Category Archives: Laves

Annotated Texts

Peter Austin has a great post about text in grammars and how closely they correspond to what was actually said.

It strikes me that we are not being very explicit about genre, purpose of recording, and purpose of publication. If we were talking about a conversation, for example, there would be no question that *everything* would be reproduced – hesitations, back-channelling, repairs, pauses, codeswitches, the lot. But such transcripts can be quite difficult to read, especially when interlinearisation and free translations are added.

Most descriptive linguists don’t work with conversation data, though – they work with narratives. Narratives are often recorded as much for the information they contain as the linguistic structures they exhibit. I suspect that this a hang-over from the days of descriptive linguistic anthropology and the Boasian tradition.

Individual storytellers have different styles and different levels of fluency (independent of their fluency in the language). Speakers themselves may want to edit out some of the hesitations and code-switches in order to present a text which conforms more closely to the constraints of written genres (that is, making the text a written document, not a transcription of a spoken document).

The problems that Peter talks about arise when we treat a written text and a transcription as the same type of document (or mistake one for the other).

A question of this type has come up fairly often with the Laves materials. These are texts which were dictated; we do not have any original sound files. The texts have little punctuation. If we were to make a faithful reproduction of those texts, it is already one or two steps removed from the original performance. It would be like trying to recreate an authentic 19th performance of a Bach cantata. There are reasons to do such a thing, but there are also reasons not to.

The approach I’ve taken in the Laves materials a classical apparatus criticus – brief annotations at the bottom of the page for textual emendations, major spelling variants, etc, and endnotes for interpretive comments to guide the reader. It’s not ideal – I suspect it’s almost as irritating for those not familiar with this sort of textual work as reading a conversation transcript. But it is a compromise between an almost uninterpretable string of words and a glossed text with hazy relations to the ‘original’.


A non-post

I’m not allowed to quote from one of the sources that I looked at in the AIATSIS archives but I’m so pleased about this I had to blog about it. I found some genealogies in an unexpected source which turn out to belong to characters in the Laves stories. This is not really a project for now, it’s a long-term job to get permission to work on this source properly and to go through all the information that’s there, but it’ll be a nice complement to the stories when I have the time to pursue it. The Laves stories themselves are free-standing, and I can’t quite describe why it’s so satisfying to find it – perhaps because the stories were undated and the people in them were almost legendary (like Robin Hood, real but untraceable), so it’s very pleasing to be able to find out something about who they were and who their family is.

I also found the genealogy of my namesake (the Bardi person I was named after) and that was pretty cool.

Syntax … the mystery continues

It was a day full of discovery today. I found a sound more painful than chalk on a blackboard (fork on frozen creamed corn…) and there was some new syntax.

Bardi has a lot of morphology that isn’t very productive. The case morphology is very regular but there’s a heap of derivational marking that occurs pretty rarely. For example, there’s aalgadany and goowidany ‘by sun’ and ‘by moon’ respectively, cf aalga ‘sun’ and goowidi ‘moon’. No other words have this suffix that I can find. You expect that from derivational morphology, of course.

BUT, today I came across innyana-nim. It’s a fully inflected verb with an ergative case marker (-nim) on the end of it. Most of the other Nyulnyulan languages do this pretty productively, although not usually with the ergative; it forms temporal and cause subordinate clauses, for example. But this is an exocentric noun, it seems. It means ‘the person who caught it’ (cf innyana ‘(s)he caught it’). Further digging produced inamboonanim ‘the one who hit it’) and sort of injalananim ‘the one who saw it’ but nothing else. This was a Laves item that I nearly wrote off for innyana=min  ‘when he caught it’.

So, we have a case marker that occurs on very few items, to form a verb or noun that can appear as a subject of a sentence.


By the way, more work on my gerunds with –joon has produced some more nice examples. They do have to be resultative, putting the agent in produces problems, but they can be further case marked.

Laves annotation

I don’t think I like having a TV on fieldwork, it means I can accidentally stumble on cooking shows. The veggie offerings are better here than at Milingimbi, and I have both capcisum and celery in my fridge at the moment, but porcini barley soup is a little beyond my abilities at present. See what happens when you get spoiled by your accommodation?

Anyway, now that I’m starting to go through the Laves texts I’m getting a better idea of some of the differences between ‘old’ and ‘new’ Bardi. One of the problems we have is that it’s hard to tell what differences are just errors, and what are genuine differences. A set of standardised tags will make it easier to see what are one-off differences (and therefore perhaps errors) and what are recurring and systematic difference. I have some sense of them now but I don’t want to rely on my inuitions.

Here are some examples of the codes I’m using so far (explanation follows the – ):

  • verb transitivity difference – change in the transitivity of a verb
  • missing ergative – ergative case marker added
  • lexical difference – a difference in the lexical choice
  • IO added – an oblique marker is added
  • vowel difference/ retroflection[or other difference]
  • interpretation – phrase changed to make sense more plausible

Multilingual gem

Today’s post is also about Bardi. I now have 50 of the Laves stories fully translated and annotated, and about 30 to go, give or take. I’ve written an export macro that converts the texts to LaTeX for proofing on paper.

I think one of the stories I did this morning is my favourite in the whole collection. It’s an image that’s stayed with me from the initial reading of these stories in 2003. Two guys meet by chance across a chasm. One of the guys asks shouts a question in Oowini across the gap. The other doesn’t answer, because he doesn’t speak that language. He yells back something in a different language, which the Oowini guy doesn’t know. Then they both turn into stone. I’m told that’d the fate of not being able to communicate in such circumstances.

(The rocks can still be seen in this area, I’m told, although I’m pretty sure the cliffs in question are on Curtin Air Force Base so I doubt I’ll get to see them in a hurry.)

Such are the perils of not being able to answer when you’re spoken to in a language not your own…

New morpheme!

I’m going through the Laves text in preparation for fieldwork in a month or so. I’m doing preliminary translations and making notes about things I don’t understand. I think I’m about halfway through the texts now, but it’s very uneven. There are a bunch of slightly different dialects represented in the text.

In a text today I found a morpheme I’d never seen in Bardi before. Well, actually, I must have seen it before because I think I read this text quickly with people in 2003, but I don’t have any notes on it. Here’s the first part of the text, with my codes explained in [ ]:


\lg Goo biindanjina.
\ft Goowa [mermaid] lives in the scrub.
\lnt [Laves’ note] biindanjina – customary residence expressed by infinitive
\nq find out more about goowa in general (all previous stories have goowa as a ‘mermaid’ – that is, a sea spirit, not a land spirit.

\lg Garda inkal biindan.
\ft She’s still in the scrub.
\lg Arramba darr oolara amboorinygan.
\ft She doesn’t come out for people.

All very straightforward. The first line is cool because it shows -a as a predication marker (this dialect has a lot of final vowel dropping and if this weren’t marked for predication it should be biindanjin), and it’s a construction with the possessive that is pretty rare in the modern language.

Line 2 is cool because it has a null-marked locative. It’s not very rare but it’s still nice.

Laves thought line 3 was interesting because the negative is split: arr-amba darr oo-l-ar-a ambooriny-gan. That’s because he thought –amba here meant ‘man’ and it’s a split negation construction, but here -amba (not to be confused with aamba ‘man’) is a discourse clitic and there’s nowhere else it could go. This sentence contains the only example of the morpheme -gan that I’ve seen. The free translation in context must mean ‘she [the mermaid] doesn’t come out [of the bush] for people. In that case, -gan might be sort of the equivalent of Standard Modern Bardi -ganiny (the cause/reason suffix). –ganiny itself is without etymology that I know of, but there’s no way to get from –ganiny to –gan without a lot of etymological funny business.

Directional listening

I’ve been translating and annotating Bardi in preparation for my upcoming trip and something occurred to me this morning. In several texts the hero is creeping through the scrub and making sure he’s not being followed (or about to be attacked), or he’s tracking someone. At each point, the hero is described as doing something like the following:

Barnimin biligiji nilamarra inamana jarr ingalamankana jirrm injoona.
on.all.sides really ear he.put this he.heard sing he.did

Barnambooroo ingalamankana.
in.all.directions he.listened

Nyoonoo ingalamankana gardi.
here he.listened still

That is, the same array of directional terms that are used for visual ‘looking out’ (e.g. barnimin ‘in all directions’) are used for auditory ‘hearing out’ too. But they sounds weird to me in English:

?He listened this way and that.
??He listened in all directions.
??He listened that way.

It’s not that English doesn’t talk about the directions of sounds (e.g. where’s the sound coming from), it’s that we seem to talk about the variable directional source of the sound, not the perceptual differentiation of direction. innaresting.