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Director weekly highlights 4 September

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 4 September 2020

I mentioned last week one of the challenges of communicating the complexities of our discoveries in the language sciences out to wider audiences – the use of visualisation. This week has brought in some other interesting angles on surmounting the communication problem. 

Part of this week’s solution involved getting out there into national newspapers telling the human story of linguistic fieldwork, and I’d like to draw your attention to Kristina Gallego’s vivid and humane account of her field experiences in the northern Philippines. Another part involves connecting up to other scientific fields  – Lindell Bromham’s racy article in Linguistic Typology on Darwin’s wrestlings with the comparability problem is, as far as I know, the first article in a typology journal to revolve around barnacles, and a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, recently republished, looks at the interconnections between species loss, the forgetting of biological vocabulary, and one of my more bizarre field experiences with a travelling taxidermic collection of endangered marsupials in a remote part of the Northern Territory. But perhaps the most innovative of all, in this week’s haul of communicativity, is Lauren Reed’s abstract, in Auslan, for a paper she recently published on switching between Auslan-derived and locally-derived sign systems in the Deaf community of Port Moresby.  

Anita Heiss on Indigenous Literacy Day, Nick Thieberger on how time is running out for our archives of analog tape, and Jane Simpson on celebrity nicknames have given us further. Since the last one is behind a paywall, I asked Jane to pull out a sample extract, trying to modulate the interviewer’s eagerness to believe that anglophone Australia leads the world in its love of nicknames:  

What is unusual about us, she said, is our fondness for nicknaming places, such as The ’Gong, The ’Loo and Brisvegas. The trend also extends to companies, with McDonald’s adopting its nickname ‘Macca’s’ in its marketing – a development which a spokesman said was “unique in the global business”. 

That name ‘Maccas’ reveals another distinctive feature of Australian nicknaming: our love of diminutives. From Shazza and Bazza – a form that the Americans find “totally weird”, Prof Simpson said – to Davo and Kimbo, we just can’t seem to let a good name be. Why is that?   

The run of advertised PhD positions continues – in addition to those advertised in previous weeks, you’ll see new doctoral opportunities at WSU, UWA and Charles Darwin University for a range of topics from fieldwork investigating space in Kune through educational linguistics to work at the linguistics/technology interface.  

The next couple of weeks a lot of our central team, including myself, Deputy Jane Simpson and COO Romina Paskotic, will be taking some leave, so there won’t be a message from the Director in the newsletter next week. But please keep sending in your news (to so we can collate it. And I hope that many of you will be able to get a bit of time off – and that those of our community who are cooped up under lockdown conditions in Melbourne and elsewhere will soon get a respite as the case load drops.  

Nick Evans 


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