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Director weekly highlights 17 Dec

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 17 December 2021

This is the final update for 2021. It’s been a hard year, painful losses in our CoEDL community, painful losses in people’s families, and the overarching uncertainty created by the pandemic. And Lindell Bromham and Felicity Meakins’ recent paper prefigures the sad loss in so many communities of their traditional languages by the end of the century.  

But, as we ring out the old, we can also reflect on the good things about this strange year. Such as the solid dedication of the CoEDL professional staff. It takes a long time to build a community, and it takes constant work and talk to hold it together. In RAO: Wolfgang, Tina, Susan, Siobhan, Romina, Morgan, Julia, John-Paul, Joanne, Celine, Catherine, Cale, Beck: we thank you all for keeping us together, and for keeping us on-track for a smooth ending. You are stars! 

Other recent good things: our fabulous summer scholars - we now welcome summer scholars to UQ and WSU, along with the ANU scholars (see News section). And last week, ALS and the CoEDL Masterclasses were exceptionally rich sources of inspiring papers and ideas. Among the many are two apps, which for me illustrate strengths that have emerged in CoEDL: cross-node influences, imaginative ideas in language technology, and respectful co-design with Indigenous people in translational research.  

App 1: Communicative development indices are key tools in assessing young children’s language development. ERLI, the Early Language Inventory project initiated by CoEDL CI Caroline Jones and her WSU team, is the first such tool for children who speak an Indigenous language. But what do you do when the children use words from different languages? How does the outsider speech pathologist recognise whether a multilingual child is developing normally, or whether the child does have a speech delay? Well, at ALS we heard about research tackling this — from ANU CoEDL member Carmel O'Shannessy and one of her Alice Springs Aboriginal co-authors Vanessa Napaljarri Davis — Developing a spoken wordlist for multilingual children speaking Indigenous languages in Central Australia. What’s best practice in developing an inventory when children use more than one language? The team worked with 18 families in Alice Springs to find the most common words used by families, both in self-report and in recordings of play. And how do you present the inventory to parents? The team are developing an elegant app (see here) which allows parents to indicate words that their child uses in English, Western Arrarnte and Eastern and Central Arrernte. So very, very cool. 

App 2: And what about when adults want to learn an Indigenous language? A new open-source app, ‘Listen N Talk’ has been designed for this, based on phrase and sentence learning. This was discussed and demonstrated in a CoEDL Masterclass. It represents a collaboration of language teacher experience (Mark Richards, WSU); community design, input and testing (Josie Lardy and her family at Jilkminggan); language technology organisation (Caroline Jones, WSU); and the design of a really neat input tool (CoEDL CI Janet Wiles, Sarah Matthews and Kathryn Kaiser at UQ and Sarah Bock at E-Learning Australia). It has undergone several versions of testing. Class members were greedily eying it off for our own projects. Can we? Caroline said, “Yep, we are keen to make the most downstream of our CoEDL investment to generate versions of this app for other languages.” Yayyyyy! 

Apps, as Janet Wiles pointed out, are less forever than diamonds, but progress can be made, and people’s lives can be improved, by having something simple in their hands now. (So long as the data is exportable...) 

Ringing in the new… wishing you all safe, Omicron-free holidays, and a good 2022. 


Deputy Director


A view from Düsseldorf, Germany 

Ana Krajinović Rodrigues braved the administrative challenges to complete a co-tutelle linguistics PhD in 2020 from the Humboldt University of Berlin (MelaTAMP project — Melanesian Tense, Aspect, Modality and polarity) and the University of Melbourne (CoEDL): Tense, mood, and aspect expressions in Nafsan (South Efate) from a typological perspective: The perfect aspect and the realis/irrealis mood. As you’ll see from her post, @AnaKrajinovic1 is a multimodal netizen: webpage, blog, comics, YouTube… 

A year ago I started my first postdoc at the Heinrich-Heine University of Düsseldorf, where I am continuing to collaborate with Kilu von Prince. I am proud to announce that very soon we (Kilu von Prince, Ana Krajinović and Manfred Krifka) will see the appearance of our very first Language article “Irrealis is real” arguing for the validity of irrealis, so keep an eye on new Language issues. 

In my postdoc, I teach and do my own research, which has so far been mainly the continuation of my work on Nafsan (Vanuatu) and Oceanic languages. Many of my recent talks are available online, for example my talk about empirical methods at ICLDC or my semantics talks at the Austronesian and Papuan Languages and Linguistics Conference. In one talk, Lionel Emil, our collaborator from Vanuatu, was able to join us online. It turns out there are some advantages to online conferencing after all. 

I also have some new and exciting projects, which have most likely been directly influenced by my interdisciplinary mingling in CoEDL. One such new direction I am taking is looking into internet memes and how their semantics changes from iconic to abstract over time, with the hope of computationally modelling their diffusion and change. 

Next year, I am also planning to start a collaboration on urban fieldwork in Düsseldorf with my colleague Niklas Wiskandt. In a course on urban fieldwork, we will engage students to do fieldwork with linguistic communities of Düsseldorf and hopefully find new research collaborations and outreach possibilities. We are planning to document the project on social media, so stay tuned. 

Recently I also started the outreach blog “Language explained” as a side project. It’s still in its infancy, but it’s slowly growing, and I will take this opportunity to invite you to contribute to it with a post about your research. I welcome contributions on any linguistic topic written for general audience and in a big-question perspective on how language or some aspect of it works. Get in touch if you want to contribute! And last but not least, check out my website for occasional linguistics-inspired comics: Happy holidays to everyone! 

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