Back to listing

Director weekly highlights 31 July

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 31 July 2020

First a big thanks to Jane Simpson for taking over as Acting Director last week while I took some days off before the starting back of second semester. 

This has been an incredible week for our CoEDL community with three major honours and awards announced:  

(a) Anne Cutler (WSU node) was recently nominated to the British Academy (the lineup of new nominees includes the likes of Mary Robinson, Thomas Piketty, and Gary Younge). This makes her one of very few people to be a member of both the British Academy and the Royal Society (not to mention a string of others), reflecting how truly cross-disciplinary her work is, and is one more measure of how hugely influential her week has been in psycholinguistics.   

(b) Erich Round (UQ node) had an embarrassment of riches, being awarded both a British Academy Global Professorship and a Future Fellowship. He’s gone for the first (while still maintaining his position in UQ linguistics in fractional guise), and will be based in CoEDL PI Grev Corbett’s Surrey Morphology Group for 2021-24. The British grant builds on a collaboration nurtured and assisted by CoEDL over many years, with CoEDL PI Greville Corbett, head of the Surrey Morphology Group. The project brings together leading minds from Surrey, Oxford, Max Planck and the CNRS, among others, in the fields of morphology and mathematics to work towards a new generation of evolutionary models of morphology. It also aims at a broader demystification of the potentials of mathematical modelling for scholarship in historical linguistics  

(c) Ruth Singer (UM node) won a Future Fellowship to extend her influential studies of multilingualism in Arnhem Land into the realm of comprehension, reflecting the common phenomenon where people say they ‘hear’ a language but don’t speak it. This is a timely and original study of something that linguists interested in Indigenous multilingualisms have become increasingly aware of but until now nobody has tackled it on the scale that Ruth will, building on her long-standing experience with the extraordinarily multilingual community at Warruwi. 

Another deeply symbolic shift took place yesterday at 10 am: for the first time, the ACT Legislative Assembly was opened by Joy Burch MLA (as Speaker) giving the Ngunnawal Acknowledgement. Additionally, the three parties have agreed on instituting the Ngunnawal Acknowledgement to be given at every seating, so this will be in place from now on. This makes it the first Australian parliament to begin every sitting day in an Indigenous language. You can read more about this in The Canberra Times.  

Congratulations to postdoc Mark Richards for presenting a cross-node Zoom workshop ‘The Task in Language Learning and Research’, receiving excellent feedback from attendees and generating a lot of discussion from the group. Mark is based at WSU and working part-time with the UQ OPAL team. We are so pleased to see our team working across the physical divide in these COVID times!  

Looking to next week, and especially relevant to ECR researchers staring at the tricky question of getting a job during and after Covid-19, here’s some news from Bruno Olsson (ANU node) about a special Zoom seminar next Tuesday organised by the the CoEDL HDR/ECR community (but everybody is welcome to join). 

I’d also like to flag the following site for your interest, as part of the growing dissemination of why linguistic equity matters in crisis times like this: the ‘Language on the Move’ site led by Macquarie sociolinguist Ingrid Piller. This has a host of interesting stories, including this recently posted one by ANU Emeritus Anna Wierzbicka, who has been showing how Natural Semantic Metalanguage can be used as base message resources for communicating information about Covid, whether in minimal English or using it as a base to translate into other languages.

This week also saw the long-delayed release of the National Indigenous Languages Report. It's a collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and AIATSIS, and the Australian National University. Contributing authors include CoEDL and AIATSIS people:  Denise Angelo, Jacqueline Battin, Emma Browne, Inge Kral, Jason Lee, Douglas Marmion, Carmel O’Shannessy, Jane Simpson, Hilary Smith and Rhonda Smith and Tandee Wang. Coming in the same week as the Closing the Gap agreement, we can only hope that it will influence the implementation of the new ‘cultures and languages are strong’ target, which of course we welcome!   

For those wanting to publish small snapshots, EL Publishing [EL = Endangered Languages] has a new venture of publishing short (say 1500 words) snapshots of speech communities and their languages in "Language Documentation and Description".  The latest volume is online and available for free download. Please go to where you will find all 16 papers. Everyone is encouraged to submit snapshots which are lightly peer-reviewed.     

The Abralin Ao Vivo series continued this week with a very timely session on Fieldwork at a distance. Find some slides and powerpoints here

Chatino linguist Emiliana Cruz (UNAM) described how Chatino people worked on promoting literacy in their own language through translating stories available on This reduced the bottleneck of production and resulted in 40+ stories. Then family members used phones to record children reading the stories. 

Stephen Morey (Latrobe) discussed an extraordinary range of ways of doing fieldwork remotely in India, especially through using Facebook, and putting up material on Youtube channels which are accessible to community members. This included a really detailed and useful description of how he worked with community members to create literacy videos via Facebook, using Facebook messenger for the audio, and Camtasia for assembling powerpoint and audio, as well as of downloading the FB discussions. Through FB he has been offering weekly linguistics lectures for people in India, as well as facilitating FB discussions of Unicode orthography creation. He now has 4,500+FB friends. 

Australian languages were covered by CoEDL members Claire Bowern and Ruth Singer. Ruth emphasised the importance of collaboration in fieldwork which then makes fieldwork at a distance more feasible. Claire Bowern gave a detailed description of the month-long bootcamp for group grammar writing from existing material, including collaboration with local communities, reducing the time taken to produce grammatical material that is useful for communities. 

Nick Evans 


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