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Director weekly highlights 1 Oct

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 1 October 2021

Happy St Jerome’s Day everyone? (Well, at least to those of you in those of CoEDL’s time zones to the east of the dateline, since St Jerome’s Day is Sep 30th). I’m sure most of you know that St Jerome has long been the patron saint of translators (even though Anna Wierzbicka, who combines a knowledge of semantics and theology more deeply than probably any of us, tells me she can’t forgive him for translating Greek “hilasterion” as “propitiatorium”, the source of the disastrous idea that Jesus’ death on the cross was a “propitiation for our sins”. As if God needed to be “propitiated”.) It goes to show that making mistakes need not get in the way of becoming a patron saint — more on mistakes and language at the end of this message! 

But he’s not only the patron saint of translators, he’s also the patron saint of linguists – at least of military linguists in the US’s Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. And of course, those who make mistakes have mistakes made about them, so he is now (on that same site) cited as the source of the suspiciously rhyming ‘Good, better, best. Never let it rest 'til your good is better and your better is best’. It certainly doesn’t rhyme in what would have been the Latin original, which out-suppletes English as it kicks off as ‘Bonum, melior, optimum’ and ends rather lamely as “Non quiescat priusquam bonum melior et melior optimum”. Following this lead, thanks to a late Thursday evening email exchange with Anna, a Google search reveals it to be a ‘Fauxtation’ — a word he probably never had to translate. 

More seriously, though, the rationale given by Chaplain Major Chan-young Ham for choosing him as patron saint of linguists is one that many of us will recognise: "St. Jerome was dedicated to his work as a translator and linguist. He was disciplined and he believed in what he was doing, pushing himself to be an expert in language and the understanding of them…. He was internationally influenced. He travelled the world and respected other cultures, while dialoguing with many to discuss scholarship and the truth." 

In the landscape of CoEDL, translation is a river that mostly flows underground. It’s not a named program or thread in what we do, and few would primarily identify as translators. But dictionary-making, the production of bilingual texts and histories, the adding of translation lines in an ELAN file, or the crafting of subtitles to videos, all involve us in the translation enterprise, so this is a good moment to highlight that part of what we do. 

These days, at least in Australian policy-talk, the word translation probably gets used in the sense of applying research results for practical benefit. And when you read below, you’ll see two beautiful examples in this week’s mailout, each coming to fruition after a patient process of consultation and collaborative development. 

First is the Florence project, sensitively developed through a philosophy of codesign by Pete Worthy, Jacki Liddle and Janet Wiles of our UQ node, to help with a range of communication issues (and others) for people living with dementia. Pete’s words about this, cited in the article linked to below, really strike a chord: "From gadgets to software and infrastructure, these inventions are well intended, but rarely make a difference in their lives. Why? Because very few are created together with those who need them the most — they are not useful or used." Read about their inspiring approach, admirable for the way it has empowered people living with dementia to be involved as genuine collaborators. 

The other is the long-awaited launch of the Yäku ga Rirrakay (Sounds and Letters) App, under development since 2015 by a team including Jill Wigglesworth, Robyn Beecham, Yalmay Yunupiŋu, Jake Stockley and software developer Fardin Elias (from Ohmi Labs Pty Ltd), now ready for classroom use. This very carefully designed app promises to make a huge difference to the acquisition of Dhuwaya literacy. 

I’d also like to signal Julia Miller’s recent bracket of talks at the International Association of Sound Archives conference, particularly for the way it has drawn attention to the very clear and useful workflow guidelines for depositing with PARADISEC. Having streamlined deposit protocols that make it easy and efficient for a wide range of researchers to deposit material has been one of the key ingredients behind PARADISEC’s inexorable upward curve in archival deposits. 

Returning to the importance of errors, now to linguistic science rather than theology, the omnipresence of captioning in recent months has helped lighten the daily rations of gloomy epidemiological news. Here in the ACT, we are all now proud Ken Behrens and are busily propagating and elaborating the meme. You can read about the captioner behind this one here

But just today Jane Simpson picked up another one, this time from the captioning of Gladys Berejiklian: “We didn’t realise at that stage how quickly New South Wales residents would take up the opportunity to get vex natted.” 

It’s revealing that both of these indicate some roiling perceptual difficulties in the /æ/ vs /e/ space in Australian English (already long-neutralised in many other English varieties) and this has not escaped the attention of Debbie Loakes — this time in the context of using automatic transcription methods in legal settings. You might enjoy this

As almost always in penning these introductions, I’m all too aware of only touching on a fraction of what’s been going on in CoEDL this week, so please read on for other material that I’ve been unable to cover here. But before I sign off I’d like to mention one of our publications this week that really piqued my interest — the meta-study from UQ node researchers Emma Schimke, Tony Angwin, Bonnie Cheng and David Copland looking at the long-lingering question of whether sleep impacts on language learning (specifically memory for new words). As many CoEDLers wrestle with the double afflictions of jumped-out daily rhythms under lockdown, and secret (or not so secret) addictions to Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise and the whole online language learning scene, you might want to read this as you decide when to schedule what. 

Have a good week everyone, and whether that sense of post-equinox surge is spring or autumn for you, I hope it gives you that extra strength we all need to get through this long holdout. 


Nick Evans

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