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Director weekly highlights 24 July

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 24 July 2020

Linguistics and anthropology mourn the loss of Michael Silverstein, a kind and generous soul, and a very fine linguistic anthropologist. He spent time in Australia, carrying out fieldwork at Mowanjum, and archived around 140 hours of Worrorra material at AIATSIS. His contribution to the understanding of language and communication was enormous. At the end of this message Alan Rumsey shares some memories of Michael as a supervisor. 

Hearty congratulations to CoEDL affiliate Erich Round, who has been awarded one of ten Global Professorships by the British Academy. The position is for four years and will be held at the University of Surrey.  

On communicating in the time of COVID19: Our deep sympathy to Melbourne and Sydney colleagues enduring lockdown yet again.    

Christa Lam-Cassettari, CI Paola Escudero and Virginia Schmied have written a piece in The Conversation, about work they are doing with Nicole Traynor on how video calls fit into the lives of grandparents and their grandchildren and how this interaction can be enhanced. It’s a survey and you can take part via this link and parents and primary caregivers can register here.   

Also in The Conversation, is an open letter by Director Nick Evans and other laureates to the Minister of Education, Dan TehanThey express the concern that the proposed funding changes will have bad consequences for higher education, including amplifying inequity, and thus will not achieve the proposed economic goals.  

On Indigenous language rights and policy: Doug Marmion alerted us to the release of the Los Pinos Declaration - the final declaration from the UNESCO meeting held in Mexico in February this year (which he attended) to conclude the International Year of Indigenous Languages and initiate planning for the upcoming International Decade of Indigenous Languages. So far it’s only in Spanish.   

On language rights in courts and governments: Laura Smith-Khan (law-linguistics network) has passed on two recent hopeful decisions which show the impact that sociolinguistics is having on the language rights of vulnerable people:  

(i) The Australian High Court has made a unanimous decision about an issue involving fairness in the prosecution of people “with cultural and linguistic disadvantage”. It marks a step forward in our legal system’s understanding and recognition of the consequences of linguistic and cultural diversity. In one part the judgment adopts Diana Eades’ work about the difficulties involved in giving an account of events (or telling and retelling your story) within the constraints of legal interviews (police interviews, and courtroom questioning, in examination-in-chief and cross-examination), referring to specific pages in her 2012 paper in Language in Society.  

(ii) A recent decision that also relates to sociolinguistics comes from the Federal Court of Australia: CRL18 v Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs [2020] FCA 917. A Lebanese citizen was refused a Safe Haven Enterprise visa (SHEV) in part on grounds of credibility, and appealed the decision. The Federal Court granted the appeal. The court’s decision concentrates heavily on sociolinguistic issues with the original decision-maker’s reasons for finding that the applicant lacked credibility. This includes placing too much weight on word choice to find inconsistency, attracting the court’s admonition that “It is not part of the visa application process to criticise an applicant’s choice of words with a lexicographer’s zeal for precision in the use of a phrase which even native English speakers struggle with” (para 34). The court also criticises the original decision-maker ignoring the impacts of questioning style/structure, context, and interpreting and second-language use.   

Abralin: The Abralin program is still going.  

Click on this link to hear Nick Evans’ tour de force = tour de here & tour de there through social cognition.  

Some interesting talks to come, and here/there are two with Australian connections:  

Finally, on the arts side, Sydney rapper L-FRESH The LION (Sukhdeep Singh Bhogal) has released a new track, ‘Mother Tongue’ about losing and trying to regain his language, Punjabi.     

Nick Evans will be back next week - meanwhile [choose right verb] [be/stay/keep/go/travel] well.

Jane Simpson

Deputy Director


"A note from Alan Rumsey on the loss of Michael Silverstein (1945-2020)  

My experience with Michael Silverstein goes back nearly 50 years, to the Autumn of 1970, when I took his Language and Culture course as a third-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago. It was the first time he had taught the course. He was at that time a visiting Assistant Professor, who had just turned 25 and had not yet finished his PhD. But he was already in full flight. As for so many other veterans of that course over its subsequent 49-year history, it was a life-changing experience for me. When Michael returned to Chicago to take up a tenure-track position in 1972 I become one of his first PhD students. I could not have asked for a more supportive and inspiring supervisor – not only at the University but during my doctoral fieldwork with Ngarinyin people at Mowanjum Community in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, which overlapped with Michael’s fieldwork with Worrorra people there for six months in 1975. For the rest of Michael’s life after that I continued to benefit from regular, sometimes critical but always constructive exchanges with him about our work, as did so many others. In July of 2019 when I was about to retire, which I believe was just before Michael was diagnosed with his ultimately fatal brain condition, he sent me the following message:  

How amazing to think of you as at some kind of “retirement” threshold… Still, it reminds me of how close in chronological age I was to many of the students with whom I worked at Chicago in my early days on faculty. I do hope that, thinking back, you feel it was a useful – even worthwhile – association as you pursued (if memory serves) one of the earliest of our joint Ph.D. degrees in Sociocultural Anthropology and Linguistics across the two departments and Divisions. The continuing viability of the program right now depends in no small way on the amazing success of you and others whose highly distinguished careers working across disciplinary boundaries as they formerly existed index the viability of the idea, a spark of inspiration of the late Paul Friedrich, who did the heavy administrative lifting to get the program approved in 1974 in the Council of the University Senate and beyond. So congratulations and expressions of admiration as you turn full-time to research!   

How quintessentially Michael! I join with you all in lamenting his passing. "

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