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Director weekly highlights 13 November

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 13 November 2020

This is NAIDOC week, and its theme this year, Always Was, Always Will Be, is particularly appropriate to many things that have been happening, or are about to, in the language space.  

With perfect timing Inge Kral and Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis’ book In the time of their lives has become available for pre-ordering this week, with UWA press, and I can’t think of a more powerful testament to the NAIDOC theme. Growing from their deep, quarter-century friendship, the book weaves in many other voices and images down through time. It shows us what has altered and what has stayed the same, and how to ‘see a new kind of future’, rooted in the riches of traditional culture – a spiritually healthy, intellectually vibrant, and sustained by the tjukurrpa and the Ngaanyatjarra language which the book so beautifully shares with the reader. As befits the authors’ interests in new types of literacy, it is at the same time a beautifully-crafted physical book and a set of links out to a web of multimedia stories that allow us to see, hear and appreciate the verbal art of numerous masterful storytellers at first hand. In doing so it transports us, through language, into the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and haptic textures of Ngaanyatjarra country from precontact times down to today. Definitely something to order up on for Christmas gifts – and my congratulations to Lizzie and Inge on this this incredible work.   

But the outpouring of original works bringing past, present and future together doesn’t stop there. Jenny Green, together with Lizzie and Inge, has produced I-Tjuma, an ingeniously put-together collection that runs traditional Ngaanyatjarra stories back through younger storytellers using iPads instead of traditional sand-drawing techniques – which you can see, and hear, by scanning in QR codes linking to the performance. Again, a big congratulations to all three authors on finding such vivid ways of giving new forms of life to traditional story-telling traditions and bringing Ngaanyatjarra alive in the rich fullness of performance.  

One of the reasons these works are so powerful is that they grow out of collaborations and community engagements that go back decades. Today’s research environment places constant pressure, particularly on younger scholars, to go after ‘low-hanging fruit’ rather than planting the oaks of long, deep collaboration. Everyone must find their own path through this shifting maze, whose contours change all the time, but learning, and earning, your trade through goodly periods working with communities has extraordinary benefits on all sides. The three jobs being advertised this week – in Ngukurr, Kununurra and Yuendumu – are all of this type. 

As part of the ongoing effort to build better policy around Australia’s Indigenous languages, there will be a forum, on Nov 24th, on the 2020 National Indigenous Languages Report (NILR). This is a vital opportunity to talk to policy makers about a range of language-relevant topics and I urge all who care about this to participate. 

Another vitally important series of events, in the form of a Webinar series, is a multi-date forum on the Future of Linguistics, held as part of the recruiting process for a new Director (to succeed Steve Levinson) at our Partner organisation, the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen. The stakes are high, and there is a superb line of speakers – again this will be a very exciting event, so register and be part of the discussions. 

In the other direction – of CoEDLers presenting virtually in other parts of the world – last week saw Lesley Woods appearing as guest facilitator on one of the Chamoru weekly remote discussion groups that focuses on language reclamation, Felicity Meakins presenting in Michigan, next week Rachel Nordlinger will be presenting in São Paolo in the Abralin series, and in two weeks’ time Nick Thieberger will be presenting in Paris (Ilara series) and Kazan, the origin site for the phoneme during the fabled Baudouin de Courtenay’s tenure there. See below for details (except for the Kazan gig, which we’ll give details for next week). These remote appearances are great way to make people around the world aware of the research going on in CoEDL, and I encourage all CoEDLers to think about taking advantage of the Zoomocene to present their work in that way – and, if you do, please tell us about it. 

It's always a moment of pride for all of us when a PhD gets completed, so on behalf of CoEDL I’d also like to congratulate Matthew Callaghan, from the ANU node, on his recently-obtained PhD, entitled ‘I’m Talking tú vos: A Comparative Study of Morphosyntactic Variation and Change in the Chilean Second-person Singular’.  

And – to wrap up what has been an amazing week of achievements – I’d like to congratulate CoEDL Deputy Jane Simpson, CI Felicity Meakins and Advisory Committee member and former Chair Kate Burridge on their election to the Australian Social Sciences Academy. Linguistics, as a field, gets represented in two learned academies – the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Social Sciences Academy – but until recently its representation in the latter has been rather limited. The election of these three outstanding researchers is thus not just a great honour to each of them, but a really important recognition of how important language, and linguistic methods, are to the social sciences. Congratulations Jane, Felicity and Kate. 

So much is going on that sometimes when I write these I wonder whether I’m introducing an annual report – not just a weekly mailout. 

Happy NAIDOC week – and, to all our American CoEDLers, our hopes for a swift and definitive resolution of last weekend’s election victory, and a return to more inclusive and humane politics in the next presidential term. 

Nick Evans 


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