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Director weekly highlights 12 June

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 12 June 2020

First off, a reminder about two exciting online events coming up soon. 

Indeed, the first of them kicks off only hours after this message will enter your inbox. In a recent mailout I mentioned the incredible film Kaja-warnu-jangka ‘From the bush’, a collaboration by PAW Media Warlpiri film-maker, Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka and ANU-CoEDL's Carmel O’Shannessy. As an experiment, we are incorporating a launch of this film into ANU’s Friday afternoon seminar series, framed by an introduction and a panel discussion. You’re all cordially invited to join us in real (AEST) time for the event, via Zoom (from 3pm). 

Details are: 

3:00pm:  Introduction by Nick Evans, Director, CoEDL 

3:05pm:  Watch the film being streamed or each watch on their own devices 

4:15pm:  Reconvene for Q&A.  

Panel Chair Assoc. Prof. Brenda Croft (Indigenous Art History and Curatorship, SOAD).  

Panel members: film-makers Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka (Lajamanu) and Carmel O'Shannessy (SLLL), and Ngiyampaa linguist Lesley Woods (SLLL).  

In case you miss the real-time event, you can at least watch the film here: 

The other one – now time-travelling back to Brisbane in February at our 2020 CoEDLFest – is the recording of Catherine Travis’ enormously successful public lecture on ‘100 Years of Australian English’. In case you weren’t able to attend it in person at the time – or would just like to watch it again (there’s a lot packed into it!) here’s the Youtube link 

Another booming acoustic worthy of note is the appearance of a special issue of JASA (Journal of the Acoustic Society of America) devoted to the phonetics of under-documented languages. As Anne Cutler puts it, this was  

‘an absolutely unprecedented (ha ha, got to use it!!) move for the Acoustical Soc.; they hardly ever do special issues, and endangered languages are usually far from their radar. Luckily in this case they listened to arguments from their younger members.  Unsurprisingly the selection contains many CoEDL (CI, student, member, affiliate, friend) contributions. It is also (almost) unprecedented for a JASA issue to be open access (even if not for ever)’.  

In particular, you’ll see contributions by CoEDLers Cassandra Algy, Rosey Billington, Jaydene Elvin, Thomas Ennever, Paola Escudero, Janet Fletcher (x2), Qandeel Hussain, Angeline Joshua, Weicong Li, Felicity Meakins, Hannah Sarvasy, Jesse Stewart, Nick Thieberger, Catalina Torres, and Ben Volchok.  

So, read it and download it while you can – my congratulations to all.  

I haven’t mentioned the COVID19 epidemic in the last couple of mailouts. But though things are coming under control here and in a number of other countries of our region (thumbs up to Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Vietnam for their amazing efforts), there are other parts of the world – especially in South America and South Asia – where the pandemic is raging worse than ever. Our hearts go out to all on this list who are based or work in those countries. Meanwhile, it is vital that we keep our eyes on the situation in First Nations communities here, and thanks to Mahesh Radhakrishnan I’d like to draw the following additions to the visual collection to your attention: 

  • PAW Media’s FB page has some resources in Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte and other languages including a couple of entertaining videos (info passed on by Georgia Curran) 

  • A collection of resources compiled by Translations Commons with information in minority languages around the world (info passed on by David Nash) 

  • A collection of resources with a Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach to COVID-19 including links to messages in a range of languages.  

  • Video resources ‘Keep our mob safe’ produced by AIDA in Yumplatok (from info by Christiane Keller) 

  • In addition to the above, David Nash also shared this link regarding the effect of COVID-19 on endangered languages which may be of interest. 

And of course the last two weeks have reverberated with the tragedy of George Floyd’s killing, and the spotlight it shines on Indigenous Deaths in Custody back here in Australia, and the horrendous rates of Indigenous imprisonment more generally.  

Above and beyond what we can do as citizens, through protesting, voting and petitioning, there is also much we can do as linguists to address these shocking injustices. Ensuring fair attention to culturally different communication styles in the courtroom is one, as Diana Eades has shown us through a long stream of research; a second is making sure that Indigenous people appearing in court have access to the best possible interpreting services so that language problems do not amplify the chances of miscarriages of justice. But even with all that, as well as the very necessary reforms to procedures for arrest and imprisonment that are currently being proposed to reduce the number of Indigenous people being imprisoned, it is sadly true that the number of prisoners from Indigenous backgrounds will be disproportionately high for some years to come. For some remote communities in the Northern Territory, between 10 and 20% of adult males are incarcerated at any one time. This is where the push to make prisons culturally appropriate comes into play – you may be interested in looking at this resource 

And, as part of this push, Northern Territory Corrections, in consultation with CoEDLer John Mansfield, is developing a plan to offer inmates of Darwin prison activity programs in their own languages, starting with Tiwi (pilot sessions with Tiwi inmates in 2019/2020, run by Tiwi elder Pirrwayingi Puruntatameri) and Murrinhpatha (eight pilot sessions in February 2020 run by Murrinhpatha elder Nguluyguy Margaret Perdjert, alongside experienced language workers Nguvudirr Jeremiah Tunmuck and John Mansfield). These sessions focused on use of digital tablets to create illustrated language materials and developing participants’ literacy in their first language. Northern Territory Corrections are currently evaluating the pilot sessions with a view to rolling out a more extensive trial program for Indigenous NT prisoners. You can read more about this at the RUIL website of our University of Melbourne node; the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University is also involved 

Have a good week and please stay safe  

Nick Evans 


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