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Director's weekly highlight 26 Aug

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 26 August 2022

The looming end of CoEDL sees CoEDL researchers beginning new collaborations and heading in new directions, such as Felicity Meakins’ study of electro-magnetic reception (seminar today). And we’re thrilled to congratulate CoEDL colleagues Paola Escudero, Chloé Diskin-Holdaway and John Hajek on their new Linkage project Nurturing Australia's Little Multilingual Minds. It’s our research spotlight for the week — see below. Wonderful to see research on language acquisition and the language ecologies of Australia being translated in practical ways for improving early childhood education. And how grateful we should be to Paola, Chloé and John for the hard administrative work involved in getting the Linkage partnerships organised! 

CoEDL alumni are also finding new places around the world. Stephen Mann, who completed a PhD in philosophy at ANU, has taken up a 2-year postdoctoral position at the University of Barcelona with the LOGOS research group in analytic philosophy, working on philosophy of biology and cognitive science. 

Tidying up is happening, too. We had an excellent meeting yesterday at ANU, planning a workflow for digitising the late Luise Hercus’s manuscripts, with a view to make use of Nick Thieberger's Nyingarn project. We were joined by an ACU team digitising Kenbi land claim material. So many challenges in common! So many wheels/punctures to avoid reinventing! And maybe we can avoid some of them, thanks to the extraordinarily useful workflows that PARADISEC have provided. We have been so lucky to have Julia Miller designing and testing many of these, which you can check out here.

Also check out the upcoming seminars, such as the Research Data Alliance webinar that CoEDL alumnus Tom Honeyman is speaking in, on incorporating data and software in one’s deposits. Or the Language Documentation and Archiving Conference: Where do we need to go from hereconference that PARADISEC is co-hosting (3 – 7 October 2022). 

Meanwhile, CoEDL professional staff are deeply involved in preparations for the End of Centre Event, which is quickly approaching. If you are coming to Canberra for the event, it’s Floriade time which means armies of flower displays to see. 

Other things to see if you’re coming to Canberra: National Museum of Australia has the Belonging exhibition on stories and art from far North Queensland (free), or the Connection songlines exhibition (ticketed). National Gallery of Australia has the Cressida Campbell exhibition (ticketed). National Portrait Gallery has its regular collection, and as well portrait prize exhibitions (ticketed). National Library of Australia has exhibitions of its collections, including on the Mabo 30th AnniversaryCanberra Museum and Gallery has several exhibitions: Sidney Nolan, Lindy Lee, several local Canberra First Nations artists. 

This week’s spotlight is someone who embodies the exploration and cross-field cross-institution collaboration that we’d all hoped CoEDL would nurture… Shine on, Debbie! 

Jane Simpson
Deputy Director


Spotlight: Debbie Loakes 

Introduced by Janet Fletcher

Debbie joined the CoEDL as a postdoc in 2015, after having worked on various projects relating to Australian English and Aboriginal languages. Her postdoc project was called ‘The sociophonetics of Aboriginal English,’ in which she focused on variability within L1 Aboriginal English spoken in two regions of Victoria (Warrnambool and Mildura). She began working in CoEDL in the Language Processing thread, finding out about how people use sociophonetic information in their listening, and has contributed to the Shape thread as well. Debbie has built a database of speech (and perception) which is continuing to be used to analyse sociophonetic variation within and across regions and varieties. 

While finishing up her work in CoEDL, she is also now working as a Research Fellow in the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence at The University of Melbourne. 


I have really enjoyed my time in CoEDL, which gave me the opportunity to design experiments in speech production and perception and spend time in communities. CoEDL (and RUIL at The University of Melbourne) gave me the opportunity to work on an outreach project with colleagues Jill Vaughan and Brighde Collins which was a real highlight for me, taking me outside my exact research area. 

My CoEDL project has allowed me to describe differences between Aboriginal English and mainstream Australian English, and to think more broadly about sound changes and the way they progress at different rates through different communities. It has been interesting to come up with quantitative descriptions for overarching qualities of people’s voices (to me, this is like being able to put my finger on exactly why people sound the way they do). 

On the topic of these differences, I recently published a paper about voice quality in Australian English with my colleague Adele Gregory. I talked a little about that at the recent CoEDL executive showcase in May, and you can read the full paper here which was published last week. 

Our main findings are: 

  • There is regional variation in voice quality (for female speakers only); 
  • There are varietal differences between Aboriginal and mainstream Australian English speakers (for male speakers only); 
  • People over 40 have significantly creakier voices than those under 40; 
  • Aboriginal English speakers have creakier voices than mainstream Australian English speakers; 
  • Men have creakier voices than women (!) – this is actually a common research finding, despite popular opinions about creak in women's voices. 

Along with Kirsty McDougall from The University of Cambridge, we are also looking at the connection between voice quality and consonant production – this is a really exciting step forward in how we view variation (i.e., this is all about the connection between apparently independent features). We hope to present a paper on this at the upcoming SST conference in Canberra in December. 

Another highlight of my time in CoEDL is the opportunities afforded to us for collaboration with other nodes. I really enjoyed working on a paper about with colleagues Paola Escudero and John Hajek, called “Tracking vowel categorisation behaviour longitudinally: a study across three x three year increments (2012, 2015, 2018)”. This paper was presented this at the 2019 ICPhS in Melbourne, and you can read it here — for me the most interesting finding was that people did not really differ in their responses over the 6 year time span (despite our predictions that they would, at least in sound change contexts!). I also had the opportunity to begin a collaboration with Anne Cutler and Laurence Bruggeman which was so interesting – this project came out of a CoEDL speed dating session in 2019, and was originally designed to involve eye-tracking, but when the pandemic hit we had to move it fully online. I learnt so much from Anne and Laurence and I will really treasure the experience of working with this wonderful team (despite it being over Zoom). Laurence and I hope to finalise this project some time in the future. 

Finally, these days I have also been working in the Research Hub for Language in Forensic Evidence at The University of Melbourne. We have a blog where you can read updates about my work in this area (along with colleague Helen Fraser). Have a read online here


Research direction 

Many, many congratulations! 

ARC Linkage Project: Nurturing Australia's Little Multilingual Minds 

Paola Escudero, Chloé Diskin-Holdaway and John Hajek with Goodstart Early Learning Ltd, Amigoss Preschool and Long Day Care Co-Operative Limited and Vietspeak 

The development of Little Multilingual Minds has been supported by CoEDL. The project will be supported by an advisory committee of Professors Annick de Houwer, Antonella Sorace and Jill Wigglesworth. 

Here’s the project description: 

Despite its substantial multilingual capacity of more than 300 languages, Australia has been described as a 'graveyard for languages'. In partnering with community organisations, we will facilitate polyglot early learning, commencing with Spanish and Vietnamese. Expected outcomes are a deep understanding of multilingual families’ experiences, a model to support lifespan multilingual education, and openly-accessible database of child language in heritage languages. Benefits include a pivotal contribution to early childhood education with the creation of a tailor-made, principle-based program, which will enhance children’s academic achievement, familial social and mental wellbeing, and cultural and economic opportunities for all Australians. 

And from the project's National Interest Test: 

“Lifelong bilingualism enhances cognitive, social, and academic skills and in turn employability, productivity, and wellbeing. Thirty percent of Australian children grow up in households where a heritage language is spoken, reaching 50% by 2050. The majority miss the opportunity to retain their heritage language and reap the academic, cognitive, economic, psychological, and social benefits of being bilingual. This project will identify specific needs for heritage language maintenance. A co-designed version of our Little Multilingual Minds (LMM) program will deliver heritage language retention, and enhanced children’s wellbeing. Outcomes of this project will be a model to support lifespan multilingual education, and an openly accessible database of child speech in heritage languages.” 

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