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Director weekly highlights 23 October

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 23 October 2020

I can’t resist starting this week’s news by congratulating Kate Burridge, our former Advisory Committee Chair Kate Burridge, as well as her collaborators Simon Musgrave and Howard Mann, for spicing up the stodge of grantspeak by starting their SRI proposal to study Australian slang and national identity with the unforgettable "I thought I was kissed on the d--- by a fairy … I thought, 'Shit this is f---ing fair dinkum.” Over the years there have been attacks on linguistic proposals for being esoteric, but this time round Minister Dan Tehan, when asked about the above first line, laughingly conceded this might be the most profanity-ridden project proposal the federal government has ever granted money to. Since we 21st century linguists care about metadata, this quote came from a rural firefighter who was commenting about surviving a blaze during the fires that ravaged the NSW South Coast last summer. We’ll be asking Kate to incorporate appropriate vernacular comments into our next Annual Report (follow full story).  

Some other personal congratulations also – to Rosey Billington and Rebecca Defina (UM Node) for their promotions to Level B and to the cohort of WSU honours students who’ve all now submitted after the challenges of this year like no other.  

And also I’m delighted to announce that the Language On Fire program has agreed to fund a project led by John Mansfield, in collaboration with Rachel Nordlinger, The Thamarrurr rangers, and A/Prof Michael-Shawn Fletcher (Geography, U. Melbourne) on ‘The language and knowledge of fire in the Wadeye region’. Congratulations to this team – and a reminder that we still have some funds left for this project and will consider a second round of applications with an extended deadline of 1st December. 

A big theme this week has been the intersection of language and the law. Helen Fraser and CoEDL postdoc Debbie Loakes have just established a Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence at the University of Melbourne, under Helen’s directorship. Their “main mission is to help improve the legal handling of forensic audio used as evidence in criminal trials but we welcome engagement and collaboration with all areas of forensic linguistics - and indeed linguistics more broadly.” See here for more info.  As part of the launch of this new Research Hub next Friday (30 Oct, 3.30-4.30), Helen will be giving a talk on the topic of transcription in legal contexts – see details below – a topic you can also read her thoughts about in the newly-appeared book, The Routledge Handbook of Forensic Linguistics.  

Staying in Victoria, a landmark legal-linguistic breakthrough recently occurred, undaunted by the COVID lockdown: the state recently passed what appears to be Australia’s first trilingual statute – the Great Ocean Road and Environs Protection Act 2020 (Vic) (‘the Great Ocean Road Act’) – begins its preamble in the Eastern Maar and Wadawurrung languages (see pp. 1-3 of the act). As Shireen Morris and Julian Murphy argue in their discussion of this legal landmark, ‘Indigenous language recognition is best understood as part of a broader project of decolonising Australia’s legal order, and reforming legal and political relationships between Indigenous peoples and the settler state to ensure they are fairer than in the past. So understood, language recognition is related to, and shares its ultimate objectives with, the broader project of Indigenous constitutional recognition.’  

Two more important publications on this topic by Julian Murphy are: 

Before closing, I’d like to mention an exciting new on-line lecture series being hosted by ILARA (L’Institut des langues rares) at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. It will do something that hasn’t been tied together before very often, by having a double focus on lesser-described and rarely taught ancient and contemporary languages. It has a number of series, some in French, some in English; the ‘Ilara Invitations’ series will begin on October 29th with Tibeto-Burmanist extraordinaire Scott DeLancey (U. Oregon) on ‘'Why would you want to do that?': A lifetime of studying precious languages’. The opening series, spanning every continent in a series of seven talks, will feature, from CoEDL, both Nick Thieberger (Dec. 10th) and myself (Nov. 5th), as well as Felix Ameka, Bernard Comrie, Bruna Franchetto, Marianne Mithun and Stephen Houston. See attached flyer, and paragraph below, for details. The lectures are first live-streamed then go onto YouTube, so if you don’t feel like getting up at 5am for the ones at 20.00 Paris time you can watch them later. 

And one final thing, from among everything reported on below – as we gear up for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, starting next year, UNESCO is organising a Global Task Force of the IDIL, and seeking Indigenous Representatives. See below and follow the links if you have ideas for inspirational and forceful representatives from our part of the world. 

As always, there’s so much going on that I can’t touch on it all in this introduction, so please read on for more on seminars, publications, the great strides ELPIS is making and Voyages in Language Technologies, jobs, and more. 

Enjoy your weekend – and especially for our Melbourne-based CoEDLers I hope you can savour the loosening of lockdown restrictions this weekend – and the fact that by luck or design there are no Zoom events clashing with the footy final tomorrow night. 



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