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Director weekly highlights 3 Dec

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 3 December 2021

Here at ANU we have been welcoming Summer Scholars - in person and in concord on Discord. 

  • Carmel O’Shannessy is working with Ashleigh Jones (Macquarie University) on annotating gesture and sign in recordings from Alice Springs. 
  • Language reclamation is a major theme: Denise Angelo is working on language reclamation with Tula Wynyard (U Melbourne) on Tula’s language Dharuk (Sydney region), and with Daniel Majchrzak (ANU) on Wakka Wakka (Brisbane region), Roy Barker Jnr, I and others have been working on the Muruwari material recorded by his grandfather Jimmie Barker (western NSW) with Grace Ephraums (Monash), and three ANU students Michael Higgins, Alison Mount,and Ruben Thompson, and with the help of CoEDL summer scholar alumnus Nay San. 
  • Catherine Travis is working with Marcel Reverter-Rambaldi (University of Queensland) on the LDACA project. 
  • Bethwyn Evans is working with Jeremiah Chapman (ANU), Michael Josefsson (U Melbourne) and Jay Wallis (U Sydney) on Papua New Guinea languages and historical linguistics. 
  • and Rosey Billington writes below about her work with three students on Vanuatu languages. 

It's a joyous time, working with these talented people, seeing how much they offer all the projects and each other, and developing our cross-border hybrid/online interactional muscles. They also get the best archiving and data-wrangling advice from Julia Miller and Danielle Barth and CoEDL summer scholar alumna Elena Sheard. The Australian Signals Directorate have given us a great gift in supporting students and the projects (they also offer ASD honours scholarships). 

Jane Simpson
Deputy Director


A view from Vanuatu (kind of) 

Rosey Billington moved from Melbourne to ANU at the start of 2021 (what a time to begin a new job..). Her 2017 U Melbourne Phd thesis was on a language of South Sudan, Lopit,’ The phonetics and phonology of the Lopit language - based largely on diaspora fieldwork, and she and Jonathan Moodie then published a grammar of Lopit. As she discusses below, she's begun work on languages of Vanuatu. And she’s known to many CoEDLers through her work with Katie Jepson and Jill Vaughan running the Linguistics Roadshow for high school students (indelibly linked with potato scallops…) - an outreach activity that CoEDL is very pleased to have kickstarted. 


This week, I’m in the midst of switching gears from a busy teaching year (see: Amanda’s post last week), to beginning work on some small (or not so small!) projects with students taking part in the ANU Summer Scholars program. Among the cohort of students diving into various projects on Australian languages, languages of southeastern Papua New Guinea, and linguistic data repositories, three students, Thomas Powell-Davies (U Tasmania), Kira Davey (ANU), and Coralie Cram (U Melbourne), are working with me to find out more about the sound systems of some Oceanic languages of central Vanuatu. 

In some ways, this feels like another outward ripple from the CoEDL pond – my own interest in languages of Vanuatu arose from my CoEDL postdoc at the University of Melbourne, working with Nick Thieberger and Janet Fletcher to take a closer look at various aspects of the phonetics of Nafsan (building on Nick’s research and corpus materials). For a phonetician also interested in phonetic and phonological typology, Vanuatu is hard to beat – with 130+ spoken languages and enormous diversity in the speech sounds used and how they combine together, there is a lot to learn about. During my postdoc I began projects on the related languages Lelepa and Eton, and have more recently been looking into archival recordings for Nguna/Nakanamanga. 

A longer-term goal, which the Summer Scholars are helping to work towards, is to be able to undertake detailed, crosslinguistic phonetic analyses of these languages, using some experimental-style phonetic data but also drawing on the rich collections of narratives that speakers of these languages have contributed their time and energy to. There can be a fair bit of work involved in turning language documentation corpora into structured speech databases with fine-grained annotations of individual speech sounds, but modelling work on these languages, led by Hywel Stoakes, is making this possible. Beyond wanting to find out more about the phonetics and phonology of Oceanic languages, there is another motivation for this work – for most of the world’s 7,000 or so spoken languages, there is little to no phonetic research, and a lot of what we know about how spoken languages ‘work’, in acoustic, articulatory and perceptual (not to mention sociolinguistic) detail, is based on the well-resourced languages that have been the focus of phonetic research for a long time. CoEDL has included many great examples of extending traditionally lab-based research methods to a slightly more representative sample of the world’s linguistic diversity, and I look forward to seeing more of this in years to come. 

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