Current research projects
- From little things, big things grow
- Digital Daisy Bates
- The Daly languages project
- Getting in Touch: Digital resources for Indigenous languages
- Learning to talk whitefella way
- Visible talk: Using Australian Indigenous sign languages
- What makes a multilingual community? The life of languages at Warruwi community
- A sociophonetic study of Aboriginal English
- EOPAS - EthnoER online presentation and annotation system
- Re-integrating Central Australian community cultural collections
- The dynamics of Murrinhpatha across three generations
From little things, big things grow: How children learn a morphologically complex Australian indigenous
This project aims to provide detailed study of the acquisition of Murrinhpatha (Wadeye, NT), based on the language of Murrinhpatha speaking children from 2-6 years. Although much is known about how children acquire languages such as English, there is very little research that examines how children acquire a complex polysynthetic language like Murrinhpatha. The findings from this project will have implications for our understanding of how acquisition processes are created through linguistic complexity, cognitive constraints and social interaction and how these processes differ across children acquiring radically different language types. It will also provide detailed language information for the bilingual school program in Wadeye to ensure that the maintenance of Murrinhpatha is optimally managed in the early school years.
Digital Daisy Bates
In collaboration with the National Library of Australia (NLA), this project will make accessible this extremely valuable collection of several hundred wordlists of Australian languages, originally recorded by Daisy Bates in the early 1900s. This will enable reuse of the collection by Aboriginal people searching for their own heritage languages and by other researchers. The dataset will be keyboarded and constructed according to the TEI Guidelines, to embody both a facsimile of the original set of manuscripts and a structured dataset for complex research questions. Access to these historical records of Australian languages will benefit from the interdisciplinary cooperation of linguists and musicologists with technology experts and with the premier collecting agency the National Library of Australia.
Chief Investigator: Dr Nick Thieberger, Faculty of Arts small grant 2012-2013
The Daly languages project
From 1980 until the mid-1990s, Dr Ian Green conducted linguistic fieldwork in the Daly region in the Northern Territory. During this time he created an extensive collection of audio recordings, field notes and analyses on many of the languages in the area. Most of these languages are no longer spoken by more than a few elderly speakers, and there has been very little published on any of them, making Green's collection a treasure trove of precious language material.
The Daly Languages project aims to make this incredible collection available to the families and communities of the people Green worked with, as well as the general public, via a website portal. This portal provides direct links to the digitized audio recordings, and will also include (where possible) other resources on the languages, as well as a map contextualising the language area, the historical relationships between the Daly languages and some brief grammatical sketches. This portal is the first of its kind for Australian Indigenous languages, and represents a new direction in packaging and making easily accessible legacy linguistic material.
In July 2016 Green and Nordlinger travelled throughout the Daly region on a repatriation trip, visiting the family members of all the speakers and returning copies of the recordings via USB. Photos of this trip can be seen on The Daly Languages website. You can read more about the trip in an article in the University of Melbourne Pursuit magazine.
The Daly Languages Project is a collaboration between Ian Green and Rachel Nordlinger (Director, Research Unit for Indigenous Language), and has been financially supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.
Getting in Touch: Digital resources for Indigenous languages
The Getting in Touch project seeks to create new and meaningful language projects with Indigenous communities with respect to the development of new digital technologies. The Getting in Touch project aims toward the concept of Digital Inclusion: making sure that Indigenous communities have support to develop digital resources in their own languages. In April 2014, a workshop was held at the Batchelor Institute's campus at the Desert People's Centre in Alice Springs. It brought together teams from Indigenous communities, linguists and technology experts. The workshop discussed issues and ideas about digital tools for Indigenous Language Speakers. Everyone brainstormed these ideas and created maps and plans for future resources. Among those present were language teams from Maningrida, Wadeye, Warruwi (Goulburn Island), Ti Tree, Alice Springs, Willowra, Ngaanyatjarra lands, Pitjantjatjara lands, and Mwengart (McClaren Creek). The workshop was funded by the University of Melbourne Social Equity Institute, and supported by the Australian Government's Indigenous Languages Support Program, the Australian Research Council, Batchelor Institute and First Languages Australia.
You can read a presentation about the project and watch a short video about the workshop on the Central Australia Batchelor Institute NT's news web page.
One outcome of this workshop are the Getting in Touch bird apps. These apps enable people to listen to recordings of language names for birds alongside photographs of birds and the sounds of their calls. The apps present short stories about birds as well, telling about their cultural significance, behaviour and habitats in Indigenous languages and in English. Knowledge of plants and animals and their place in country and culture is highly valued by Indigenous peoples. Digital technologies have a role to play in maintaining and respecting this knowledge, and passing it on to the next generations.
The first app from this project, a Kaytetye bird app called Thangkerne Kaytetye Birds, was developed by Ben Foley, Margaret Carew (Batchelor Institute), Myfany Turpin (University of Sydney), and Alison Ross (Artarre community), and released in 2015. Momentum is growing, and work is underway on bird apps for Anmatyerr, Arrernte, Pertame, Mawng, Burarra, Gun-nartpa and Murrinhpatha. For more information please visit the Central Australia Getting in Touch and Getting in Touch Bird Apps web pages.
The idea of sharing resources and expertise and making apps for a number of languages began at the Getting in Touch workshop in Alice Springs in Central Australia in April 2014. Language teams from Indigenous communities, linguists and technology specialists came together to discuss the development of digital tools that meet community goals of maintaining language and cultural practices. The project arose out of concern that the majority of digital resources available to Indigenous users are in English, even though English is not a first language for many. At the workshop Indigenous ecological knowledge was one of several domains that emerged for app development, alongside kinship and apps to support knowledge of mental health and emotional states.
The first version of Thangkerne was based on open source software developed by Museum Victoria for flora and fauna field guides. The new apps are using Jila, a template developed by ThoughtWorks with Mabu Yawuru Ngan-ga, the Yawuru language centre in Western Australia.
The Getting in Touch project was jointly funded by the Melbourne Social Equity Institute (The University of Melbourne), RUIL (Research Unit for Indigenous Language, The University of Melbourne), BI (The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education) and FLA (First Languages Australia). Continuing work on app development is jointly managed and funded by RUIL and Batchelor Institute.
Learning to talk whitefella way
Learning to speak a new language requires the learner to notice the difference between his/her own speech sounds and those of the new language. But what if the learner already uses most of the words of the new language? This is the case for 20,000 remote Indigenous children and adults, speaking Kriol, a language historically based on contact between Indigenous people and English-speaking newcomers, producing a language different to both. The words are mostly derived from English, but many of the grammatical meanings mirror those in the Indigenous languages. There have also been effects on the way that Kriol is pronounced: it has inherited features of both English and the Indigenous languages' sound systems. This project will provide the first description of the sound system of Kriol based on rigorous phonological and acoustic analysis. Based on what we find out about its sound system, we will go on to study Kriol speakers' perception of sounds and words of English and Kriol. In the short term, this will enable us to pre-empt problems that Kriol-speaking children might have in learning Standard Australian English, because of the differences between the two languages. More generally, the study will help us to understand the cognitive mechanisms involved in learning new languages and in particular the role of the lexicon in this process.
Chief investigators: Dr Brett Baker (The University of Melbourne), Dr Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen (UWS), ARC DP130102624
Visible talk: Using Australian Indigenous sign languages
This project aims to investigate how traditional sign languages are used in Indigenous communities. Traditional sign languages are part of everyday life in Indigenous communities in central and northern Australia. The project aims to investigate how speech and sign are coordinated, the ways that new signs are added to traditional repertoires, and the ways that other forms of communication, such as drawing, are used together with sign. It is intended that the results of the study will assist Indigenous people in safeguarding their cultural heritage, and support cross-cultural communication in the education, health and legal sectors, and contribute to international debates about how sign languages of the world vary.
Chief Investigator: Dr Jenny Green, funded by an ARC DECRA postdoctoral fellowship, 2014-2017
What makes a multilingual community? The life of languages at Warruwi community
Warruwi Community, Arnhem Land is one of very few places in Australia where children grow up speaking more than one traditional Indigenous language. This project investigates language use at Warruwi Community through biographical interviews, participant observation and the analysis of multilingual conversations. The project examines the relationships between Indigenous languages at Warruwi Community to identify how so many small languages are maintained in this community. Although the set of languages spoken at Warruwi Community has changed since White contact, the way that multilingualism is practiced seems to reflect long standing practices underpinned by persisting language ideologies and attitudes to multilingualism. The project looks at three age groups: adults, schoolchildren 6-10 years and adolescents 15-18 years. This study will show how strong indigenous languages have been maintained within multilingual communities so that we can work out how better to support Indigenous languages. The study will also contribute to international debates around the nature of language change in small, highly multilingual communities, which are thought to have been the norm throughout most of human history.
Chief investigator: Dr Ruth Singer, funded by an ARC DECRA postdoctoral fellowship, 2014-2017
A sociophonetic study of Aboriginal English
EOPAS - EthnoER online presentation and annotation system
This project will provide an open-source framework for delivery of media in an application addressing the problem of how to make language data more generally available than it currently is. Users are likely to be both scholars and the general community who have an interest in the diversity of the world's languages. With the development of HTML5 we are seeing the possible uses of broadband-enabled media (audio and video) increase exponentially. This project has built an open-source installation (www.eopas.org/) with the aim of later creating an online network of language collections linking transcripts and media, based in the existing international network of digital language archives and leveraging their collections as the basis for a networked virtual museum of human languages. The textual system on which this is all based, called EOPAS was developed in 2006 under an ARC eResearch grant and subsequently with a grant from the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) in 2010. Current research and development under an ARC DP0984419.
Chief Investigators: Dr Nick Thieberger, Assoc. Professor Rachel Nordlinger, Cathy Falk (Music, The University of Melbourne), Steven Bird (Computer Science and Software Engineering, The University of Melbourne), Linda Barwick (PARADISEC, University of Sydney).
Re-integrating Central Australian community cultural collections
The ARC Linkage project 'Re-integrating Central Australian community cultural collections' (LP140100806) is a partnership between the Central Land Council (CLC), the peak Indigenous representative body covering the southern half of the Northern Territory; the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne. This project addresses 3 main questions:
- How can Central Australian Indigenous people better access their cultural records held in dispersed collections?
- How can systems be established that enable efficient and culturally appropriate mobilization of archival materials?
- How can archival access be established in ways that do not violate cultural protocols surrounding rights of access to and dissemination of cultural information?
This project will apply current research on archiving and community access to find practical solutions to managing the large amounts of recorded cultural material of interest to the Central Land Council and its constituents. It will identify and integrate information in a common database, work with community members to create a prioritised list of at-risk materials, apply locally meaningful categories for managing the archival materials, and develop strategies to support ongoing sustainability of the collections. As well as safeguarding at-risk materials, it will support Central Land Council strategic activities in land management and intergenerational knowledge transfer, and provide a framework for repatriation policy development.
Those involved are: Linda Barwick, Myfany Turpin and Petronella Vaarzon-Morel (The University of Sydney); Rachel Nordlinger and Jennifer Green (The University of Melbourne); Brian Connelly (Central Land Council)
The dynamics of Murrinhpatha across three generations
This project will document variation and change in Murrinhpatha, a polysynthetic language of northern Australia, over the last 80 years. Since settlement began in the 1930s, the Murrinhpatha speech community has undergone both radical social change, and intensive language contact. It is still learnt as L1 by all children in the town of Wadeye, and in fact enjoys growing speaker numbers, and increasing recognition as a contact language in locations as distant as Darwin and Kununurra. The majority of speakers are no longer from the traditional Murrinhpatha clans, but rather from Marri Ngarr, Marri Tjevin, Ngan'gi, Jaminjung and other language groups. Murrinhpatha is also embracing new sociolinguistic functions, as the growth of the town Wadeye foments the emergence of a distinctive local youth subculture.
The project will examine phonological and morphosyntactic variables in Murrinhpatha, based on substantial corpus data compiled to represent three generational slices: pre-settlement (born 1900-1935), Catholic mission era (born 1935-1975), and contemporary (born 1975-present). Such a dataset is unprecedented in the study of Australian Aboriginal languages, and will provide insight into the micro-evolution of a language that is both typologically and socially very different from any language that have previously been studied in this way.
Chief Investigator: Dr John Mansfield, COEDL postdoctoral fellow, 2015-2018