European Workshop on Australian Languages

At last, as promised, the report on the workshop. Sorry it took so long.
"The workshop" was the Second European Workshop on Australian Languages. The first workshop (also confusing named the fourth international workshop on Australian languages) was held in Aarhus in 2002 and was also hosted by Bill McGregor. The theme of the previous workshop was the history of research on Australian languages, and there's a volume of papers coming out of it. The theme of this year's workshop was "Narrative and Grammar". There was a general session with papers on various topics, and a special session. Details in the 'read on' section below.


The general session included a couple of hstorical talks (me on methods of reconstruction and Yolngu subgrouping, and Nick Evans on root shapes in Iwaidjan languages). Michael Walsh gave a very interesting talk on translation issues in Aboriginal Christianity (and it became quite clear in the question period that there's a complicating factor in the heterodoxy of Northern Australia, and even what is meant by 'Christian'). I'm reminded of the apocyphal story of the clergyman who knew sufficiently little Latin that he baptised a village in nomine patris, et filiae, et spiritus sancti, which of course led to his excommunication… Michael included in his talk a couple of maps of the Holy Land in Burarra/Kriol, one of which I reproduce here, because I'm still getting a kick out of the transliterations:

There were also three talks on morphology and syntax: Rachel Nordlinger on the wonders of reflexive/reciprocal marking in Daly River languages (this stuff is seriously seriously cool if you like complex morphosyntax. The Daly region has always made me feel that I should have invented some extra morphology for Bardi, or added to the suppletion). Fritz Schweiger talked about the marking and non-marking of comparative constructions in various Australian languages, and Alice Gaby discussed ergative marking in Guuk Thaayorre and whether we should treat the nominative case as subtractive form the ergative or the ergative as a morpheme added to the stem (ie the nominative) – both solutions are pretty messy.

The rest of the papers were related to the special theme of narrative and grammar, and there were a lot of different angles. Helen Harper gave a great paper on literacy and teaching methods in Indigenous classrooms. She pointed out that a lot of curriculum materials, as well as the general philosophy of 'teaching relevant stuff' to kids in remote communities has the practical result of a huge dumbing down of the curriculum and the withholding of a great deal of necessary information that kids in more mainstream classrooms get a much greater exposure to. She gave an example of the sort of knowledge of textual reading that needs to be taught explicitly.

Jean-Christophe Verstraete and Barbara De Cock presented an analysis of an Umpithamu removal story and looked at how particular grammatical devices (such as case marking) were used to emphasise particular discourse categories. Bill McGregor talked about repetition in Gooniyandi narratives, and the different types and functions of repetition. It'd be nice to see some comparative work on this. Anyone who wants to borrow my Bardi texts and tapes to do a study of repetition in Bardi is quite welcome (subject to the usual permissions and so on). I'd like to do it but I doubt I'll get around to it in the next few years. (A word of warning – you'd need to reedit the texts, probably, to reintroduce a lot of the repetition. Most of my texts were edited for a book and people wanted to take out a lot of that and make the style closer to a written story-telling style).

Eva Schultze-Berndt talked about the places in narrative where optional ergative marking is found. I'm afraid I don't have the handout here with me and I don't remember the conditions, but it was a nice point of contrast with optional ergative marking in other Northern Australian languages. It's found in Nyulnyulan, for example, although the conditions differ from language to language, and it appears to be much more common in Nyikina than in Bardi. Eva's paper also brought up issues of topic tracking, which fitted nicely with Adam Saulwick's talk on topic-marking in Rembarrnga (the language just south of Burarra, bordering on Yolngu languages). Adam did a classical study of word order, argument omission, and the like, and had some nice results.

Ruth Singer provided arguments for the use of certain Mawng verbs as coverbs. I found her talk really interesting, and I hadn't seen this sort of thing claimed for an Australian language before. She talked about a couple of different types, including the use of a verb to mark episode changes in narratives (hope I've got that right Ruth! I don't have my handout).

The last talk of the conference was Michael Walsh talking about postulates for Aboriginal narrative – that is, 10 ways in which Australian language narrative might be thought to differ from what we think of as archetypal "European" (or "English") narratives. This kicked up a great discussion about narrative, data collection, what a 'typical' English narrative was, and the role of the audience. 

And now, for some light relief, a few photos. Somlo was a gorgeous place for a conference, with the vineyards (first planted in Roman times) and the hill above:

  The first of these was taken from close to Bill McGregor's vineyard; the second from the railway station at Somlovasahegy on the last day.

Somlo's Catholic Church was also very pretty. It's 12th Century or thereabouts.

The hill at the top of the village (near the Catholic church) also had a 17th C mansion on it. It's supposedly 'English, ie built in the style of an English mansion, and then added to over the following years. I must admit never having seen anything quite like this in England, but it was a beautiful house despite being in ruins. 

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5 responses to “European Workshop on Australian Languages

  1. Patria et filia et spirita sancta was the version I heard. And of course he wouldn’t be excommunicated, it’s simply that such a baptism is invalid. Baptism is ex opera operato; that is, it matters what is done, not who does it or what mental state they might be in at the time. If the water is really ethylene glycol or the Son is called the Daughter, it’s no baptism at all.

  2. The version I heard seems to come from The Name of the Rose, but I remember reading it elsewhere too.

  3. Hey, what a great summary of the intellectual events!

  4. Hi Helen! How are things?

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