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Seminar: Re-Awakening Ngiyampaa: A Plain Language Descriptive Grammar, Lesley Woods, 7 June

Date: 31 May 2019

Seminar: Re-Awakening Ngiyampaa: A Plain Language Descriptive Grammar

Speaker: Lesley Woods

When: 7 June 2019, 3.30pm-5pm

Where: BPB level 3 Seminar Room, BPB W3.03 (Level 3), Baldessin Building, ANU


My decision to undertake writing a plain language version of the late Dr Tamsin Donaldson’s grammar, Ngiyampaa the Language of the Wangaaypuwan (Donaldson, 1980), came out of my own struggle to understand that grammar and my frustration with the very technical language of linguistics more broadly. The use of plain language has a very real place in linguistics and not just as an afterthought, it serves to be inclusive of the community from which the language data has originated and would potentially save Indigenous people many years of hard work and heartbreak ‘unlocking’ the academic outputs of their languages.

This research asks the following questions:

Is it possible to write a truly accessible plain language grammar without a reliance on the technical terminology of linguistics and how could this be achieved?

Is it possible that the field of linguistics could move towards a plain language style when their research involves the Indigenous languages of Australia?

There is one other plain language descriptive grammar that I have come across to date that has attempted to do something similar in the Australian context; Andersen’s Development of a Learner’s Grammar for Paakantyi  (Andersen, 2015). This is a rare example of a descriptive grammar intended for learners of the language who are Indigenous.

It must be acknowledged that each of these grammars was written for a different audience in mind. Donaldson’s grammar is clearly written with other linguists in mind, Andersen’s grammar intended audience is language assistants and teachers with the hope that it will be useful for adult learners as well (p. 41). My plain language grammar of Ngiyampaa is being developed with the Ngiyampaa community as its primary audience assuming no prior knowledge of linguistics and, other linguists hoping to write descriptive grammars in plain language.

Even when non-Indigenous linguists have attempted to write plain language or learner’s grammars with the Indigenous community as the target audience, there is still somewhat of a reliance on technical linguistic terminology i.e. ergative or transitive. Consequently, Indigenous people have found such learners grammars made in their heritage languages by and large hard to understand and use.

In order to ensure that what I create will be truly accessible and useable by the broader Ngiyampaa community, I have recruited six co-researchers from within the community to test the materials as I write. The co-researchers are given materials that I produce as a first attempt to write in plain language and we then work together to make sure the material is clear and easy to understand. This approach is innovative and to my knowledge has not been used before.

Andersen, E. H. (2015). Development of a Learner’s Grammar for Paakantyi. University of Sydney.  

Donaldson, T. (1980). Ngiyambaa: The language of the Wangaaybuwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


This talk will be conducted via Zoom.


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