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Language Documentation Grants announced for 2019

Date: 18 April 2019

The following projects have been awarded funding in this year's Language Documentation Grants round: 

Project: Documenting phonetic and phonological variation in Bislama

Rosey Billington, University of Melbourne

Bislama is a creole language which is a lingua franca in Vanuatu, a country of over 130 languages. While Bislama vocabulary mostly originates from English, the grammar and the sound system are more like that of local Oceanic languages. However, it has long been observed that there is considerable variation in the speech sounds used in Bislama, with the linguistic heritage of speakers being an important factor. This project will develop a corpus of Bislama materials which will allow for a quantitative investigation of sociolinguistic variation in Bislama phonetic and phonological patterns, across a diverse group of speakers.

Project: Creating a corpus of Yolŋu commentaries on ancestral art

Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University

Twenty video recordings, some in rare and undersdescribed Yolŋu languages have been made in conjunction with an exhibition at Charles Darwin University Art Gallery of 60 bark paintings which were collected at Milingimbi in the 1970s. This project will enable the recordings to be transcribed and translated for the benefit of the descendants of the artsts, for students of Yolŋu languages and culture, and for the texts in seven Yolŋu languages to be made available for analysis and corpus work.

Project: Documenting Sydney Aboriginal English

Sally Dixon, Friedrich Schiller University

The study examines the structural ‘distinctness’ of Sydney Aboriginal English and uncovers how this is being maintained in one of the world’s most linguistically diverse, yet English-dominated, metropolises. By producing the first high-quality, mini-corpus of naturalistic Sydney Aboriginal English, this study will systematically investigate (1) the ways in which this variety differs from Standard Australian English, and (2) whether such differences constitute potential contact-induced changes in progress. These findings will be contextualised by a detailed ethnographic examination of language practices to produce a rich picture of the role of minority ethnolects in the modern metropolis.

Project: Obstruents vs sonorants: Arabana apicals

Mark Harvey, University of Newcastle

This project aims to advance understanding of sound structures in Australian languages and more generally. It has long been recognized that sounds do not differ randomly from one another. Rather, groups of sounds behave together in systematic ways, but it is not clear precisely how sounds group together. Arabana has an unusual set of tongue-tip sounds. Their phonetic investigation allows us to evaluate different hypotheses on how sounds group together. The project will work with the last fluent speaker of Arabana to record and analyse new materials on tongue-tip sounds, providing better materials to both the Arabana and research communities.

Project: A cross-linguistic investigation of the factors affecting ethnobiological knowledge transmission in Arnhem Land

Aung Si, Institute for Linguistics, University of Cologne

This project will investigate the factors affecting the state of a community's knowledge of the natural environment, by systematically measuring key linguistic and non-linguistic variables in several languages of Arnhem Land. Using an interdisciplinary approach involving language documentation and ethnobiological techniques, this project will shed light on the complex interactions between language endangerment, knowledge transmission to younger generations and non-linguistic variables, such as the health of the local natural environment and access to traditional practices. The project will develop a framework for determining linguistic and ethnobiological vitality separately, allowing targeted interventions to safeguard either or both as necessary.

Project: Message sticks: Documenting an Indigenous system of long-distance communication

Piers Kelly, University of Cologne; Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena

Message sticks are Indigenous tools of long-distance communication. Carried by special messengers across cultural and linguistic boundaries, the objects were routinely used to support an important oral message, usually a request or declaration. Today, Indigenous communities employ message sticks in more restricted or politically symbolic contexts, however in Maningrida, traditional long-distance interactions are still remembered and reenacted. In collaboration with senior Rembarrnga men, I will document knowledge about message stick use in Arnhem Land. In particular I will probe the pragmatics of the system: the relationship between the oral message, the sequence of motifs and the context of the communicative encounter.

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