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

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.

Continue reading

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.

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).

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.

Aside

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.

Congratulations to the ANU!

A big congratulations to Jane Simpson, Nick Evans, Simon Greenhill, and the linguistics team at ANU on their successful ARC application for a Centre of Excellence in language change!