a first language is is not yet a mainstream thought.

And linguists have been debating our connections with missionary linguists, language work done by missionaries, and linguistic software built by the missionary linguist organisation SIL (Semantic compositions (11/1/07) on the panel at the LSA and Anggarrgoon). On one side there are people saying that missionaries roll Dalek-like through the societies of the speakers of the languages they study and do bad things, and so their work is irredeemably sinful. On the other side people say that linguists are also a Dalek species, and so, what the hell, if the SIL software's good and the linguistic descriptions are good, use them. (Setting aside Earthlings who say that both species of Dalek are only into extermination).

And there's the position taken by Heidi Kneebone in a 2005 University of Adelaide doctoral dissertation, The language of the chosen view: the first phase of graphization of Dieri by Hermannsburg Missionaries, Lake Killalpaninna 1867-80. PhD dissertation, Linguistics, University of Adelaide (noted at OzPapersOnline )[1]. Kneebone takes linguists to task for NOT looking at early grammars of the languages they're working on.

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Today's Australia Day, the anniversary of the British invading Australia in 1788. Bang! Plants, animals, birds, land-forms got English common names, and the Indigenous language names were displaced. The exceptions were things which had no obvious look-alikes in England: unfamiliar animals (kangaroos, koalas), birds (currawong), plants (kurrajong, quandong), land-forms (billabong, yakka), fish (ponde), and some man-made things and ideas (boomerang, wurley, corroboree).

Two hundred years later, words from Indigenous languages are gradually coming back as parts of scientific names for species.

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SBS news - Tuesday January 23, 2007 - is likely to have an item on NgaawaGaray.

NgaawaGaray was a summer school in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay - two New South Wales languages. [Ngaawa and Garay are the words for ‘language’ in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay]. It was sponsored and organised by Muurrbay and Many Rivers language centres from Nambucca and held at the Koori Centre at the University of Sydney on January 15 - 19. There were 16 students in the Gumbaynggirr course and 11 in Gamilaraay. The Gamilaraay course consisted of part of the ‘Gamilaraay 101’ - taught as ‘Guwaalmiya Gamilaraay’ - a first year subject at University of Sydney, and also taught in TAFE. The Gumbaynggirr course was adapted from the regular course run each year at Muurrbay.

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16-18 March 2007 Workshop on Australian Indigenous languages at the Crommelin Field Station, Pearl Beach. This is organised by the Departments of Linguistics of the Universities of Sydney and Newcastle. There's a call for papers out.

24 -26 April 2007: Puliima National Indigenous Languages Information Communication Technology Forum
"Modern ways for ancient words" at Newcastle. Coordinated by the Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association, this is is an expo of technology which all has the potential to assist Indigenous Language programs. The content may range from the use of basic equipment such as audio and video recorders, to computer based programs that support the teaching of languages and the production of resources."

25-27 September 2007: Indigenous Languages Conference 2007 This is run as part of LINGAD 2007, along with the Australian Linguistics Society and AUSTRALEX's annual meetings. There's a call for offers to "present on any topic related to the use and strengthening of Australia’s Indigenous languages, run a workshop or panel, or be part of a panel. Indigenous Language workers and Indigenous teachers of Australian Languages are particularly encouraged to participate"

Australian Indigenous place names often suffer distortion in form and meaning when they are adopted into English. The distortion can have many different causes: English speakers might not be able to hear the sounds of the source language properly or they might not understand what place the name really refers to. In the case of Tayan Pic (32°58'4"S, 150°12'58"E — picture shown below), a mountain near Kandos in New South Wales, however, the name has suffered further distortion after its adoption into English because of a misreading of the English transcription of the name. We first have to investigate the evolution of the name in English before we can begin to look into its Australian origin.

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Carmel O'Shannessy has just lodged her doctoral thesis Language contact and children's bilingual acquisition: learning a mixed language and Warlpiri in northern Australia in the Sydney eScholarship Repository (D-Space) at the University of Sydney. It's on the emergence of a new language, Light Warlpiri, in the multilingual community of Lajamanu in northern Australia, and on how children acquire this language as well as one of the source languages, classical Warlpiri. It's the first time anyone's looked carefully at mixed languages in Aboriginal Australia, let alone documented the acquisition and development of such a language. A major theme is how children differentiate between the input languages. She's got some very interesting results on how adults and children distribute ergative marking differently in the two languages, but show similar word order patterns in both. The correlation between ergative marking and word order patterns is stronger among children - and Carmel suggests the children are leading language change here.

Go click! It's a ripper!


Wendy Baarda's 2003 report The design and trial of an interactive computer program Lata-kuunu to support Warlpiri school children’s literacy learning, can now be read here. It's a report on a project she did as part of an M.Ed. at the Northern Territory University.

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


If you had $350 to teach kids one word of an Indigenous language, what would you do with it?

• pay a skywriter to write Janapurlalki "eagle" over an Eagles grand final footy match in Tennant Creek?

• pay a cheersquad of 5 people to chant Ja na pu rlal ki at the Eagles footy game?

• buy 35 t-shirts printed with wawarta "clothes" and give them to the kids?

• pay someone to reprogram a Barbie doll to say "Ooooh wawarta!"?

• provide two big loaves of damper bread with, spelled out in raisins, kantirri "bread" or marnukuju jangu "with raisins", once a week for a year?
• pay a language speaker to work with the children once a week for 4 weeks. And record the classes.

• pay a PhD student a scholarship for three years plus preparation, evaluation and testing expenses to work with speakers on devising a curriculum, lesson plans and teaching materials ( oops - only a very cheap PhD student in a very poor country - thanks Ilan!)

Now you've got $80,000 to get the kids using 230 words. Would you spend it on 230 reprogrammed Barbie dolls? Or on weekly school language classes for fifteen years? Or on a multi-media CD?

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The present Australian government's approach to coordinating and delivering (funding for) general services to Indigenous people has failed on its first trial. That's the conclusion drawn in an article on a leaked report by Bill Gray (Chris Graham and Brian Johnstone in the National Indigenous Times). So, what happens about coordinating and delivering money for maintaining and documenting Indigenous languages in Australia? How much is spent? Does more go on documenting than on maintaining and supporting education? I got asked these questions the other day, and had to admit surprised ignorance. (Hey, I SHOULD know. I'm a tax-payer). Here's a start on answering - based on web-trawling.. and maybe some readers can add to it - help, is there an econo-statistician handy?

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The making of contemporary Aboriginal learning and literacy: Ngaanyatjarra engagement with changing western practices was a seminar given by Inge Kral today at the Centre for Aboriginal Policy Research. The seminar raised questions about reading and writing practices in Indigenous communities, and about the survival of small Indigenous communities faced with increasing demands from governments for paper work.

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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.

It's been very hard for ordinary city-dwelling Australians (i.e. most of us) to learn Indigenous Australian languages. Most universities don't teach them, and getting to Alice Springs for courses at the Institute for Aboriginal Development is out of most people's reach. Summer schools, such as the Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay ones mentioned in a previous post are rare. So it had to come, and it has, but in a rather unusual way. The first public online course in an Australian Indigenous language is run out of a demountable building in Alice Springs by the Ngapartji Ngapartji group. Trevor Jamieson and his family want to tell the story of how they, some of the Spinifex people, were forced to leave their lands during the missile testing in the 1950s and 1960s. They do this at arts festivals, using Pitjantjatjara, English, songs and dance. And they run an on-line language program, so that future audiences can understand the Pitjantjatjara talk in their performances.


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

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

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There've been two recent stories in the media about Indigenous language education - one on teaching Yuwaalaraay, the language of the Walgett area of NSW to local children, and the other on teaching the Western Australian language Bunuba in a private school in Melbourne. One's about language revival, and the other's about language tasting.


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

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Pitjantjatjara people in South Australia are thinking of abandoning their experiment with monolingual English education after fifteen years. At the same time, some communities in the Northern Territory are suffering from dysfunctional schools which happen to be bilingual, and so are thinking of abandoning their bilingual education programs, and the attendant teaching positions for community members. Churn churn. It's not about whether the program teaches English literacy and numeracy only. It's about children understanding what is happening in the classroom, and it's about communities understanding language shift. The evidence is that dropping bilingual education is no magic silver bullet for a miraculous improvement in children's English language and literacy.

But there's more evidence that bilingual education can produce better results than monolingual education. In The Australian Anthropological Society Newsletter Number 103, September 2006 (thanks David!) is an article by Ute Eickelkamp On a Positive Note: The Anangu Education Service Conference. Ute describes a conference held in Alice Springs in which half of the more than 200 delegates were Anangu staff and tertiary students "and many discussions and workshops were held in Pitjantjatjara". Yes!


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

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Want to learn some Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay in Sydney this January? John Giacon passes on this information. Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative  and Many Rivers Aboriginal Language Centre, in association with the Koori Centre at the University of Sydney, are facilitating Ngaawa-Garay, a summer school which will offer one week courses in Gumbaynggirr and Gamilaraay from Monday 15 - Friday 19 January, 2007.

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29 Sep

Running a bit late on this post, but, congratulations to Stan Grant Senior on being awarded the 2006 Deadly for "Outstanding Acheivement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education", for his work on Wiradjuri language revival.

And of course, congratulations too to all the other recipients!

To all our readers who'll be in the Tamworth area (New South Wales) on Friday 20 October, 2006. Remember the post on the excellent new Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay resources?

Well this is your chance to admire the resources, and to see performances from the kids learning the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages. John Giacon passes on this invitation.

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The cause for celebration is Justice Murray Wilcox's finding that Noongar people have 'native title' to certain parts of the Perth Metropolitan area (Federal Court (Bennell v State of Western Australia [2006] FCA 1243), Perth, 19 SEPTEMBER 2006).

The pursuit of native title (like the Snark) has cost heaps and caused much grief. But when native title is recognised, it's great, and when the value of linguistic evidence in determining it is recognised, this is also great. Wilcox's findings have lots of interesting things to say about Noongar language, what the claimants said, and the expert linguistic evidence provided by PARADISEC's Nick Thieberger.

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Diverting myself from contemplation of pronouns, I was led via the Indigenous alert (you get this by e-mailing library.research AT facs.gov.au) to a story on a spa in Queensland where the writer was testing

"Lowana from Li'Tya, a range of products and treatments which draw inspiration from indigenous Australian culture"

'Lowana' caught my attention, since I have been idling around with the etymology of lubra, which takes in Oyster Bay Tasmanian lowana 'woman'. HO, I thought, a Tasmanian enterprise perhaps. 'Woman' I thought, good name for spa consumers. 'Lowana' - fits English speakers' sense of euphony. So I went further to Spa care from the Australian Dreamtime. My machine was instantly taken over by a buzzing drone-pipe, but I fought on (with the help of the volume control), wading through the piccies of cute painted-up people, in search of WORDS..

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Today's Australian has the linguist Frances Kofod's moving obituary for a Gija painter and law man, Hector Jandany. This is the good side of the Australian's coverage of Indigenous affairs. The bad side however has come to the fore this week.


a post from Nick Thieberger

David Nash just alerted me to http://www.mouton-online.com/ausbib.php which is promisingly called: 'Language in Australia and New Zealand', and, for a mere 248 euros would seem to be an indispensible aid to the Australasian linguist. I popped in and got a guest logon which they generously (but perhaps ill-advisedly) offer for free. It seems to be a bibliographic listing (but in the days of Google Scholar and other such resources it may already be redundant?). I put in the name of my favourite Aboriginal language, Warnman, and got zero hits. Curious I thought.

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Vivid pink plum trees, white cherry trees, soft masses of yellow wattle, japonica hedges with pink flowers leaping out of new green leaves, white cockatoos browsing on the ground. That was Canberra during the Rematerialising colour conference at ANU's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. How does the outsider linguist find out if speakers of another language have colour terms? This important question for field linguists and lexicographers was raised in two papers on the Australian language Warlpiri by David Nash and Anna Wierzbicka.


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:


We mourn the loss of NJ Nangala and Colin Thiele, two people whose work has helped the maintenance of Indigenous languages.

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Two major recent events in the Northern Territory were Gurindji Freedom Day (discussed on the 7.30 report (21/8/06) (tx T & D for the link!)), and the Garma Festival. The song from the Lajamanu band that was played at Garma 'Gimme that old-time jukurrpa!' [jukurrpa = dreaming, law in Warlpiri] appeals to me for its lighthearted bringing together of present and past, English and Warlpiri, Christianity and Jukurrpa.

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Fancy going to Port Hedland in the Pilbara to discuss Australian languages in early September this year? A flyer arrived from FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages) asking for us to spread the word on their conference and Annual General Meeting. I can't see anything about it on their website, so download the flyer if you want registration forms and membership forms. A summary follows.


The Wednesday linguists' lunch at the CHATS cafe, ANU is a free-wheeling discussion of language, Indigenous Studies, and life in our various institutions - this week it ranged from the reconstructions of the pronunciation of  place-names (is Ulladulla really  Nguladarla?),  to language revival programs, especially John Giacon's experience with Gamilaraay,  and what works and what doesn't.


Last Wednesday (26 July) I went along to a ceremonial ribbon cutting on a bunch of books on Wiradjuri in the Parkes Shire Library (central west NSW). This prompted some thoughts on language revival, Wiradjuri, the German Saturday school I went to, and teaching language.

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On the way back from the interesting Australian Linguistics Institute in Brisbane, we stopped in Newcastle to talk with  Christine Bruderlin and Mark MacLean,  who produce very well laid-out dictionaries and learners' grammars of Australian languages.   The latest is Amanda Lissarrague's 2006   A salvage grammar and wordlist of the language from the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie. Nambucca Heads: Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative.  I think this is the first grammar of a mid-southern coastal NSW language to be produced for nearly 30 years.  Amanda has gone through Threlkeld's nineteenth century material and made sense of it, while retaining the original spellings so that her reconstructions can be checked.  It isn't a learner's grammar, but rather a reference grammar with the original Threlkeld sentences included. See the flyer to buy this book - contact Muurrbay at 14 Bellwood Road, Nambucca Heads NSW 2448.  Oh, for an Amazon of hard-to-get Australian  language material!

I just caught up with the excellent news that Raymattja Marika is the winner of the 2006 Territory Day Award.
For many years she has been one of the mainstays of language maintenance and the use of Indigenous languages in Arnhem Land schools, and of trying to craft a way of teaching and learning in schools which combines the best of both Yolngu and English-based education. It's great to see her honoured, and it's also good at a time when some commentators are devaluing and failing to understand the contribution of Indigenous languages and Indigenous people to education.

Nick Thieberger has just drawn attention to an article today from "The Australian" about the impending extinction of Australian languages, based on a Worldwatch report.  "It is estimated that 90 per cent of the languages spoken by Australia's Aboriginal peoples will perish within the current generation".

This is timely, as over the last few months we have seen increasing attempts by representatives  of the Government to attribute the dreadful state of some Indigenous people to  policies assisting them to maintain their languages and cultures.

In fact, over the last century many Indigenous communities all over Australia have been shifting from speaking traditional languages to speaking English-based creoles or varieties of English.  I have
seen no studies to show that, (keeping remotenesss of location and availablity of jobs constant) this shift has been accompanied by greater access to jobs, wealth, health and happiness.  
(Please add comments with reference if you can think of any).

Bilingual education has been blamed for Aborigines' poor English. But most Indigenous schools in remote Australia have not, and never have been, officially bilingual.  They have been English-medium schools. There is no evidence to suggest that children from the English-medium schools have learned English and other school subjects better than the children from the bilingual schools, and consequently have better access to work.  There are places where such testing could be done, but it needs to be done by independent assessors without a vested interest in the success of one or other type of program.

Second, bilingual programs in Australia have by and large been transfer programs - that is, they are based on the premise that many children learn better through their first language, and that  this allows them to transfer their skills to the dominant language.  The children have been taught English as a second language, from very early on. 

Third, these bilingual programs have often been under-resourced and under threat - they are more  expensive to run than English-only programs.  Whether a school remains bilingual usually depends on the principal of the school - and often new principals want to make their mark by reversing the policies of their predecessors. (a case in point is a new principal in a school which until his arrival had a Kriol bilingual program.  He made a bonfire of the Kriol materials laboriously
created by the local school staff).

Whether bilingual education slows language loss really hasn't been tested either.  We can point to communities such as Yuendumu which have had long-standing bilingual programs, and children
are still learning Warlpiri as their first language.  But no longitudinal studies have been done considering language loss and maintenance in comparable communities with and without bilingual
education programs. 

What isn't in doubt is that communities are shifting away from speaking Indigenous languages, and that once children stop speaking these languages, the languages will disappear.  If there are benefits to this language shift, as the Government appears to be claiming, they certainly don't seem apparent right now. Bilingual education may not be the solution to language loss, but until a better solution appears, it certainly cannot be dismissed.

On Thursday 29 June 2006 I joined heaps of overcoated people in the large, airy Reading Room of the Australian Institute of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
(AIATSIS) in Canberra. We were celebrating the launch of "Indigitisation" - a three year funded digitisation program for sound, text, film, and photographs. The view of lake, sky and trees and some determined ducks was a distraction from the speeches, but some things stuck - 40,000 hours of sound recordings of Indigenous languages to digitise, lots of expensive machines, some enthusiastic staff, and as yet no off-site backup. Storage problems mean they're not digitising everything at 24-bit, 96 kHz. They're planning to deliver some sound files through the web, where communities have given permission. So in future you should be able to click on some on-line catalogue entries and download sound files.

The AIATSIS Library staff showed "Collectors of words" - a web presentation of the nineteenth century word-lists of Australian languages from E. M. Curr and Victorian and Tasmanian languages from R. B. Brough Smyth . They're available as pdfs, organised alphabetically according to the place the words were attributed to, and linked to maps. A nice feature is the linking to the AIATSIS catalogue, so that you can find other materials referring to the same language group. Unfortunately the pdfs are only images - you can't search for text in them. If you want text copies of Curr, go for the transcribed copies in AIATSIS's electronic text archive ASEDA. These aren't yet linked to the scanned images - a job for the future!


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