Laves’ texts: transcription

Working on texts like those in the Laves corpus means making a lot of choices about what to type. For example, we could produce a facsimile of the originals and annotate that, or we could produce something that’s a bit further from the originals.

We’ve gone in the latter direction for this project. I deliberately decided to standardise the texts to current Bardi spelling, rather than using Laves’ spelling. I have also not retained his punctuation, and have edited his notes.

This might be a bit controversial. It does mean that it’s hard to use the texts ‘on their own terms’, and without going back to the original texts it won’t always be clear what is Laves’ analysis and what is mine. (Heidi Kneebone has made some comments about using old materials on their own terms, in relation to the Reuther Diyari materials of South Australian languages. )

It’s worth remembering that the text collection is field notes. It was probably never intended to be treated as is, without further work (and there is evidence from the materials that Laves himself started to return to the materials in 1932 or 1933). There were a couple of reasons for not just typing exactly what Laves wrote down.

First, Laves doesn’t have free translations, and his interlinear glosses are a) hard to follow and b) sometimes incorrect. Moreover, he has very minimal punctuation. Therefore there is already need for the editor to make judgements about things like phrase boundaries in translation. This is being done in consultation with speakers. Luckily there are a number of first position and second position particles in Bardi which are a good guide to where to break clauses.

Secondly, the main reason for doing this project (apart from investigating the linguistic differences between the modern language and that recorded by Laves) is to make a repository of texts which will be of value and of use to Bardi people. Since not many people speak Bardi these days, if the text collection is going to be useful, it will need to be keyed to the Bardi dictionary. That means either spelling words in the texts the same way as they are spelled in the dictionary, or providing some sort of equivalency list (which would make the process of looking up words pretty tedious, since there are many differences). I will provide a bunch of comments, both in the texts and in the introduction, but it seems a bit silly to reproduce known errors which will make the texts less easy to use. This (along with the work involved) is also the reason that I decided not to produce a text with Laves’ Bardi on one line and modern Bardi on the next. The differences are mostly quite minor.

There are two main areas of minor phono-differences. One is retroflection. Laves consistently writes many more apicals as retroflex than any other writer on Bardi. That in itself is interesting, since he is fairly accurate in other areas (like in vowel length) does not change the transcription much as he gets better acquainted with the language. There is a lot to be said about retroflection in Bardi, the extent to which it’s phonemic, and the role it plays in verb inflection (a set of contrasts that was all but dead in the last speakers, or that I wasn’t hitting on the right way to elicit). However,

The other area is in the number of vowels regularly recorded. Laves uses a backwards epsilon as well as a, i, u and o (and long o, long u, long i and long a). Phonemically, there is no long o: it’s either ow or maybe owu (Laves writes bow or o for these) or a phonetic variant of u:.

There are other differences, in lexicon, dialect, morphology, and syntax, and we are representing those. For the Jawi texts, they are printed pretty much “as is” apart from the phonological standardisation. For the other ones, there are some differences which make grammatical differences for current speakers. So, the current plan is to print the ‘normalised’ text, with extensive notes about the differences between what was written and what appears in the edition. This seems an acceptable compromise between respecting the integrity of the original text and making a book that current speakers and owners of the language can use.

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