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Director weekly highlights 19 June

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 19 June 2020

Once again, loads of exciting stuff has been happening this week.

Last Friday, more than 60 people watched through Zoom and Vimeo the film Kaja-warnu-jangka ‘From the bush’ made by PAW Media Warlpiri film-maker, Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka and ANU-CoEDL's Carmel O’Shannessy. People joined the Zoom conversation from New Zealand, Germany, Warnayaka art centre, Lajamanu, Yuendumu, Darwin, Groote Eylandt, Wadeye, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Alice Springs and probably other places. If you missed, you can watch the film any time on vimeo. Here is the link for the film and for the trailer

Still in the Zoomosphere, next Wednesday the 24th 4pm AEST will see a special session of Linguistics in the Pub on the very topical issue of Innovating and Adapting to Covid-19 restrictions: Aboriginal Community Language Programs. All welcome – to participate via Zoom, register with EventBrite to receive the Zoom meeting link 30 minutes before the event, or watch the panel discussion via Youtube live on the Linguistics in the Pub channel. The panel will include Rosie Sitorus (co-ordinator at Irra Wangga Language Centre, Geraldton, WA), Brendan Kennedy (Chairperson, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages), Duke Earl-Spurr (Language Officer at Kanyinirnpa Jukurrpa on Martu Country, WA), Eleanor McCall (Project Linguist at the Mobile Language Team, Adelaide, SA) and Sharon Edgar-Jones (Language Worker at Muurrbay Language and Culture Co-op, NSW). Ebony Joachim and Andrew Tanner from Living Languages will be facilitating the discussion.

I mentioned in a earlier mailout that we were about to see a flurry of new dictionaries of Australian languages appearing as part of AIATSIS's Dictionaries project, and this week saw the appearance of two of them.

First, CoEDL doctoral student and Ngiyampaa mayi woman, Lesley Woods has just published the dictionary of her language, Ngiyampaa, from Western New South Wales – a resource that will be of equal value to Ngiyampaa people and to linguists who for nearly three decades have wished for a dictionary counterpart to Tamsin Donaldson’s sensitive and nuanced  1980 grammar.  

Second, Dhurga linguists and teachers Patricia Ellis, Kerry Boyenga and Waine Donovan have published a dictionary of the Dhurga language of the NSW South Coast that will give a huge push to programs teaching the Dhurga language in schools and adult education programs on the NSW South Coast. This brings to culmination a long team effort that has over the years included the late Luise Hercus, Diana Eades, Jutta Besold (whose ANU PhD drew together a host of historical sources), CoEDL Deputy Jane Simpson, Nay San, and two CoEDL summer scholars, Eleanor Jorgensen and Romi Hill. 

Congratulations to all involved in both these projects – each drawing together thousands of words and person-decades of work by many people to open out the linguistic riches of these two New South Wales languages. Stay tuned for another new dictionary next week – the 3rd edition of the Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara dictionary. 

To end on a more sombre note, some weeks back the world lost, to COVID19, one of the great articulators of ancestral knowledge on the screen, Antonio Bolívar, an elder of the Ocaina tribe who also spoke Huitoto, Ticuna and Cubeo. Many of you will remember his signal performance in Embrace of the Serpent, and one of the greatest films to conduct much of its sound-track in several Amazonian languages (Cubeo, Huitoto, Ticuna and Wanano). An obituary of this extraordinary custodian of his tribal language and knowledge can be found in the Economist at death in a Colombian hospital, to a disease that most likely entered his home town of Leticia in Colombia from across the border in Brazil, is a reminder of how terribly the scourge of COVID19 is affecting Indigenous peoples in South America at the moment, and of how much still stands at risk if there is a new flare-up among Indigenous peoples on this side of the Pacific. 

Finally, this morning’s news brought the shocking announcement that the government is planning steep new fee increases for humanities subjects in Australia in coming years, on the argument that these do not lead to the sorts of jobs that are in demand. Quite apart from this being a shockingly instrumentalist view of higher education, it seriously misreads the vast contribution of the humanities to both employment and social good. While on the face of it the decrease in costs for subjects in languages and in English may mollify this somewhat, it leaves very unclear what would happen to those studying linguistics, philosophy, anthropology or many other disciplines, or indeed whether it is useful to maintain the current facile distinction between STEM and HASS, within which the location of the language sciences is unclear (why not move to STEML and HASSL?). Full details have yet to be unveiled but it is a topic where we will need to exert maximum pressure in the coming weeks and months. 

Nick Evans


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