ALS

I had a great time in Adelaide at ALS last week. I wanted to compile a summary as I went, since there was a lot of good stuff on there, but of course time slipped away…

First up, I told a number of people I’d put ALS handouts from my talks online. I can’t do that here but an earlier version of my Karnic subgrouping talk is on the Pama-Nyungan site in the publications section, and the Bardi talk won’t go online for cultural reasons but if you’d like a copy send me an email. The Pama-Nyungan database information is all at http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~ppny/, and the WTS paper is being revised but the full paper will go up when it’s done.

A number of themes came up over a bunch of papers. The first was language ownership (it was there overtly in the hypothetical, for example, since the title was ‘who controls your language’) but it was also there implicitly in the comments and questions to a number of the papers. On the whole there was much more of a ‘linguists aren’t here to steal your language’ framework than I’d feared there might be. It’s one of the reasons I’ve really pushed against the ‘linguists save languages’ rhetoric: after all, if we’re arguing that linguists no longerparticipate in the ‘documenting a dying race’ trope of the 1950s, we shouldn’t subscribe to FiFo fieldwork.

Another subset of comments running through a few papers concerned the term ‘Indigenous’. While some people view it as equivalent to ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’, and think of it as either a neutral or a respectful term, it was clearly taken by some people as an attempt to remove the term ‘Aboriginal’ from the social discourse, in fact as part of an attempt at assimilation. This idea – the emphasis of the importance of particular names being used in public and the news – was set against the competing idea of who is allowed to speak a given Aboriginal language, and how much should be publically available. The complexity of this situation was illustrated by a Kaurna man who simultaneously spoke about a) the term ‘Aboriginal’ and how not using it removed Aboriginal people from the news and allowed land and culture theft to proceed without check, and b) how the fact that Kaurna people didn’t own their languages these days because it was used by White people in public gatherings, on street signs, and at conferences like ALS/ILC.

It’s always a treat for me to go to wall-to-wall talks on Aboriginal languages, and I made the most of that (unfortunately I still haven’t mastered the art of being in two places at once, so I missed a number of really great talks because I was at other really great talks).

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