Back to listing

Director weekly highlights 27 November


Date: 27 November 2020

It's my honor and pleasure to have been asked by Nick Evans to introduce this week's prodigious round of CoEDL news; and very appropriate that it falls, as it happens, exactly on our U.S. Thanksgiving Day, the Thursday of November's last full week, in celebration of harvests and blessings as the northern winter descends even so far south as here in Austin, Texas. Appropriate too, because each week, these updates make me feel thankful for the achievements, dynamism, new ideas, and resilience your work represents in the language sciences, arts, and humanities, and for the opportunity to witness and take part in it. 

I like it very much that your weekly offerings express so roundly and fully what you have done, are doing, and plan to do: the weaving together of disciplines and enterprises expressed in your suggestive logo; your vision of inclusiveness across societies and regions; your attention to Indigenous peoples across Australia and the Pacific, and to their languages and cultural practices; your concern that the language sciences contribute to education, society, and the environment; and within the academic sphere, your special attention to early-career researchers and their work. And now you are doing it, bravely and creatively, despite the pandemic that has made life different and difficult this year. 

One of this week's special milestones is the just-out latest number of Language Typology (24 (3); 2020) on the comparability problem in linguistic typology, guest-edited and introduced by Nick Evans, and with contributions by CoEDLers and CoEDL-colleagues Lindell Bromham, Matthew Spike, Grev Corbett, and Erich Round (who also is co-author, with Jayden Macklin-Cordes, of another paper that's just out). It's vintage and essential CoEDL, because it takes the What-exactly-are-we-comparing? problem--a fundamental question that has vexed those exploring the shape of human language--and looks at that same problem not only in some new linguistic turns, but also beyond, in biology, and philosophy. For me the most interesting revelation, raised in Nick's introduction and in the papers by Bromham and Spike, is the centrality of phylogeny and (especially) ontogeny in classificatory approaches outside of linguistics, and the chance that a better integration of both--studied by CoEDLers, of course, under the headings of evolution and learning--can break through some of the logjams and pessimism often lamented by linguists when on their own. It keeps very well the CoEDL promise to weave in new ways. 

I'd like also to heartily congratulate two CoEDLers just elected to the Australian Academy of the Humanities: Deputy Director Jane Simpson as Fellow; and PI Steve Levinson as Corresponding Fellow. And, I'd like to congratulate CoEDLer Evan Kidd for his participation as an expert on children and language in the Emmy-award winning ABC program Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. 

Also in the news is ongoing work by Carmel O'Shannessy and Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka, presented in the third in CoEDL's series of vignettes on digital fieldwork in pandemic times, and their successes in bringing together a beautiful film, Kaja-warnu-jangka (‘From the Bush’) that presents two Warlpiri elders, Jerry Patrick Jangala and Henry Cook Jakamarra, in Lajamanu community in the Northern Territory. Carmel's blog, Fieldwork Futures is one of many contributions--often cited in these pages--to national and international efforts to keep language support and language work going in local communities during the pandemic and to find ways to do it effectively and safely. I've been thankful for these weekly CoEDL newsletters for the information sharing they do about these efforts by CoEDLers as well as others. 

There are, as always, a great many upcoming events across the CoEDL nodes, covering so many facets of CoEDL's activity. I feel remiss in not mentioning them all, but there are two that I would like to underscore, both from the University of Melbourne. One is the Dec. 1 public lecture, Always was, always will be Aboriginal Language - Ma! by Linda Payi Ford and Emily Tyaemaen Ford, on building the first Marranunggu dictionary and the development of language learning and teaching activities. The other is Archiving thread CI Nick Thieberger's Dec. 10 ILARA (Institut des langues rares) seminar, Before us the deluge: What is the path to better records of more languages? 

Another item I'd like to mention is WSU's call for participation in a survey on familial multilingualism, calling to mind, for me, the strong push that CoEDL has made in trying to achieve better understanding and more societal recognition for multilingualism as a regular part of life in Australia. 

A notable part of CoEDL's lasting impact is its contribution to Australia's infrastructure in the language sciences. CoEDLers see that day-to-day and up close in the magnificent archiving work of PARADISEC; but no less important is the Language Data Commons of Australia, a major long-term consolidation and preservation project led by CoEDL Affiliate Michael Haugh. It's heartening to learn that the Federal Government has just set it as one of its three Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences eResearch Platform priorities in its 2020 Research Infrastructure Investment plan. 

Finally, one of the outstanding ways that CoEDL has served the language sciences, humanities, and arts is in the care it has taken to help students and early career researchers, of all backgrounds, find their way forward. I was especially pleased to see mention of a Ph.D. position offered by Myf Turpin and Georgia Curran at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music/University of Sydney for the study of Warlpiri ceremonial songs. I was also pleased to see the announcement of competition for the Leary Trust for Australian Indigenous Languages award for an Indigenous honours student at the University of Melbourne. Alongside those specific offers, I found the ALS workshops and seminars, under the heading Building Bridges -- NEXT GEN, and involving many CoEDLers, an outstanding set of efforts in support of early career researchers, and, in the case of the seminar, The Future of Academia, in support of the wider infrastructure. Finally, congratulations are due to Nikodem Rybak (UQ Node) on earning his Ph.D., supervised by CoEDLer Dan Angus (QUT). 

And, that's it for now. Thanks Nick, and all, for letting me 'visit' this week. Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Tony Woodbury 

Chair, CoEDL Advisory Committee 

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