Indigenous Languages Conference 2007

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Further Enquiries:
Rob Amery or Margareta Rebelos
Department of Linguistics
Level 9, Napier Building

Telephone: +61 8 8303 6092, +61 8 8303 3924
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Plenary presentations

Phillip Cash Cash

Documenting Language, Visualizing Culture: Shooting Digital Video in Two Endangered Language Communities in Western North America

Nez Perce and Sahaptin, two severely endangered sister languages in the southern Columbia Plateau of western North America (USA), are currently spoken by only 1% of the total indigenous population.  The impact of language shift in these two speech communities is leading to the loss of dialectical and cultural diversity and ultimately to the loss of the languages themselves.  Despite 70 years of modern language documentation and description, an audio-visual record depicting naturally occurring speaker interactions and communicative events for these two languages does not exist.  A timely and urgent need exists to capture on digital video the naturally occurring speech of the few remaining fluent Nez Perce and Sahaptin speakers before their languages “fade away.”  This language documentation project, carried out in 2006-2007, addresses this urgent need.  This paper summarizes my initial findings as well as reviewing my attempts to create a comprehensive record of the ling uistic practices from these two speech communities using digital video technologies.  It also examines the need to develop an expanded research paradigm where collecting audio-visual data is an essential component to any language documentation project.

The land as witness: Nez Perce and Sahaptin Placenames from the Southern Columbia Plateau (USA)

This talk examines the cultural significance and maintainance of Nez Perce and Sahaptin placenames in contemporary Plateau culture.  Nez Perce and Sahaptin placenames exhibit a rich and enduring set of human-environmental interactions across the southern Columbia Plateau landscape.  These interactions are informed by cultural, linguistic, and biological diversity that draw our attention to the complex ways landscape and place enter into our ancient human experience. In particular, these interactions are seen to embody cultural notions of space and time as transformative thus giving rise to nested identities, social order, and the sacred.  In addition, this talk will emphasize the importance of collaboration in placename research and the potential benefits it can bring to indigenous communities.

Te Haumihiata Mason


This paper will outline some of the challenges in compiling a monolingual Mäori dictionary written with the revitalization of the language and the preservation of a Mäori world view in mind. The main source of the lexicon for Te Mätäpuna, the first monolingual Mäori dictionary for adults, was a bilingual dictionary where headwords and their different senses are glossed in English, often with no example sentence to indicate range of use. Given that it can be difficult to reflect in one language, the exact meaning of a word in another language, throughout the project writers had to take care that they didn’t just blindly translate the English gloss, or weren’t swayed by western classification systems. Having said this, writers also found defining and exemplifying words that reflect cultural practices and activities from times long past, where implicit within them is a Mäori world view, just as difficult.

The first definition for Te Mätäpuna was written six years ago. There are now more than 25,000 words, or senses of words that have been defined, with most having one or more examples of use. Each word will also show its parts of speech, with passive endings and nominalising suffixes where appropriate. As part of the efforts to keep mätauranga Mäori or Mäori knowledge to the fore, each word, from both the old world and the new, has been attributed to an atua, or deity. This presentation will talk about these and other aspects of Te Mätapuna in more depth.

Mäori TV

Through the sustained efforts of pressure groups and individuals to save the Mäori language and have it formally recognized, in 1987 the language was granted official status by the New Zealand government, and the Mäori Language Commission was set up to promote its use as an everyday means of communication. In the twenty years since, the desire and determination of Mäori people to speak Mäori and secure a future for their language has continued to grow. Mäori immersion initiatives are an established part of the education system, and there is now a government-funded Mäori television channel. This presentation will talk about some of the issues faced by television production houses producing Mäori language programming, and look at how these issues are similar to those faced in education and other sectors.

Jane Simpson

Language landscapes of children in remote Australia

Provisional abstract
Many Indigenous communities in remote Australia are multilingual, and often the languages being spoken in the community are rapidly changing. Traditional languages are spoken by some people, but at the same time new languages are being developed based on the interaction of traditional languages, English and an English-based creole. These new languages vary along a continuum. At one end, the way of talking is close to the way many people in rural Australia talk. At the other end are mixed languages, in which the structure of the new language contains words and features of several languages. In the middle of the range are varieties of an English-based creole. Children in these multilingual communities grow up in language landscapes that are often undergoing rapid change. The Aboriginal Child Language Acquisition Project is a longitudinal study recording interactions between pre-school children and their care-givers in three remote Indigenous communities, two of which are targetted by the new Northern Territory National Emergency legislation. In this paper I report on some findings on the variation in language heard by children, looking in particular at differences in the way words are ordered in sentences and in phrases. I place it in the wider context of what can be expected as the children enter the school system.

Michael Walsh

Is saving languages a good investment?

This title is intended to be provocative. I will address the issues involved mainly by drawing on examples from Australian Aboriginal language groups.

The first question raised by the title is what it actually means to 'save' a language; and linguists are divided here. Some say the whole process is impossible; others have been directly involved for years in some kind of process which might be thought of as 'saving' languages. Even if one believes that there is value in 'saving' languages, some linguists have claimed that attempting to do so is not a good use of linguists' time. These sorts of views are reflected in the title of a paper by the Africanist Paul Newman: 'The endangered language issue as a hopeless cause'.

Another question relates to whether money spent on this process is a good investment. Some assert that saving an Australian Indigenous language contributes strongly to the mental, physical and social health of Australia – particularly for Indigenous people. Others would disagree.

If it is possible to 'save' a language, and doing so is worthwhile, a further question arises: to what extent should the academy be involved in the process? Related to this is the issue of roles: should the process of language revitalization be wholly internal to an Aboriginal community or should linguistic specialists be a part of the process? To date I believe that the academy's role has been fairly marginal.

Whatever one's beliefs around these issues may be, I believe that the questions need to be firmly on the agenda.  Thus in this paper I seek to tease out the range of factors involved, so that these issues can be brought out from the margins and into the centre.

Abstract Submission

NOTE: Abstract submissions are now closed. 

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Outlines or short paragraphs about your paper will be due in by the 31st May 2007.

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