We are undertaking targeted language documentation projects in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vanuatu, China and Laos, working with speakers of small, under-described languages. We are also describing ‘new’ languages – creole languages and mixed languages that have developed through contact between traditional languages and colonial languages such as English – for the information they provide on how languages vary and evolve.
Traditional methods for language documentation based on intensive fieldwork are being complemented by new techniques for gaining data on remote languages, new technologies, and a framework for typological comparison of morphosyntax.
The projects currently underway in the Shape program cover languages of Australia (Anindilyakwa, Bininj Gun-Wok, Dalabon, Garrwa, Gurindji Kriol, Kriol, Kunbarlang, Light Warlpiri, Murrinhpatha, Ngardi, Mudburra, Warlpiri, Warnman, Warumungu, Wubuy), Bougainville Island, Indonesia (Yelmek-Maklew), Papua New Guinea (Idi, Marind, Nambu, Nen), Samoa, Thailand (Lisu, Gong) and Vanuatu (Nkep, Sa/Raga, South Efate, Tolomako). We expect to add more with the appointment of more postdoctoral researchers and PhD students.
The research has both theoretical and practical value. Theoretically, work on underdescribed languages will extend our understanding of radically diverse linguistic structures and the full range of structures possible in human language. On a practical level this research will lead to the development of linguistic resources for these communities – dictionaries, collections of traditional stories, language-learning materials – that will make a significant contribution to their efforts to maintain and preserve their languages.