Category Archives: conferences

5th European Australianists’ workshop (2)

Day two kicked off in fine North England drizzly style. I gave a talk on hunter-gatherer linguistics and things we might want to think about when considering hunter-gatherer language change. Continuing the  historical theme, my student Natalie Weber gave a nice report on her Marrngu reconstruction work. After coffee, Robert Mailhammer did a great study of Amurdak TAM marking (or, as he said, AM marking, since tense isn’t really involved).

Then followed three talks on different aspects of Jaminjung: Dorothea Hoffmann on motion event representation, Eva Schultze-Berndt on discontinuous noun phrases and Candide Simard on prosody. This is work on the Jaminjun and Eastern-Ngumpin DoBeS project and ripper talks they were too. I especially liked Candide’s talk on her dissertation work on establishing the prosodic units in Jaminjung and their function. I don’t know of any other detailed intonation work in Australia so this is pretty cool. Eva’s paper was an examination of the functions of discontinuity in Jaminjung; she showed that the language has true NPs, and discontinuity which is distinct from dislocation. The discontnuous phrases appear to mark sentence focus. Dorothea’s paper was a contribution to the motion event representaiton literature (which, iirc, was also the subject of the first Australianists workshop at the MPI some years ago). She compared event segmentation in Kriol and Jaminjung and discussed some of the problems in defining different types of event-segmentation parameters in languages with badly-defined VPs.

The last session included Steph Spronck givings us an outline of his planned PhD research on Ngarinyin social cognition, and Stefanie Fauconnier on her MA findings (which will be expanded in her PhD) on inanimate agents.

So, all in all, a successful weekend! It was particularly nice to see the number of student talks (almost half the total program) and the variety of work (and variety of languages!).

There are rumours that the next conference will be in Belgium next year, and I’ve offered to host the one after that in the US.

Many thanks to Eva, Felicity, Candide and all who made the weekend so successful!


5th European Australianists’ Workshop (1)

Many of the Northern Hemisphere based Australianists met in Manchester last week for a two-day conference.

Bill McGregor kicked off the proceedings with a talk on spatial frames of reference in Gooniyandi* and a critique of Levinson’s (2003) typology of spatial categorisation. The Gooniyandi system appears to have something a bit different going on, and it’s hard to argue for clear-cut categories of absolute and relative directionals. 

We then moved east to the VRD and Felicity Meakins’ talk on Gurindji Kriol coverbs. She argued that Gurindji Kriol positional constructions do not use true coverbs, but rather are an instance of Aikhenvald’s asymmetric serial verb constructions. I have a bit of a problem with this, since the Aikhenvald asymmetric serialisation construction actually includes complex predicates like the Gurindji coverbs, but whatever we call the things, it’s clear that they behave rather differently in Kriol, Gurindji Kriol and Gurindji.

After the break we moved to Cape York for two talks: Clair Hill on Kuuku Ya’u and Umpila ignoratives, and Jean-Christophe Verstraete on place names in Lamalama country. Clair’s talk was on the grammar of items that have also been called indefinite/interrogatives, interrogatives, or ignoratives. The Umpila ignoratives function very differently from the ones in the languages with which I’m familiar (and Yan-nhaŋu doesn’t have them at all, really). All a good reminder that Australian languages are actually kinda diverse.  JC’s talk used place name etymology to look at population movement. It was also a really nice illustration of google earth in toponym studies.

The final talk in that session (and of the day) was by Anthony Grant, who presented an analysis of the ‘lower Burdekin language’ lists in Curr (1886).

We then headed off to the curry mile for a pretty good South Indian dinner.

Day 2 report follows…

*Not the advertised talk, which was to be on Nyulnyul, but I got the summary version of the other talk on the walk to lunch and it’s pretty clear that something weird has been going on in the history of Western Nyulnyulan.

NWAV take 2: constructional identity

I’m not a sociolinguist, although some of the work I do overlaps quite a bit with what some sociolinguists do (and that was what I was talking about there). A few things jumped out, and one was on how ‘identity’ is used.

I was surprised by the way in which the concept of ‘identity’ was used by a number of the speakers. In perhaps a majority of the talks, ‘identity’ is something which is primarily constructed. It is a set of choices, a set of categories which people choose to participate in or not, and which they mark by certain linguistic features.

This strikes me as problematic. Firstly, it’s predicated on a certain type of social mobility, which isn’t true of all cultures. Secondly, it’s predicated on us being able to separate intent from action, which is also quite a sticky prospect. And finally, it seems to ignore the rather obvious point that identity is *also* constructed for us and projected onto us (stereotyping being one form of this).  Something more could also be said, perhaps, about the extent to which speakers are willing participants in the construction of their identity.

I’m sure all of this has been gone into (e.g. in the linguistic anthropology literature) but it would have been good to see a little more nuance in some of the studies — although I know I’m asking a lot for a 20 minute talk!

NWAV take 1: socio fieldwork

iThere was some discussion in the panel I was on about fieldwork and endangered languages and the type of data that sociolinguists want. We didn’t have much time for it but let me put down some points that got made more or less in the session.

  • Language documentation these days does not (and/or should not) involve just work from one speaker, where possible. We all know of cases where documentation from one speaker is better than from no speakers, but where there is a speech community, good data can be gkeaned from multiple members of that community.
  • Documentation of a language also involves documenting who says what. That is, documenting a language is not the same thing as writing a grammar of that language.
  • Some people in the audience criticised the grammar, dictionary, texts model of fieldwork as leaving out the sociolinguistics, but I can’t resist pointing out that my grammar-dictionary-texts description of Yan-nhaŋu was an ideal way to get information about variation in the speech community; it was a partially structured set of survey materials for studying difference, in effect. It also provided a reason to be in the community and a an excuse to be linguistically nosey.
  • Some discussion was also had about whether it’s necessary to speak the language in order to do sociolinguistic work on the language. It’s probably not absolutely necessary, but I think that in any fieldwork doing whatever it takes to learn the language is a pretty good idea, and that applies to any type of language work.

NWAV 0: my paper

I went to NWAV this weekend and had a fabulous time. I have a few posts in progress so you’ll get the serialised highlights over the next few days.

Here are the slides from my paper on Arnhem Land clan variation. It’s a 3.8mb file with some embedded sound files.

Comments are welcome as always.


I was at the ALS and LFG conferences last week. It was a lot of fun and several rounds of applause should go to Jane Simpson, Pam Peters, Louise de Beuzeville and the other local organisers, and to their team of volunteer helpers, who pulled off a great conference without, it seems, any support from their university.

There were some Australianist offerings, despite the ‘Pacific English’ theme. Alan Dench gave a talk about degrammaticalisation of a 3sg dative clitic in the Pilbara, Bill McGregor talked about existential negation in Nyulnyul (which I may post on separately because it’s different from Bardi in interesting ways) and Eva Schultze-Berndt had a nice paper on Kriol and Jaminjung. Joe Blythe’s paper on Murriny-Patha in the interaction workshop was really interesting (about how referents are introduced and maintained and how that relates to various principles of information minimisation and maximisation).

There were also several Australianist papers in the LFG conference, all of which involved Rachel Nordlinger in some way, either as co-author (on sets as a way of describing anaphoric relations and certain incorporation structures) or as impetus (the speed paper + drinks session on Saturday).

What I’m reading

I bought a bunch of new books at ALS and in Broome. I may get around to (micro)reviewing them. Can’t give much information here since I haven’t read them yet!

  • Aboriginal women by degrees: a book of essays by Aboriginal women about their experiences in higher education.
  • Intruder’s guide to East Arnhem Land: Should be a bit of balance to Balanda (it’s described a such by people who’ve read both)
  • France Australe: about French exploration in Western Australia.

And a grammar or two or three:

  • The Grammar of Yalarnnga. I suspect I’ll be blogging about this.
  • Dhanggati grammar and dictionary: A new grammar by Amanda Lissarrague, very clearly set out, with texts, sketch grammar and dictionary.
  • Gumbaynggirr Dictionary and Learner’s Grammar. This looks fun.

Two paper collections:

  • Warra Wiltaniappendi: Strengthening languages. The 2007 ILC proceedings, dedicated to Dr Marika.
  • Encountering Aboriginal Languages (I have a paper in this volume) on case studies in the history of Australian linguistic work. It’s got Schmidt’s map on the cover too, so I won’t have to resort to ILL for reference to the eastern part of the country!