Giving Directions in Bardi

I was recently quoted in a National Geographic article talking about research on absolute frames of reference. I mentioned some data from Bardi but the only description is brief, and it’s in my 2012 [unfortunately incredibly expensive] reference grammar. Here’s a summary of how to talk about directions in Bardi.

Bardi people use several different ways to talk about directions and relative location. This in itself is not unusual. Here are the systems I have data for:

  • left and right
  • compass points
  • deixis, relative proximity
  • tidal-based directions
  • directions using place names

Left and Right

Bardi does have words for ‘left’ and ‘right’: they are aarlgoodoo and joorroonggoo respectively. They aren’t much used, however. In story-telling (my main source of direction terms), the only common use is when talking about the direction of boomerang throwing, where it refers to the direction of curvature of the boomerang’s path. Joorroonggoo also means ‘straight’, and that is its more common meaning.

Joorroongg-ondarr morr arrjamb ngandankal.
The road was straight, so I walked on it. (ie, it was a straight path [to where I was headed], so I went down it.)

Compass Points

Bardi has a system of directions roughly equivalent to English compass points and based on the direction of prevailing winds. Ardi is ‘north’ (or, more properly, a bit east of north), baarnarr is ‘east’ alang is ‘south’, and goolarr is west.

Barnoorarra nyalab jarri Ardiyooloon injoonoo, jamb biila injoonoo goolarr.
He’s been to Ardiyooloon on the eastern side, and he went again to the west.

These compass points are mostly used for general directions, not for directions to specific places (for that, a sequence of place names is used, as I’ll describe below). They aren’t used for smaller frames of reference (so, you wouldn’t say something like ‘the dog is on the north side of the house’, like some languages without relative frames of reference have). The following example is typical.

Aalga ardi wirr iyarrmin.
The sun rises in the northeast.

Deixis

For examples like describing the relative placement of a dog and a house, Bardi speakers typically use deictic markers like ‘here’, ‘there’, or ‘this side’ and ‘the other side’.

Ginyinggon roowil innyana barda nyoonoo, nyanbooroonony daab innyana biinyba.
Then he started walking to the other side of the marsh. (literally, then he walked there, on the other side he climbed up [through] the marsh).

Tidal marking

Bardi has two adverbs, joordarrarr ‘with the tide’ and arrinar ‘against the tide’.

Joodarrarr angarrgalalij Bawoordoongan.
We went with the tide to Bawoordoo (near Swan Point).

They are also used in giving directions. Given that Bardi country is in an area with very swift currents and a 10 metre inter-tidal range at king tides, it is not surprising that Bardi people know a great deal about water navigation, tidal movements, and how to sail in tricky waters. A lot of Bardi food traditionally also depended on the tides (such as good times for reefing, fishing and hunting).

Directions by Place Names

Finally, a very common way of giving directions involves providing a chain of place names between the speaker’s current location and the goal. Bardi country is incredibly rich in named places; the dictionary has well over 500 names recorded, including 100 names on Sunday Island (Iwany) alone; Iwany is just over a mile across and nearly 2 miles from north to south, so it’s not exactly huge. This way of giving directions is, of course, not easy to follow if you don’t know the places. In traditional Bardi society, however, everyone would have known them, and so talking about directions in that way is a way of reinforcing the names and their sequence.

Tasmanian language data

The CHIRILA database contains materials from the Aboriginal languages of Tasmania. The excel spreadsheets contain all the records from Plomley’s (1976) Tasmanian language data, and additional spreadsheets contain explanatory data about the speakers represented in the text, the regions where data were recorded, and who the recorders were. This is the data used in Bowern (2012).

A word of warning is warranted here. This is not easy data to use; there’s a steep learning curve both for understanding the original transcription conventions, Plomley’s groupings, and the abbreviations.

See http://www.pamanyungan.net/2016/02/tasmanian-language-data/ for downloads.

Introducing CHIRILA

I am very pleased to announce that the first phase of CHIRILA (Contemporary and Historical Resources for the Indigenous Languages of Australia) has been released. This represents approximately 180,000 words from 155 different Australian languages. It is a subset of the full database (of approx 780,000 items); eventually I hope to be able to release most of the data. Currently, the first phase is that for which we have explicit permission, or which is already in the public domain.
The material is hosted at pamanyungan.net/chirila; please see the web site for more information about the contents of the database, how to download data, what formats are available, and the like. We do not provide a web interface to the data; you download it and use excel or a database program to read the files.
We hope the data will be useful to researchers, community members, and others with an interest in Australia’s Indigenous language heritage.
pamanyungan.net/chirila also includes access to the preprint of a paper describing the database (both the online and full versions).

Second Annual Summer Grammar Bootcamp!

I will be holding a summer ‘grammar boot camp’ from July 5 to July 29, 2016. 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 follows from a very successful first bootcamp in 2015.

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 2016 will be eligible to apply. That is, the targeted cohort is undergraduates who will have just finished either their junior or senior year.

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 once 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 Linguistics 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 prior to the start of the boot camp.

Applications for the boot camp are now open. The deadline for applications is January 22, 2016, and applicants will be notified of the result in mid-February.

To apply, please send the following materials electronically:

. a letter of application, describing your experience in linguistics, including research experience, your future plans, and why you’d like to join the boot camp.
. a writing sample, such as a linguistics term paper
. course transcript (this can be an unofficial transcript)

Please send materials as file attachments to bootcamp@pamanyungan.net, cc’ed to claire.bowern@yale.edu. Applications will be acknowledged within 2 days – if you don’t get an acknowledgment, please let me know.

Please also arrange for one or two letters of recommendation/support from faculty to be sent to the same email addresses, also by January 22.

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 having attended CoLang or a LSA Institute class). Applicants will need to show attention to detail and ability to focus on a project for a sustained period. Students will need to be able to travel to New Haven for the entire period of the boot camp and should expect to work solely on this project during that time, including some evenings and weekends.

Explorations in Pama-Nyungan Phylogenetics

I recently gave one of the plenary talks at a workshop on phylogenetic algorithms at the Lorentz Center in Leiden (Netherlands). In the talk I gave an overview of a number of recent results from my research program, including the creation of a Pama-Nyungan phylogeny and some of the research results that come from that.

The slides are available from academia.edu, from this link.

One of the results that is worth highlighting is the distribution of innovative languages within subgroups. A standard theory argues that languages innovate in the center of their ranges. The innovations diffuse across the language area over times, and therefore areas around the periphery tend to show more archaisms than those in the center. This distribution should also apply to language subgroups, assuming that language split occurs through the gradual accretion of isoglosses so that dialects split into separate languages.

If this is true, subgroup areas should show the same distributions, if not in absolute terms, but in large measure. That is, more innovative languages should lie towards the center of subgroups, and more conservative ones should lie around that edges.

It turns out that it is straightforward to plot the most innovative languages in each subgroup, according to how much basic vocabulary they have replaced. In the Chirila database, there are basic vocabulary lists coded by cognacy. To get a sense of how innovative a language is, we can simply sum, for each word in the language, the number of languages that share that cognate and divide it by the total number of language-cognate items. That gives us a sense of the extent to which languages participate in the most archaic vocabulary in the famiy. Plotting the most innovative language in each subgroup gives us the following map.


As you can see, the most innovative languages are not, in most cases, in the center of the subgroups, but rather on the peripheries.

What can explain the discrepency? It’s probably the result of migratory expansions. That is, the languages that are the most innovative are the ones as the ‘ends’ of their subgroup phylogenetic expansions. That is, the most innovative languages are the ones that have undergone the most branching; another way of thinking about this is that more innovation happens on lineages with more branching events. This echoes a result from other work by Atkinson, Pagel, and colleagues, who also found that lineage splitting speeds up change.

One might think that this result reflects language contact; that is, that languages on the periphery might be in contact with more different languages, which leads to an increase in unidentifiable vocabulary. But these languages are not the only ones which are in contact with languages from other subgroups. In fact, if we map the most conservative languages in each subgroup, they are also often to be found around the periphery.

It may still be the case that the center-periphery model still holds in areas where languages have stopped expanding, and that Pama-Nyungan subgroups were (on the whole) not formed by diversification in situ.

It’s also interesting to plot the most and least conservative subgroups:


This is a bit more dodgy. For example, I strongly suspect that Thura-Yura’s place in this list is inflated by Wirangu having (as loans) a number of items that are otherwise found only in Western Pama-Nyungan languages, and by Wirangu overall showing some Pama-Nyungan retentions that are otherwise replaced in the rest of Thura-Yura. The broad trend, however, is that the further east, the less conservative. The correlation between longitude and retention is -0.49. The correlation doesn’t hold for latitude (0.05) or number of languages in the subgroup (-0.02).

Language by source materials

For the curious, here is a map of the languages in the full database, color-coded by number of items. As you can see, there’s considerable variation, but there are also a good number of languages with substantial holdings.

PNy_SourceCounts

Counts of sources in Australian lexical database, as at August 19, 2015

Phase one database sources

I have a list of sources that will be released in Phase I of the Australian Lexical Database.

This represents about 170,000 lexical items and about 80 sources other than the Curr (1886) wordlists, which comprise the bulk of the collection.

We have been conservative in what is released because not everyone we have contacted about data has replied, and because we are still in the process of finding contact information for all the relevant stakeholders.

Of the people we contacted, only 5 sources were ‘closed’ (that is, unable to be distributed). The vast majority of researchers and communities gave permission for their languages to be represented in the database, which was really gratifying.

Phase I sources mapped against languages in comparative lexical database

Phase I sources mapped against languages in comparative lexical database

 

Phase I sources