Back to listing

Director weekly highlights 1 Apr

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 1 April 2022

As Jane mentioned in last week’s Director’s message, I got ambushed last week by an amazing surprise event Festschrift event down in Melbourne and was too taken up with that to write the intro. Thanks Jane for stepping in, again, and especially a big thanks to Rachel Nordlinger, Alice Gaby and all who gave papers and videoed messages there for a day and a half that warmed my heart and sent all our minds racing. I had naively believed that I was going to be spending the day ferreting out trans-Non-Pama-Nyungan cognates with Rachel as part of a new project we’re developing, but it wasn’t to be. I’m only glad my heart didn’t give out with the surprise — and impressed with the Mossad-like secret-organising skills of a bunch of people who are normally among the most up-front I know. The contents of the talks were as surprising as the event itself, ranging from Alex Marley’s masterly exposition (in limerick + PowerPoint form) of variation in Bininj Kunwok kin terms; to Christian Döhler’s witty tour through the orchestra of German musical metaphors; Lila San Roque’s fascinating discussion of which animals the Duna people of highlands PNG regard as having thoughts (adult cassowaries? No — they abandon their eggs, unlike other birds. But cassowary grandparents are another story — they come in and do the rearing, apparently); exceptions to exceptions in Tangkic morphophonology (Erich Round); gestures for time in Central Australia (Jenny Green); whatchamacallit words in Dalabon and what they tell us (Maïa Ponsonnet); counterexamples to Keenan and Comrie’s famous ‘accessibility hierarchy’ in Ngkolmpu (Matt Carroll), and many other fascinating papers — all of which you’ll get the chance to read up on later.    

This week’s mailout is, once again, one of those corridors with a lot of hyperlink doors well worth walking through and exploring. First is our 2021 annual report, now available. This represents a huge amount of work by our professional team, by all who provided stories, and especially by Morgan Alexander who has come up with a new and more narrative-based way of showing all that went on during 2021 — a big thanks to you all for pulling it together with such pizzazz. Take a good look through it — there is so much there that is exciting and inspiring and there are moments, especially when a couple of years of COVID fatigue sets in, when it is good to sit back and take pleasant stock. 

Then there’s the compelling Fay et al. study (including CoEDL/Wellsprings Alumni Mark Ellison and Murray Garde) giving experimental evidence that ideas can be much more easily coded by gesture than in the auditory channel, across two radically different cultures (people in Perth, and from Pentecost Island in Vanuatu). This elegant study connects, experimentally, with the ideas about the primacy of gesture in the evolution of language in Ron Planer and Kim Sterelny’s recent book, and with the growing interest in studying sign languages and their emergence.   

Also check out the details on the next ISB (International Symposium on Bilingualism), to be held in Sydney in June 2023, with a big CoEDL crew involved, on the theme of ‘Diversity’. Bi- and multilingualism have just kept growing in thematic importance over the lifetime of CoEDL, so this is a chance to feed some of these lively currents into an ISB on our home turf.   

Finally, welcome news from Labor’s recently announced commitment of $14 million to support Indigenous Languages education in schools. See Carmel O’Shannessy’s SBS interview, and I’d like to underline the wisdom of her remark there that "Longer is better. We need students to be learning languages for the longer term.... What a language needs is people speaking it across all of the age groups." The Australian education system is littered with short-lived programs which fade after a couple of years, when any one of us who has seriously learned another language knows that we need fierce continuity — across decades — both to attain real fluency, and to guarantee a deserving career pathway and a rich set of teaching resources. 

With my best for the coming week   

Nick Evans 


CoEDL Spotlight: James Bednall 

Jane Simpson introduces: 

James Bednall first came to ANU as a summer scholar from the University of WA, where his honours thesis was on mood in the Western Desert language. After working at the Bundiyarra Irra Wangga Language Centre in Geraldton WA , he then returned to ANU.  He navigated the administrative shoals of a co-tutelle doctorate (with Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7) to produce the first fulll-length treatment of tense aspect and modality in a non-Pama-Nyungan language  ‘Temporal, aspectual and modal expression in Anindilyakwa, the language of the Groote Eylandt Archipelago, Australia’   But at the same time , he continued with a series of fascinating community-oriented projects.  These included a Badimaya dictionary, and Nganang Badim aya Wangga: Yarns with Gami Ollie George’ which includes a book and exhibition of Ollie George's stories and a documentary. 

CoEDL Alumni James Bednall: 

A few months before finishing my CoEDL PhD in 2019, I moved to Angurugu on Groote Eylandt (NT), the community where my PhD research was based. Here, I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to work in various positions (consultant, linguist and coordinator) for the Anindilyakwa Land Council’s Groote Eylandt Language Centre. The language centre advocates for and promotes Anindilyakwa language across the archipelago, and is involved in many community-driven language maintenance projects. Having been given so much support and guidance from the Warnumamalya community and the language centre during my PhD, it was wonderful to be able to work together on a number of these projects. 

In April 2021 I moved to Darwin, where I started my current position of lecturer in linguistics at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, and in partnership with Charles Darwin University (CDU). I coordinate and teach seven of the units of the linguistics major in the Diploma and Bachelor of Arts. In addition to delivering weekly lectures/tutorials at the CDU campus, we provide workshop-style delivery of our units for Indigenous students at the Batchelor campus, where students travel in for one-week intensive sessions. Given CoEDL’s focus on education and training, it’s great to be able to work in this area, teaching and providing more tailored and flexible training opportunities to students. In addition to teaching, I’m working on a number of small research and community projects. In particular, I’m working with the Groote Eylandt Language Centre on a project looking at monolingual Anindilyakwa lexicography, and on an ILA-funded project with Bundiyarra - Irra Wangga Language Centre, Kiara Rahman, Gary Passmore and Bianca Stawiarski on developing a Badimaya language learning and teaching portal. I’m looking forward to continuing my work on these and future projects, and to maintaining collaborations that started during my PhD-time at CoEDL. 

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