Course abstract - Evans

Course: Linguistics field methods

Instructors: Nicholas Evans (ANU), Jeffrey Aniba-Waia 


This course will introduce participants to some key approaches to analysing and documenting a language one doesn’t know, by working with a native speaker. The language we will investigate is Kala Kawaw Ya, a language of the Western Torres Strait which, though it belongs to the Pama-Nyungan family, displays many unusual features for an Australian language, in many cases as a result of convergence with its Papuan neighbours. Kala Kawaw Ya is the mother tongue of instructor Jeffa Aniba Waia, a language teacher and language activist from Saibai Island. During the course we will work together to explore selected aspects of the language, so as to teach the rudiments of how to carry out linguistic fieldwork.

Each of the class meetings will consist of a mix of (a) conversational teaching of basic phrases (b) structured elicitation, (c) recording of story and other text material (d) transcription and analysis of recorded material from previous sessions (e) archiving and metadata. Participants will be rostered through a range of roles during the week, including ‘scribe’ (keeping written notes of proceedings), ‘elicitor’, ‘recorder’, ‘transcriber’ and ‘archivist’, so as to learn, through doing, the main elements of the linguistic fieldworker’s work-flow.

Topics covered under the elicitation components will include (a) elicitation and transcription of basic vocabulary, using both phonetic and practical orthographies (b) case, on nouns and pronouns, (c) verbal lexicon and valency, (d) tense, aspect and mood.

Special notes:

(a)   Enrolment limited to a maximum of sixteen. If you wish to take this course, please submit a statement (one page max) of your background, interests, future research plans, prior training and experience. Decisions on places in the course will be made available on the Summer School Website by the end of September. Please forward your applicaiton to,  with the subject ‘Application for 2018 Summer School Field Methods Course’, by October 12th

(b)  Since we will work as a team, building on the complementary strengths of course participants, there are no fixed prerequisites other than engagement, flexibility, and a willingness to sail into the unknown.

(c)   In addition to the four main class sessions of 90 minutes each, each participant will have an opportunity to attend one or two pair sessions with Jeffa to follow up on particular problems in detail.

(d)  Since each day will build on material gathered in previous days, including overnight analysis, participants in this course need to leave substantial time for intensive analytic work during the week. We recommend that at most one other summer course be taken in conjunction with this, to leave time for adequate participation.

Preliminary reading (We will assume that all participants have read this before the start of class.)

On Kala Kawaw Ya: 

Ford, Kevin and Dana Ober. 1991. A sketch of Kalaw Kawaw Ya. In: Suzanne Romaine (ed.), Language in Australia, 118–142. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

On Linguistic Field Methods:

Meakins, Felicity, Jennifer Green & Myfany Turpin. 2018. Understanding Linguistic Fieldwork. London: Routledge. Please read Chs 1 and 4 before the class starts. (The more of the book you can read beforehand the better)

Additional reading for the keen:

Comrie, Bernard. 1981. Ergativity and grammatical relations in Kala Kawaw Ya. Australian Journal of Linguistics 1: 1–42.

Kennedy, Rod. 1985a. Kala Kawaw verbs. In: Sandra K. Ray (ed.) Aboriginal and Islander Grammars: Collected Papers, 81–101. Darwin: SIL.

Kennedy, Rod. 1985b. Kala Kawaw Verbs: Speaker perspective and tense, mood, and aspect. In: Sandra K. Ray (ed.), Aboriginal and Islander Grammars: Collected Papers, 105-118. Darwin: SIL.

Kennedy, Rod. 1985c. Clauses in Kala Lagaw Ya. In: Sandra K. Ray (ed.), Aboriginal and Islander Grammars: Collected Papers, 59–79. Darwin: SIL.

Ritz, Marie-Eve A. and Stirling, Lesley Fiona. 2011.Temporal distinctions around the present in Kala Lagaw Ya. Paper presented at The 42nd Australian Linguistic Society Annual Conference, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.  

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University