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Director weekly highlights 19 February

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 19 February 2021

We sometimes wonder what the best way of getting CoEDL news out to our community is – including whether our CoEDL Facebook page is most effective. Well, many of you will have seen that our Facebook page was just one of many victims of Facebook’s heavy-handed blocking of news sharing earlier this week (and note that our ever-resourceful Jo Allen is working on ways around this). CoEDL-UQ alumnus Dan Angus had some interesting things to say about Facebook’s moves in yesterday’s ABC commentaries.  

Meanwhile at least this avenue of dissemination is working – we hope! And I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels between what Facebook has just done and what governments and educational policies have done in the past when they have simply closed down lines of communication in targeted languages by deeming them unsuitable for education or public use, or even illegal. In our unending struggle to get the monolingual majority to really understand what it’s like for those whose best-known languages lie outside the mainstream, making this parallel is not crazy.  

But while Facebook information ebbed, the tide was in full flow in the other direction during the incredibly celebratory and forward-looking PARADISEC at 100: Hearing the Ancestors conference. As I mentioned in last week’s update, 100 here means ‘100 terabytes’, and beside that byte-denominated figure PARADISEC now counts over 320,746 files in over 1,246 languages. The conference has been going on over the last two days and you still have a chance to catch the last of today (Friday) afternoon (AEST). (And a lot of the material is going to be available online anyway). The conference was part tribute to the legendary Linda Barwick — who with Nick Thieberger has been the visionary, persuasive driving force behind PARADISEC from its inception — and part a grand rethink of how to ‘turn the archive upside down’, how to avoid the classic pitfall of archives being too remote from the communities whose languages and musical traditions are held there, how to make dialogic repatriation work, and how to circulate the many thousands of stories held in the archive via outlets like the Tok Save podcast. Part room, part zoom, and part both (little clusters of people gathered together in places like Alice Springs), as well as presentations splicing together co-presenters at different locations. 

One of the moments that really struck me was when Gudjal man William Santo, in his talk with Alex Anderson and Myfany Turpin on relearning Gudjal through archival materials, said, ‘This audio of the old people talking is like talking to another person... It put chills up my spine’. Or the moving moment when mother-and-daughter team Linda Payi Ford and Emily Tyaemaen Ford talked about how the whole process of recording and annotating material from the archive in Rak Mak Mak Marranungku: as Emily put it, getting ‘the story about the stories’. Again and again, elders talked about the confidence that access to traditional language and story was restoring to their children. Those are just some tastes from a veritable feast of presentations and if you missed out on attending the conference in real time it’ll really be worth going in and listening. On behalf of CoEDL, who proudly sponsored the conference, I’d like to thank conference chairs Amanda Harris, Nick Thieberger, Myfany Turpin and Sally Treloyn; organising committee Payi Linda Ford, Steven Gagau, Amanda Harris, Jodie Kell, Julia Miller, Nick Thieberger, Sally Treloyn, Myf Turpin and Nick Ward; and Scientific Committee Linda Barwick, Suzie Bearune, Clint Bracknell, Catherine Ingram, Grace Koch, Susan Kung, Stephen Morey, Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Jane Simpson and Jacques Vernaudon. 

And two special congratulations this week. The first is to Mitch Browne (UQ) for getting in his PhD on Warlmanpa, which adds to our exceptionally well-sampled and high-quality set of grammars for the Ngumpin-Yapa languages. The second is to my dear friend Felix Ameka, who has been linked over the years to many CoEDL events, done so much to build capacity among linguists in Africa, and has now been promoted to a chair in Ethnolinguistic Diversity and Vitality at the University of Leiden. Check out the story here. The clue to how to congratulate Felix in his mother tongue, Ewe, can be found in one of his earlier publications (Ameka 1987), and links back nicely to the title of the PARADISEC at 100 conference mentioned above: either Tɔ́gbé-wó se᷉́ ŋú ‘ancestors are strong’ or ŋú-wò nú-wó se᷉́ ŋú ‘beings around are strong’. 

Have a great week. 

Nick Evans 

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