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Director weekly highlights 24 June

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 24 June 2022

Nick Evans is in Paris, getting ready for the opening of the Fondation Cartier exhibition of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori's paintings (3 July - 6 November 2022), (and Romina Paskotic will be there too), and celebrating the work of an astonishing Kaiadilt painter. Back here, we are listening to the roar of CoEDL's end of centre event racing towards us. Meanwhile two other express trains are hitting me — packing up my parents' house, and retiring from ANU. Which leads me to some analogies for CoEDL's final blaze of light: data, glory and time. 

Data: What's the CoEDL equivalent of 92 years of amassing paperweights and 32 years of university papers? Of course, it's your fieldwork data and your quantitative data from all those experiments and observations. Where to archive? Archives are shamefully neglected in Australia — there's a terrific article in The Australian that shows how bad the situation is. Summed up in the line: "Anybody got a garage?" So, fieldwork people: while Julia Miller is around to help, discuss your archiving needs with her. And it's worth thinking about how we archive the associated consent forms and ethics applications. The way the world is going, soon we'll need to show not only our approved ethics applications, but also the evidence of free, prior, informed consent (check out the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander protocols for the University of Sydney Library). 

Glory: Become immortal! Ensure that your papers and books, your good works, your outreach and educational activities are all recorded in CoEDL's final report and annual report (yes we have one more to go). And share it with us — lovely to read in this update of all the work that Debbie Loakes has been doing. Send your stories

Time“Time will not be ours forever;/ He at length our good will sever.” “Old time is still a-flying.” “Time's on the wing.” Pick your Renaissance seize the day poem. They all come to the same thing: we have only a short time left to complete our CoEDL work. But, in the 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may' spirit, I am delighting in every moment of the six sleeps before my retirement. I am so looking forward to seeing many wonderful colleagues, and hearing about what they are working on, next week at the symposium. Huge thanks to Carmel O'Shannessy, James Gray and Denise Angelo for organising it. Then the following week there's another chance to catch up at ALW, and hear talks from a great range of colleagues on Aboriginal languages. CoEDL has built a wonderful research community, as John Mansfield shows in this week’s spotlight. And, as he asks, how in the post-CoEDL world do we light the paths to new ideas and new research communities? 

Jane Simpson


Spotlight: John Mansfield 

Introduced by CoEDL CI Rachel Nordlinger:  

John joined the University of Melbourne as a CoEDL postdoc in 2015, after completing his PhD at ANU on the language of Murrinhpatha youth. Through his postdoc project ‘The dynamics of Murrinhpatha across three generations,’ John showcased the strengths of a multigenerational approach to language documentation with a string of papers exploring grammatical change and variation in some of the field’s top journals, and building a corpus of Murrinhpatha that is one of the largest of any Australian language. John has an intellectual curiosity that has enabled him to embrace all that CoEDL offers, and which has led to collaborations with many CoEDL members in Australia and internationally, including a research fellowship at the University of Zurich with Balthasar Bickel and Sabine Stoll. A clear rising star, John followed his CoEDL postdoc with an ARC DECRA (2018-2021) looking at Aboriginal language use in Darwin, and was quickly snapped up for an ongoing position in Linguistics at the University of Melbourne. 



In 2013-2014, I was finishing my PhD on the language and culture of Murrinhpatha youth in the Northern Territory. As I was writing up, my supervisor Jane Simpson became mysteriously occupied with some grand project. I didn’t really understand why she was working such long days until after I submitted, and the miraculously expansive CoEDL was announced. I soon realised that Jane, Nick and all the other investigators had actually been putting in all those hours for people like me, to create an ideal nursery for the new generation of baby linguists just being born. Suddenly postdocs were popping up all over the place! … I only wish that every PhD graduate could benefit from that sort of research/funding environment. 

Since then, my studies have meandered around the terrain between grammar, culture, cognition and social change. Over the last few years I studied the fast-changing Aboriginal language ecology of Darwin, where I found that multilingual practices are taking new forms and being used to develop new social networks. A great bonus of my time in Darwin was the opportunity to be involved in a nascent Aboriginal language program for Darwin Prison, in collaboration with elders and NT Corrections. Two years later, the Tiwi stream of this program is still going strong, though sadly the Murrinhpatha stream has been struck down by COVID. Prison is obviously a very trying time, experienced by far too many Aboriginal people in the NT. But language programs are one way to create an engaging activity that builds self-esteem. 

More recently I’ve been working on a cross-linguistic survey of dialectal differences, based on the idea that dialectal differentiation is a key mechanism in language diversification. Together with Henry Leslie-O’Neill and Haoyi Li, we’ve been able to pursue this right through the pandemic, as the method involves harvesting information from reference grammars. It’s slow work, but we hope it can reveal important new generalisations. Some of the ideas for this grew out of conversations at CoEDL events. 

It's sad to think that CoEDL will soon be no more – though rumour has it there are still a couple of exciting events in the pipeline. I only hope that researchers who now have a foothold (including me), can continue to create these kinds of research opportunities for the next generations coming through. 

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