‘Grammar Boot Camp’ at Yale

I will be holding a summer ‘grammar boot camp’ next year (2015), from June 1 to June 26. The idea is to have up to four advanced undergraduate students work intensively on existing high-quality archival field notes and recordings with the aim of producing a publishable sketch grammar. Students will receive a stipend and travel expenses to come to Yale.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program; as such, applicants are limited to US citizens or permanent residents. Students who have graduated in Spring 2015 will be eligible to apply. The targeted cohort is undergraduates who will have just finished either their junior or senior year.

Applications will be accepted towards the end of 2014 and applicants will be notified about the result in mid-February. Students will need to show some evidence of prior research experience (e.g. through an RA-ship or by having a senior thesis in progress) and some familiarity with language documentation procedures (e.g. through having taken a field methods class or equivalent, such as attendance at a CoLang summer school). Applicants will need to show attention to detail and ability to focus on a project for a sustained period. The application will require a letter from the student and two letters of support from faculty.

The materials to be worked on will be from an Australian Aboriginal language from Western Australia and will include both print materials and audio files. It is probable that the ‘print’ materials will already be digitized and in Toolbox.

Students will meet twice a day as a group with me to discuss analyses and writing. They will spend the rest of the time working with the materials in the department. They will receive regular detailed feedback on the analysis and writing. Familiarity with Australian languages is not required but I would expect that successful applicants would do some reading of grammars of related languages (which would be provided) prior to the start of the boot camp.

More formal application information will be sent out later, but for now I just wanted to let everyone know about the opportunity so potential students can keep it in mind when planning their course schedules and plans for the coming year.

Please forward to anyone you think would be interested and feel free to contact me with any questions.

Filed under: fieldwork, language documentation, Pama-Nyungan
Source: Anggarrgoon

Recent press on Tjupan project

Over the last few months my student Andy Zhang has been doing fieldwork on Tjupan. The ABC has recently picked up the story and they ran a national segment last night. The print version is here. Frankly, I’m pretty puzzled (as I often am) why a particular project makes the news and another doesn’t, but it’s great publicity both for the Goldfields Language Project (Walkatjurra Culture Centre) and for language work.

This project started as a “grammar group”, where 6 students and I were working with Sue Hanson’s field notes on Tjupan to write a sketch grammar. A draft of the sketch grammar was completed back in June and Andy has been working on checking and extending it.

We didn’t have any funding for the initial round of work, but for the next few years I’ll be running a similar group as a summer “grammar boot camp” through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates scheme. More on that project soon.

Filed under: Bardi
Source: Anggarrgoon

New Digitization Project

From the RNLD site:

RNLD is very pleased to announce that we have been awarded an ILS Strategic Initiatives grant to digitise Gavan Breen’s and Tamsin Donaldson’s extensive collections of field notes for approximately fifty Australian Aboriginal languages. All materials from this project will be deposited with AIATSIS and PARADISEC and provided to regional language centres. This will ensure that these important materials will be more widely accessible to community members and linguists around Australia for language reclamation and revitalisation activities, and further linguistic research.

Tamsin Donaldson documented the Ngiyampaa language of western New South Wales in the 1970s, and over the past several decades she has published extensively on her research. Tamsin’s work continues to provide an invaluable resource for community members involved in the reclamation and teaching of Ngiyampaa. Linguist Lesley Woods, a Ngiyampaa woman, is currently in Canberra digitising and building metadata for 39 field notebooks with support from Tamsin and her family members.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Gavan Breen built an extraordinary database of materials from some 49 languages across western Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Gavan still continues his research and publication work from his office at the IAD in Alice Springs. He is actively supporting community language revitalisation activities in a number of locations, including Woorabinda, central Queensland. Gavan’s extensive collection of written materials about these languages is now being digitised in Alice Springs by RNLD Consultant Shamini Joseph. Shamini is completing the third and final phase of this project, building on two earlier phases that were undertaken by volunteer Clare Manning and RNLD’s Outreach Officer Felicity Houwen.

For more information on the project, including a list of the languages, visit the RNLD website: http://www.rnld.org/BreenDonaldson

Filed under: Bardi
Source: Anggarrgoon

Plain English Description of Australian Comparative Database

I have circulated this plain English description of the Pama-Nyungan (now Comparative Australian*) lexical database to various language centres in Australia, but I’m posting it here too in case it’s useful to others writing such descriptions, and in case others would like to know about the database in broad terms. I am in the process of writing a more detailed paper that describes the database.

Database description in plain English

I am making a database with words from many different Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. I have put down here some information about what I am doing, why I am doing it, who is involved, some of the risks and benefits for a project like this, and the possible outcomes. This was mostly written for regional language centres but probably answers most of the questions that others would have too.


I am a linguist. Part of the work I do involves working with communities in Australia on documenting languages. I have worked in the Kimberley, Queensland and Arnhem Land, mostly with elders. I’ve done ‘theoretical’ linguistic work, but also learner’s guides, a dictionary (in progress), school materials, and a lot of oral history and place name work.

I am also interested in language history – that is, how words and languages change over time, and how we can use information from languages to find out about the history of people. We can look at similarities and differences between words to see how languages have changed, which people have been in contact with one another, and so on. People borrow words from one another and often we can tell that the word was borrowed. For example, we know that speakers of English borrowed the word kangaroo from Guugu Yimidhirr people from Cooktown in Queensland. We know this because English speakers didn’t have a word for kangaroo before they came to Australia, but the language records from Cooktown record this word.

I work at Yale University in the USA, but I’m from Canberra originally and I often go home to visit my family. In Arnhem Land, I’m Wamuttjan.

The Database

As part of this work on language history, I am making a database of lots of words from lots of different languages all over Australia.

What is going into the database? I am including published language materials, and other materials which are freely available (for example, through the archive at AIATSIS in Canberra). As part of doing this, I have been looking at old sources – that is, materials published in the 19th century – other published materials, and fieldnotes. We (my students and I) have been typing these materials into the computer and making a database program.

What type of words are in the database? It is mostly common words, parts of the body, and other items like this. Where I have been given electronic dictionaries, it includes everything in the dictionary. I am not including any secret words or words that refer to men’s business or women’s business. Some words may be tabooed in some languages but not others. It’s also possible that some words are secret in some languages but not in others. We have not knowingly included such words.

Some of the words are marked as restricted: these are restricted because the person who gave me the information did not want it more widely circulated. Some people have let us use data on the condition that it is not given to others. That is fine with us. I have a list of languages that need to be restricted and when I export the database (that is, when I make a copy of it for others) I take out those items.

Who has access to the database? Currently, the only people who have access to the database are me, my research students, and a few of my colleagues. I have no plans to make the whole database freely available, although I would eventually like to publish reconstructions of the history of some of the words, and that will involve quoting from individual languages (although I will not quote anything which I have been asked not to). I can send copies of drafts to interested people if they would like to see what I plan to include.

How will this database be useful to Aboriginal people?

There are a couple of ways that this project might be useful to you. If you are working on reviving your language and are looking for materials, there might be some words from your language in the database. If your language was mostly written down a while ago, sometimes it can be hard to know exactly how the word should be said. Sometimes we can work out what the right pronunciation is through looking at other languages are. The database is digital, which means it is easy to produce word lists for individual languages. My team and I can help in making language materials like wordlist books, which could be the start of a dictionary.

What does the database look like?

The database has a lot of information in it and it is a bit complicated, but we can break it down into some different sections:

There is a part that has language names, and some information about each language. This includes the different spellings of the language name, some information about where it’s spoken, and what other languages it is closely related to.

There is a part that has information about the sources, such as the books and articles and fieldnotes that the language information came from.

The main part of the database has the words in it. Each word is listed in its original spelling, a guide for how to say the word, what it means in English, what language and variety it comes from, and the source of the word (that is, the book, article or notes it came from and who wrote it down). There is also information about the grammar of the word, and information relating to the project, such as related words, its meaning class (whether it is a fish term, or a body part, or something relating to the weather, and so on).

Finally, there is a set of reconstructions. These are guesses as to what earlier stages of the languages looked like. There’s also information about what languages have the same words for an item and what are different (e.g. which languages use the word karli for boomerang).

Does this database have anything to do with Native Title?

No. I have never worked on a Native Title claim. This database may be useful for claimants in some areas, and I could make the information for claimants available on the condition that it not be held sub judice. The historical reconstruction aspects of the project are far further in the past than is relevant to Native Title claims.

Filed under: fieldwork, language documentation, Lara Croft Verb Raider, Lexicology/lexicography
Source: Anggarrgoon

Ipads for research

I’m taking part in a trial of ipads for the field methods class this semester. I’m not totally convinced that it’s going to work yet, since I’m a bit suspicious of the recording capabilities and of how seamless it will be to get items on and off the devices. We will certainly be making backup recordings using my field equipment for at least the first few weeks.

However, one of the side effects of this is that I’ve been spending a lot more time working on an ipad recently, trying out apps. I’m even not taking my laptop to the LSA (I’m writing this post on an ipad on the plane to Minneapolis).

Couple of observations:

The ipad I’m trialling came with a ‘Zagg’ keyboard case. The keyboard itself is quite good. It’s comfortable to use and very responsive. The cover itself is rather clunky and heavy, and the charging position for the keyboard is in an irritating position (the keyboard has to be partly removed from the cover to charge it). It’s also fairly straightforward to pair the keyboard with multiple ipads.

I have an ipad mini and while that size of tablet is mostly great, it is very helpful to have the larger size when working on latexed documents. My ipad mini is also heavily child-proofed, which makes it almost impossible to use with a stylus. I have yet to find a decent handwriting ap that might be useful for field methods. Let me know if anyone knows of one (the stumbling block is the need to be able to use handwriting recognition with accented characters).

We are using Auria for the recording app, dictapad for transcription, and we will be loading the class data into LingSync (which has an online version for minimal data entry). We are syncing files through Dropbox and Box. TeX Writer is great (LaTeX app allowing fill compilation on the ipad) and Zotero for reference management.

So far the biggest issues have been a) the usual problem of syncing between multiple devices and making sure they are all up to date (forgot to do that before leaving…) and b) only having one window at a time. On the other hand, only having one window does make email much less of a distraction.

I will continue to provide updates as the semester progresses and we use the ipads.

Filed under: fieldwork, teaching, Technology and Software
Source: Anggarrgoon

Phylogenetics of kinship

[Update: materials are now available at pamanyungan.sites.yale.edu/kinship]

I am presenting work at the upcoming LSA meeting with a former undergraduate student and a postdoc (Amalia Skilton and Hannah Haynie). We have been working on kinship structures in Australian languages, using a combination of the comparative method and phylogenetic trait analysis.

The basic idea is that we can use our hypotheses of family tree relationships among Australian languages to reconstruct aspects of linguistic and cultural systems. In this case, we’re using the structure of sibling systems; that is, how many distinctions speakers of different languages make when referring to siblings. English just has two basic terms: ‘brother’ and ‘sister’; Bardi, however, has three terms: oombarn for older brother, bola or babili for ‘younger brother’, and marrir for ‘sister’ (Note that the Bardi system is asymmetrical, with two terms for brothers but only one for sisters.) Yan-nhangu also has a three-term system, but their system has a distinction for ‘older brother’ (waawa) vs older sister (yapa), but one term for ‘younger sibling’ (yapayapa). There are four fairly common systems in Australian languages (two, a four-way system and the Yan-nhangu-type three-term system, are the most common).

We reconstructed the sibling terms probabilitistically and then compared them to reconstructions of kinship lexical items, using the comparative method. We found that where the terms could be reconstructed, there was a great deal of congruity between the probabilistic state reconstruction and the comparative method reconstruction. However,

This sort of work isn’t well motivated for all systems. For example, it would not make a lot of sense to work on phoneme inventories in this way, because the inventories do not change independently of the lexical items in which they appear. That is, just because two languages both have a phoneme /p/, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those /p/s are “cognate” (because /p/ in one language could be cognate with /w/ in another, for example).

Filed under: conferences, fieldwork, Historical, language documentation
Source: Anggarrgoon

Anggarrgoon at the LSA

I’ll be at the annual meeting of the LSA in Minneapolis, presenting work from my lab. I have a poster with Emily Gasser in the plenary poster session on Friday morning, and one with Hannah Haynie and Amalia Skilton in the poster session on Saturday. Also on Friday, in one of the 10:30-12:00 sessions, I’m presenting recently work on sound symbolism and Australian languages with Hannah Haynie. Handouts will be available on this blog after the conference.

Filed under: Bardi
Source: Anggarrgoon

Ozpapers update

I maintain ozpapers.wordpress.com, which provides references to recent publications on Australian languages. I’ve recently gone through the backlog of draft posts, so expect to see more activity on the site over the next few weeks. Suggestions for papers to post are welcome at any time.

Filed under: Other
Source: Anggarrgoon