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Fond farewells – Finishing PhD students, Part 1

Australian National University, Learning, Shape, Western Sydney University

Date: 13 December 2019

As the end point of CoEDL appears dimly on the horizon, many of our diverse doctoral students have, or are about to reach the end of their PhD journey. In this series, we asked them for their closing reflections:

Yarjis Xueqing Zhong

Yarjis Xueqing Zhong (ANU)

Topic: Rescuing a Language from Extinction: Documentation and Practical Steps for the Revitalisation of (Western) Yugur

“My PhD thesis is based on my own native endangered language, Western Yugur, a Turkic language in western China with about 2000 speakers. I studied the language situation of the Yugur people within the language ecology of Gansu province and their language revitalisation approaches. I examined the sounds of Western Yugur, designed a practical orthography and tested this with community members. I also investigated the word classes and sentence structure of the language, resulting in a grammatical sketch. To do this, I used the methods of modern practical and theoretical lexicography to build a small-scale online trilingual dictionary of Western Yugur-Chinese-English.

My ultimate aim is to help the local Yugur communities document and revitalise their language, and hopefully use this to help other endangered languages around the world facing a similar situation. As a native language linguist, I would like to keep dedicating my research passion to saving my endangered language with the community and also to helping other communities with endangered languages. I would like to continue this journey, explore many research avenues opened up by my PhD thesis and work on new research possibilities as they unfold.” (You can download Yarjis PhD thesis from the ANU website.)


Mark RichardsMark Richards (WSU)

Topic: Revitalisation of an Australian Aboriginal Language: Archival Utterances as Scaffolding for Independent Adult Language Learning.  

“In collaboration with Jilkminggan, an Australian Aboriginal community in the western Roper area of the Northern Territory, we investigated the use of archival recordings for revitalisation of Mangarrayi, the traditional language of the community. This research provides evidence of existing capacity amongst younger adult community members for creation of teaching and learning resources. Using archival audio utterances organised into communicative domains with face-to face learning from speaker Sheila Conway rekindled knowledge of older community members. External metalinguistic and pedagogic expertise helps develop language knowledge and skills, providing a possible model for sustainable revitalisation of other Aboriginal languages.

I am grateful to CoEDL, the MARCS Institute and WSU for the opportunity to pursue this particular project, which follows up on earlier work in the community in 1994. At that time some older community members, particularly Amy Dirn.gayg, who has now passed away, gave generously of their time to record phrases. Since that time I have had a desire to see this legacy put at the service of teaching and learning Mangarrayi. I am fortunate, again thanks to CoEDL funding, to have an 18 month position at MARCS to follow up on some of the ideas coming out of the thesis project. (Download Mark’s PhD thesis from this link.)


Claudia CialoneClaudia Cialone (ANU)

Topic: Placing spatial language and cognition in context through an investigation of Bininj Kunwok navigation talk

 “I did my PhD with Nick Evans as main supervisor and Evan Kidd as chair, and graduated on the 18th of July 2019. The broad questions I asked were: How do Bininj Kunwok people from Western Arnhem Land navigate in the bush? Why do they navigate that way, and how do they verbalize their orientation systems? The motivation behind these questions is to expand our understanding of the way humans rely on and use language during spatial navigation.

I am currently, and for the future (possibly 30+ years if I can!) working for Warddeken Land Management Ltd in Western Arnhem Land helping Bininj (Indigenous people) in the discovery of their rock art. I’m completing an article entitled 'Geomapped semantics of Bininj Kunwok orientation lexicon’ in consideration for the journal Hunter Gatherer Research. I am also working with photographer David Hancock, who is writing a lead story for Australian Geographic about our rock art project, a completely Bininj led program where I’m helping out with physical work, technological support, logistics, culture and language preservation to the best of my capacities.” (You can download Claudia’s thesis from the ANU website.)


Eri KashimaEri Kashima (ANU)

Topic: An investigation of language variation in an under-described Papuan language (Nmbo)

“The research project was undertaken as part of Professor Nicholas Evans’ ARC Laureate Project, ‘The Wellsprings of Linguistics Diversity’.  Nmbo is spoken by some 700 people plus a few hundred more as an additional language in the highly multilingual South-Fly District of Papua New Guinea. My thesis provides one of the few quantitative and qualitative studies of a complex speech community of Papua New Guinea, which maintains traditional multilingual dynamics that are relatively unaffected by larger regional and global languages. I also produced a sketch grammar for documentary purposes. I am looking towards further exploring the relationship between society, culture and grammar, and how the three affect and are affected by one another. I will pursue this topic further by joining a research team based at the University of Helsinki (Finland), starting in 2020.”

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