Lunchtime seminar: Australian Languages

Wednesday, 27 March 2019, 12:00 pm — Wednesday, 27 March 2019, 01:00 pm

Location SR202

The Centre for 21st Century Humanities Space, Place and Mobilities thematic group and the Centre for Social Research and Regional Futures invite you to attend our informal lunch seminar with Associate Professor Bill Palmer on the topic of: Building a database of spatial referential systems in Australian languages.

This paper reports on a pilot project to model an interactive online database and map for spatial referential systems in Indigenous Australian languages. The first step towards an empirically grounded understanding of the implications of Australian spatial referential systems is to establish what components of spatial systems actually occur in what combinations across the continent. In this seminar I report on a pilot for an interactive online survey database of Australian spatial systems that is rendered both as an interrogatable database, and an interactive mapping front end representing directional axes at points in individual language territories. In order to test for systematic correlation between geocentric spatial axes and the environment, following Palmer’s (2015) Topographic Correspondence Hypothesis, the database will include environmental data such as river drainage, escarpments, seasonal wind patterns, etc. These will also be rendered in the map to allow visual comparison of referential systems and environment. For maximal comparability, where possible fields will involve closed sets of options (e.g. a field for geocentric concepts with options such as ‘north-south’, ‘upwind-downwind’ etc). Once constructed, the database can be populated with data as available, with individual researchers correcting or adding to data already present for languages with which they are familiar.

Developing a survey database like this does, however, pose numerous challenges, from content to technical implementation. In this seminar, I report on a feasibility project funded by C21CH and implemented with Bill Pascoe to pilot the design and implementation of a database and mapping front end for a test fragment of the continent: part of the Daly River region of the NT. This sample is a useful test as the languages are known to employ a range of geocentric axes, and employ grammatical geocentric terms to varying extents, and because it involves drawing on sources of diverse types, from spatial studies (Hoffmann 2013), to grammatical descriptions of directional forms (Reid 2011), to field notes. I report on challenges encountered in developing the database and map; and the kinds of choices I faced to design and implement the database. Finally, I demonstrate the resulting pilot database and interactive map.