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Director's weekly highlight 9 Sept

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 9 September 2022

Romina Paskotic is back from holiday, while Nick Evans and several other CoEDLers are in Tahiti this week, presenting at COOL12, the 12th conference on Oceanic linguistics. Expect to hear more in next week’s update; meanwhile, you can see the range of presentations from phonology to morphology to historical linguistics to literacy to cross-disciplinary work on ethno-ecology and history. And next week, you can watch talks by young CoEDL researchers working on Australian Indigenous languages organised through the University of Cologne. All of this AND the CoEDL end of centre event in just over a fortnight’s time. 

This week’s list of publications present an interesting snapshot of CoEDL’s work across a range of types and topics. They include two articles on the development of tense and aspect in some Papuan (Daniels) and Australian (Koch) languages, which the publisher deemed significant enough to warrant re-publication as a monograph. They also include two meta-analyses, on topics related to language across the lifespan — a key area of study for many CoEDL members. One is more quantitative, on the relation between children learning to point and learning their first language (Kirk et al). The other (Pacas Fronza et al) is qualitative, on common sources of anxiety for people living with dementia. Meta-analyses are a really important service to academic research. They systematically identify common themes, allowing participants in the field to build on prior research more easily. I was impressed by the evident strengthening of the frameworks for conducting meta-analyses — way beyond old-style literature reviews. And great to see how we now take for granted statements as in the Kirk et al paper: “The full data set and R scripts are available in the Open Science Framework at”. 

The final publication (Gustafsson et al) ties in with CoEDL’s ‘Spinning a better yarn’ study group. It is an editorial in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, in which the editors lay out their path to build a journal which is inclusive and respectful, and serves the profession’s needs for accurate and up-to-date information. Their approach is summed up by reflecting on four words: ‘doing’ (what the journal’s processes are), ‘being’ (who the editorial board are), ‘belonging’ (allowing all groups in society to feel part of the journal’s community) and ‘becoming’ (how to achieve ‘belonging’). The first practical step they take is for each editor to categorise themself in terms of identity labels (e.g., ethnicity, marital status, sexuality, relevant lived experience, etc.), and to use this to identify who is missing on the editorial board. The next step is to work with one marginalised group, First Nations people, to make the journal processes more welcoming for them — e.g., adding to the editorial board, and trying to ensure at least one First Nations person as referee for a paper submitted by a First Nations person. And of course the hope is to extend this approach to other marginalised groups and missing voices. But it will take time — refereeing is so undervalued that flooding the few representatives of marginalised groups with referee requests will not help those people carry out their research and teaching. It is very helpful to see how editorial boards recognise the value of bringing in more points of view, and how they go about increasing this diversity. 

Oh, and an alert to all supervisors of honours and masters theses… Do make sure your students lodge digital copies in your university repository. Over the years, we have had requests for honours theses on Aboriginal languages back to the early 1970s. So, on Thursday I spent a happy hour learning to use Julia Miller’s manuscript digitisation set-up  to do a high res copy of a ANU 1974 honours thesis handwritten in blue ink and pencil. But this evening I learned that another university is declining to accept an alumnus’s masters thesis for the repository “…the University is unable to accept any copies of research theses that weren’t originally lodged with the University. This is because we have no way of verifying that a copy provided to us is the original thesis that was awarded the degree.” Obstacles! Get those theses in now, before your university raises similar barriers… 

Before moving on to the spotlight, an ANU-centred plug on upcoming deadlines… Do encourage your undergraduate, honours and masters coursework students to consider applying for our summer research scholarships. And, if you would like to spend a couple of months at ANU, consider applying for a Humanities Research Fellowship on this year’s theme, “Repair”. 

Jane Simpson
Deputy Director 


Spotlight: Lucy Davidson 

Introduced by CoEDL CI Jill Wigglesworth: 

I am delighted to introduce Lucy Davidson, who completed her PhD with me in 2018 having collected data from Murrinhpatha speaking preschool children in Wadeye over a five-year period as a member of the LAMP team (Language Acquisition of Murrinhpatha). With outstanding examiners reports from highly esteemed researchers in the area, she took up a postdoc at Melbourne to continue working in Wadeye collecting children’s narratives from school age children, and also working on the acquisition of Pitjantjatjara in Pipalyatjara. Data collection for the latter was unfortunately somewhat scuttled by the arrival of COVID. Lucy is now about to take some months of maternity leave before returning to work part time at Melbourne with Barbara Kelly on her successful grant with Alan Rumsey “Body, Language and Socialisation”. 


I confess that it took me a while to really understand what CoEDL was. Before tentatively attending my first CoEDL Fest in 2016 I had assumed that this exciting new research hub was also an exclusive one. How wrong I was. Despite my PhD being part of the Language Acquisition in Murrinhpatha project (based at Unimelb) rather than CoEDL, I felt thoroughly welcomed into the fold. It was the sharing of ideas that ruled in this community. 

At the end of 2018 I became CoEDL official, starting a half-time postdoc in which I joined Rebecca Defina and Jill Wigglesworth in the exploration of children’s acquisition of Pitjantjatjara. A dream! I went on two brief but remarkably productive trips to Pipalyatjara, SA, in 2019, and was all set to continue my longitudinal study in March 2020. Unfortunately COVID put a stop to that, as it did to many things. The children continued to develop (which is obviously a very good thing), but my study, alas, did not. 

These days I am finishing up my other half-time postdoc, investigating narrative development in Murrinhpatha, with Jill Wigglesworth and Barb Kelly. I do intend to undertake more research with children in Pipalyatjara in the future, however. Also, Rebecca Defina and I hope to pool her expansive corpus collected in Pukatja and my modest one from Pipalyatjara to investigate aspects of language development across the APY Lands. 

While I have definitely not achieved what I set out to on my postdoc, I have nonetheless experienced the great opportunities that CoEDL offered, such as intellectual and practical support for new endeavours. I also feel a lasting, positive impact on myself as a researcher: CoEDL highlighted the benefits of exploring topics from vastly different angles, of staying open to novel ­– if not seemingly unlikely – collaborations, and of fostering an inclusive, vibrant research community. All wonderful, important things. 

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