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Director weekly highlights 3 Sept

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 3 September 2021

I’d like to begin by welcoming our new CoEDL Finance & Operations officer Celine Cheah, who started work at our ANU node yesterday. Welcome Celine — I’m sure many of our readers will have reasons to contact Celine about a range of matters as we power into our final 16 months of operation. Celine is there to help ensure that we use CoEDL’s resources in the best possible way and we’re very lucky to have recruited someone of her calibre into the role most recently occupied by Susan Jiang. 

A lot of the action this week crystallises around the theme ‘something’s gotta change’, to use the phrase that comes up in this week’s vitally important podcast of Because Language. There you can hear Lesley Woods, Alice Gaby and others talk about the ever more central theme of how to decolonise linguistics. Lesley also talks about the difficulties and discouragements she faced, and overcame, in moving into the field of linguistics. This topic is refracted in a number of other ways this week and next, and some of these issues, particularly around the question of fair authorshp and coauthorship, will be picked up in the second Spinning a Better Yarn study group on September 15th . The discussions in the podcast most focussed on issues that have been discussed in the English-speaking settler countries, so it’s especially welcome to now see the appearance of an important special issue of Language Documentation and Conservation on the topic of linguistic research by Indigenous Mexican researchers on Zapotec, Chatino, Tseltal and Tsotsi, edited by Chatino linguist Emiliana Cruz (UNAM) and Tony Woodbury, who chairs our Advisory Committee, and growing out of the visionary doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin, which has now trained nine Indigenous doctoral students from Latin America. This volume, which came out in Spanish last year, has now been  translated into English by a team of researchers. A further thread in this yarn — coming up in twenty days — will be the ILARA round table, chaired by Pius Akumbu, on the topic of ‘When speakers produce grammatical descriptions of their own languages’. 

Among a number of publications to come out this week, I’d specially like to highlight the dictionary of Nafsan, the language of South Efate, Vanuatu. It is a labour of love by Nick Thieberger and the Erakor community that has been two decades in the making, and that painstakingly weaves together modern speech with records of the language going back to early missionaries. As well, the beautifully detailed book on linguistic organisation and Native Title on the famously diverse Wik lands of Western Cape York, by Peter Sutton and the late Ken Hale, will be appearing on September 9th – put this date on your diary to download it. 

Meanwhile lots has been happening at our UQ node this week, revolving around some very creative responses to getting language and robotics into National Science Week on the one hand, and increasing interest in codesign principles, whether applied to Florence or Elpis, on the other.  See here for Janet Wiles’ robotic Rockatoo, based on the intelligent but elusive Palm Cockatoo of Cape York, which is renowned for its unique way of communicating through drumming, and links to some interesting work coming out of the Florence and Elpis projects. And Ben Foley’s Voyages in Language Technologies keeps ticking along. 

There is a packed series of seminars coming up over the next couple of weeks, all online for the moment, across the various CoEDL nodes; also a new set of ABRALIN AO VIVO talks including CoEDLers John Mansfield and Morten Christiansen, and Balthasar Bickel, who taught in our summer school a couple of years back. With lockdowns currently so widespread, at least for those of our Australian readers in the south-eastern states and territories, and with teaching breaks coming up for the next couple of weeks, there’s lots of staycation material there… 

Wishing you all a good week — please stay safe, and hang in there through what we all hope will be the last lap before populations are vaxxed to a level where we finally reach some level of safety. 


Nick Evans

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