From Milingimbi

If you’re reading this it means that I’ve got internet working here at Milingimbi. (It’s been a bit difficult, despite my whizz-bang wonderhouse (see below) it’s never had a phone connected.)
If all goes well you’ll be getting an abbreviated version of my fieldwork diary every few days (abbreviated for reasons of anonymity and interest).

I need to rave about my house here (Milingimbi CEC and Marilyn, you rock!!). This is by far the nicest place I’ve lived in on field work. Top of the list of generally cool things about this house is fly screens on all windows (a first); a working air conditioner (another first); working fans that don’t squeak (not quite a first but useful); a washing machine (a definite first). So I am one happy camper. The rumours of mobile phone reception at the barge ramp were false, though (at least for my phone). There’s a clear line of sight there to Ramingining community, and they have a mobile phone tower, but I couldn’t pick up anything.

I went to see my yapa mitji (classificatory sisters, aka the people I’m working with, who are mostly my “sisters” (Wamuttjan) but also my ngandi and gukulngu and brought some prezzies. The biggest general hit were the screwdrivers (for getting oysters off the rocks) and the T-shirts.

I also had some draft copies of the learner’s guide to Yan-nhangu which were very well received (latju! manymak! bulanggitj! yo!). S was very happy with it, generally astonished from the look on her face. That was great!

There’s been building in Milingimbi since I was here last year, no building sites close to my house this time, so I’m hoping that there’ll be prospects for quieter recording this time (and my room isn’t as echoic as the last one, it’s a smaller room with two huge futons and a table in it). The shop has a cafe now, open at night with take-away pies, chicken, bread, etc.

Yan-nhangu work continues. The project’s had a bit of a setback with the person who did the “editing” of the dictionary deciding that parts of speech and scientific names could be put in the same fields (because, after all, they’re both in italics…), that databases don’t need structure, that spelling rules and phonemic categories are some oppressive concept that we don’t have to follow, that it’s generally ok to make stuff up and that 2 years of learning Gupapuyngu qualifies you to be the final arbiter of lexicography. So we are just a little unhappy at having to spend transcription and sleeping time removing double entries, and precious elicitation time checking spelling when I’d been hoping to concentrate largely on syntax.

My house has developed an unidentifiable electrical hum, which seems to be coming from the air conditioner but might just be the noise of the generator (big thing, powers the whole community, but can be heard a long way away). Or dodgy circuitry in the walls. It’s hard to pinpoint it over the birds. Crows, kingfishers, doves, cockatoos and random tiny other things (jiinijin and alingindir in Bardi…) All the birds that make being here so cool but recording such a pain! My next-door neighbour’s yappy dog (the one I was told is frightened of the Yolngu – 3 times, perhaps by transferred angst from owner to dog…) has gone to work with its owner so it’s not scaring them away. I can see two green parrots and a rainbow lorikeet. – photos to come.

Spent the last few days removing double entries from the dictionary, generally rationalising things, removing scientific names from the parts of speech, etc etc. Got up to entry 900 and deleted 600, so only 2,000 to go… There are some interesting verb entries though, and maybe Yan-nhangu has a more Dhangu-type verb system than Dhuwala (not surprising).* Gupapuyngu, for example (which is a Dhuwala language) has 4 forms of the verb, with the tertiary (past) tense being used as the base for further nominalisations. Their four forms are basically present, future/imperative, past/nominal and habitual. Some of the Dhangu languages (and Ritharngu) have five forms of the verb.

*Dhangu, Djinang/Djinba and Dhuwal/Dhuwala/Dhay’yi are all subsubgroups of the Yolngu subgroup of Pama-Nyungan. Nhangu, of which Yan-nhangu is the only variety still spoken, is another subgroup, which may or may not have closer relations to Dhangu and/or Djinang.


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