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Director weekly highlights 29 May

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 29 May 2020

Reconciliation Week is a time to focus our minds on what we are doing, as language scientists, to advance the understanding and respect that comes from understanding the Australia’s First Nations languages in ever-greater depth – in all their extraordinary intricacy, originality, and attunedness to the environmental and cultural stewardship of this continent. Worthy of particular mention this week are: 

The film Kaja-warnu-jangka ‘From the bush’, mostly in Warlpiri with subtitles in English, a unique biographical tribute to two senior Warlpiri men, Jerry Patrick Jangala OAM and Henry Cook Jakamarra, who tell their own narratives of their remarkable lives over 85+ years. The film is the product of a collaboration by PAW Media Warlpiri film-maker, Maxwell Walma Tasman Japanangka and CoEDL Associate Investigator Carmel O’Shannessy (ANU). It was inspired by people in the community suggesting the need to document the two senior men’s lives. See more information below. 

A classic, now available through ANU E-press, was mentioned in the ANU Alumni eNews for National Reconciliation Week: The Land Is a Map, Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, edited by the late Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges, and our Deputy Director Jane Simpson, first appeared back in 2002 but is now available here (free to download) and is assuming ever-greater importance as the namescape of Australia is gradually reconfigured to a system that reflects the wealth and spiritual depth of its Indigenous ‘first names’.  

A vital part of our challenge is to draw in young Indigenous talent to the study of language, and a particularly good opportunity to expose those in their final school years to the excitement of studying languages and linguistics, as well as the university system more generally, is the National Indigenous Summer School, which aims to inspire late high school students from Indigenous backgrounds to go on to University studies – at whatever place of study, and in whatever fields most excite them. Having participated in this last December I can attest to what a galvanising experience this was for all concerned. The next one, originally scheduled for this December, has been held over until next April because of COVID19-related delays, but it’s already worth sounding out potential applicants, so if you know of anyone who may be interested please direct them to this site.  

Another challenge in our work with First Nations languages is in developing ways of capturing the full richness of context while languages are being used. In talking about space, for example, can we go beyond investigative paradigms that use artificial situations (e.g. tabletop space, director-matching tasks) to more natural situations where people are actually talking about real geographical layouts, either as they move through them or as they recall routes afterwards? 

Last week we mentioned a recent publication on this by CoEDL PhD Alumna Claudia Cialone, which uses an innovative combination of real-time geospatial mapping, GoPro videos showing the local environment, and recorded talk about space. I’m proud to report that an important recent paper surveying these new developments and showing how they can be used – Larsson et al’s Integrating behavioral and geospatial data on the timeline: towards new dimensions of analysis mentions Claudia’s pathbreaking work as virtually the only existing study bringing together data in ways that yet to be adopted in the field. As CoEDL’s interest in developing new technologies for language documentation continues, the innovative methods outlined in the Larsson, Burenhult et al paper bear trialling and development by those CoEDL investigators and teams interested in bringing language and spatial context together in ways that show how language is really used on country. 

This leads on to an announcement: another central part of CoEDL’s goals is to move linguistics to a stronger empirical base by assembling vivid, extensive and well-curated corpora. Many doctoral and postdoctoral projects have built incredibly innovative and evocative corpora and a good chance to get recognition for this is by applying for the DELAMAN award. Here’s the announcement in full and I encourage CoEDLers to nominate for this and get further valorisation of their fine corpora:  

The DELAMAN Award recognizes and honours early-career documenters who have done outstanding documentary work in creating a rich multimedia documentary collection of a particular language that is endangered or no longer spoken." Nominations must be submitted by June 15, 2020, via the online nomination form. For further details about eligibility, see the DELAMAN website.  

A final remark on the Abralin Ao Vivo series, initiated by our Brazilian colleagues as a way of opening up Linguistics to the world, at this time of crisis when we are all rationed to virtual seminars. This seminar series, whose rich and varied program has been a runaway success, is going to run a number of contributions over the next two months from Australian linguists and many others from our CoEDL community. Upcoming events (some still being fine-tuned) include: 

Sunday 31 May, 11PM. An Introduction to Dynamic Linguistics: Capturing Fluidity In Language Change. Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia. 

Wednesday 3rd June, 8AM. Resilience Linguistics: What Is to be Done With Endangered Languages? David Bradley.  

Wednesday 8 July, 9AM. Panel. Language Variation and Change, Australia: Ao Vivo! Organised by Celeste Rodriguez Louro. Confirmed panellists: Catherine Travis, James Walker, Gerry Docherty, John Mansfield, Celeste Rodriguez Louro. 

Thursday 9 July, 9AM. Panel. Australian Languages. Organised by Ilana Mushin. Panellists include Rachel Nordlinger and others tba.  

Tuesday 14th July, 9PM. Gender: New Horizons. Greville Corbett. 

Tuesday 14 July, 9AM. Panel. Sustainable Academia: The way forward. Organised by Celeste Rodriguez Louro. Confirmed panellists: Dr Carla Pascoe, Dr Lauren Gawne, Dr Panos Pappas, Dr Toby Green. 

Friday 17 July, 9AM. Panel. Language ecology of Australia. Panellists tba.  

Tuesday 21 July, 9AM: Whose here and whose there? Double perspective and the lexicogrammar of social cognition. Nicholas Evans. Hosted by Celeste Rodriguez Louro. 

*Please note the seminar times are listed here in AEST (UTC +10). Check the full program to confirm times. 

These are of course only a fraction of the talks in this exciting series and I encourage you to check out the full program for details. 

More locally, as we enter the Zoomocene we have finally made the transition to opening up seminars across nodes – today (29th May) sees two seminars back to back, one hosted by Melbourne and one by ANU. Check out the CoEDL website for more details as these keep popping up and it’s great to see the audiences for these gradually shifting their composition to reflect the whole geographical spread of the CoEDL community.  

Meanwhile please all continue to take care of your health, physical and mental, and be considerate of the fact that many among our community are still dealing with stressful and confined situations. And please keep the news coming in so we can keep people right across our CoEDL community in touch with what everyone’s doing.  

Nick Evans 


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