See a list of research projects by the Endangered Languages Documentation Theory and Application program, an area of Linguistics at the University of Newcastle

ENDANGERED LANGUAGES DOCUMENTATION, THEORY AND APPLICATION
Research Program

Research

Current grants

YearsTitleResearchersFunding body
2014 to 2016

Reconstructing Australia's linguistic past: Are all Australian languages related to one another?

 

Dr Mark Harvey, Dr Robert Mailhammer

ARC (Australian Research Council)

 

2013 to 2014

Materials in Ratsua and the dialects of Hahon, two virtually undocumented endangered Oceanic language of northern Bougainville.

 

Dr Bill Palmer

The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

 

2012 to 2015

Aboriginal place names and ethnobiology: enhancing interpretation of indigenous culture and heritage

Dr Mark Harvey, Associate Professor Ian Clark, Dr Laura Kostanski

ARC (Australian Research Council), 

Northern Territory Department of Lands and Planning

Office of Surveyor-General Victoria

2012

Thinking and talking about atolls: the role of environment in shaping language and our understanding of physical space.

 

Dr Bill Palmer, Dr Alice Gaby

ARC (Australian Research Council)

 

2012

Documentation of Matavat (Nese): A highly endangered Northern Vanuatu language

 

Dr Catriona Malau, Ms Lana Takau

The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

 

Projects

Materials in Northwest Solmonic languages (Solomon Islands and Bougainville)

Researcher: Dr Bill Palmer

The Northwest Solomonic (NWS) network is a subgroup of languages within the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian family. Austronesian is the geographically most widely spoken language family apart from Indo-European, reaching from Taiwan in the north to New Zealand in the south, from Madagascar in the west to Easter Island in the east. It includes all the indigenous languages of Polynesia, Micronesia and the Philippines, as well as most of the languages of island and coastal Melanesia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and several languages in Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and China.

The Oceanic branch covers the eastern half of this domain, including most of Micronesia, and all of Polynesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Austronesian languages of coastal and island Papua New Guinea.

Within Oceanic, several first-order subgroups have been identified. One, Western Oceanic, is a loose grouping that includes (among others) the Meso-Melanesian linkage, a group of languages spoken in New Britain, New Ireland, Bougainville, and the western half of the Solomon Islands. Within Meso-Melanesian the New Ireland/Northwest Solomonic linkage contains several smaller groups, one of which is Northwest Solomonic, a linkage or network of languages spoken in Bougainville and Buka (in Papua New Guinea), and in Santa Isabel, Choiseul and the New Georgia group (in the Solomon Islands).

Northwest Solomonic consists of five or possibly six subgroups:

  • The Nehan/North Bougainville network
  • Piva and Banoni
  • Mono-Uruavan
  • Choiseul
  • New Georgia
  • Isabel

It is likely (but not yet certain) that the New Georgia and Isabel subgroups combine at some level to form a single first-order subgroup of Northwest Solomonic.

Syntactic Relations in Altaic Languages

Researcher: Dr Alan Libert

The Altaic family is a widespread group of languages which includes Turkish (and other languages of the Turkic group, such as Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Kazakh), Mongolian (which is actually a group of languages rather than a single language), Tungusic languages, and possibly Japanese and Korean. Although some members of this group have very large numbers of speakers, some languages and varieties are endangered or close to extinction. This project is investigating several facets of the syntax and microsyntax of some endangered Altaic varieties. Because the issues being examined are very specific, and have not been fully described in previous work on these languages, detailed fieldwork is necessary. This fieldwork is also collecting large amounts of spoken text which will document the varieties under investigation and can be used for other research as well.

The varieties investigated and documented so far include Chinese varieties of Kyrgyz and Kazakh. These languages as spoken in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are in a relatively good state, but their Chinese varieties (spoken mainly in Xinjiang) are endangered. Ukrainian varieties of Crimean Tatar have also been recorded and documented; although there are many Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, a fairly low percentage of younger Tatars are fluent speakers of the language.

The syntactic phenomena being focused on are of two types;

  1. Altaic languages generally have postpositions rather than prepositions, and some of these postpositions have complex case marking behaviors, determined by a complex set of factors. This project aims to discover more precisely what these factors are and how they have changed over time.
  2. Many Altaic languages have a phenomenon known in the Turcological literature as izafet, in which a possessed or modified noun phrase bears marking linking it to its possessor or modifier. This marking seems to be disappearing in some languages and the project is examining what conditions this loss.

Documentation and description of Ririo (Choiseul, Solomon Islands) and Papapana (Bougainville)

Researcher: Dr Bill Palmer

The project will document the two most endangered languages of the Northwest Solomonic region: Ririo (79 speakers, Solomon Islands), and Papapana (120 speakers, Bougainville). These languages share a linguistic and cultural history, yet represent dramatically divergent trajectories of development from their common ancestor. Despite small speaker numbers and pressure to shift to other languages, documentation is feasible, though urgent, and members of both communities are enthusiastic to actively collaborate on documenting their languages and traditions. Project outcomes will consist of sets of materials tailored for archiving, for community use, and to support future scientific research.

This project is funded by the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Documentation Project Major Documentation Project Grant MDP0206 

Topics in the grammar of Nehan (Bougainville)

Researchers: Dr Bill Palmer and John Olstad

Language background

Nehan is a language of the Nehan/North Bougainville subgroup of Northwest Solomonic, although its exact place within that subgroup is not clear. Nehan is spoken on Nissan (a.k.a. Green Island) and Pinipel, a pair of remote neighbouring atolls in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. According to Ethnologue the language had 6,500 speakers in 2003. Its ISO code is nsn.

Dictionary

Glennon & Glennon (2005) is a full length dictionary of Nehan. Shorter published wordlists are found in Glennon & Glennon (2009) and Meyr (1931).

Grammar

Glennon & Glennon (1994) is a lengthy description of Nehan grammar. Short treatments of aspects of the grammar are also found in Todd (1978), van den Berg & Glennon (2008), Ross (1988), and MacDonald (1977).

Texts

Glennon & Glennon (2009) contains one text with English translation, part of which is rendered into IPA. Todd (1978) contains six texts with interlinear glosses.

Annotated bibliography of Nehan

van den Berg, René & John Glennon (2008) Grammatical relations in Nehan: an Austronesian language with a difference. Presentation and handout, Linguistics Society of PNG annual conference.
[8 page discussion of argument structure and coding.]

Capell, Arthur (1971) 'Austronesian languages of Australian New Guinea.' In Thomas A. Sebeok (ed) Current trends in linguistics. Vol. 8 Linguistics in Oceania. The Hague: Mouton. pp240-340.
[Includes some historical phonological information on Nehan (as 'Nisan') (pp307-308); and a 3 item comparative wordlist of 28 Western Oceanic languages including Nehan (p320).]

Glennon, John (n.d.) [Untitled computer lexicon.] Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
[Unpublished Nehan word list.]

Glennon, John & Ariana L. Glennon (1990) Organized phonology data of the Nehan language. ms.
[Unseen. Unpublished 45 page discussion of Nehan phonology. Cited in Glennon & Glennon 1994. I suspect the number of 45 pages is an error - I suspect this is an earlier version of the document that appeared as Glennon & Glennon 2004.]

Glennon, John & Ariana Glennon (1994) Nehan grammar essentials. ms.
[Unpublished 125 page grammar description of Nehan.]

Glennon, John & Ariana Glennon (1998) 'Nehan (Nissan) Kalil - North Solomons Province.' In Ritva Hemmilä Orthography and phonology database: Islands and Momase regions. Datapapers in PNG languages. Vol. 43. Ukarumpa: SIL
[Earlier version of Glennon & Glennon 2009.]

Glennon, John & Ariana Glennon (2004) Organized phonology data Nehan (Nissan) language.  
[Earlier version of Glennon & Glennon 2009.]

Glennon, John & Ariana Glennon (2005) Nehan dictionary. Ukarumpa: SIL PNG.  
[A substantial dictionary comprising a browsable lexical database, 240pp printable Nehan-English dictionary, 49pp printable English-Nehan dictionary, and dictionary tables.]

Glennon, John & Ariana Glennon (2009) Organized phonology data Nehan (Nissan) language.  
[4 page discussion of Nehan phonology including sample words and one text, partially render in IPA.]

Haddon, A.C. (1937) Canoes of Oceania. Vol II The canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
[Discusses canoe design and parts including some local terms from secondary sources for Nehan (as 'Nissan') (pp81-83, 116-120).]

Lincoln, Peter C. (1976a) 'History of research in Austronesian languages: Bougainville Province.' In Stephen A. Wurm (ed) New Guinea area languages and language study. Vol. 2 Austronesian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp197-222.
[An overview of then extant research on Nehan (p207-208); with a briefly annotated bibliography of the main published linguistic sources to that date.]

MacDonald, Lorna A. (1977) Nissan Grammar. ms.
[Unseen. Cited by Todd 1978.]

Mayr, Ernst (1931) 'Wörter der Nissan-Sprache.' Zeitschrift für Eingeborenen Sprachen. 21:252-256.
[Roughly 200 item Nehan to German wordlist collected in 1929 by an ornithologist visiting Nissan, with an introduction by Dempwolff and some etymological phonological notes, probably also by Dempwolff.]
Nachman, Steve (1970-72) Untitled typescripts.
[Extensive assorted unpublished Nehan word lists of reptiles, insects, birds, rocks, fish, and other marine life.]

Ross, Malcolm D. (1988) Proto Oceanic and the Austronesian languages of western Melanesia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
[Includes a discussion of clause structure in Nehan (pp236-240).]

Ross, Malcolm D. (n.d.) [Field notes.]
[Notes on primary research with Nehan informant. Includes questionnaires and elicitations, and grammatical notes based on primary data and Todd 1978.]

Todd, Evelyn (1978) 'A sketch of Nissan (Nehan) grammar.' In Stephen Wurm & Lois Carrington Second International Conference on Oceanic Linguistics: proceedings. Fascicle 2 Eastern Austronesian. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. pp1181-1238.
[Contains a sketch grammar, 6 glossed texts, and a ten page lexicon.]

Documentation and description of Vures and Vera'a (Vanua Lava, Vanuatu)

Researcher: Emily Ondondo

This research project is about the Phonology and Morphology of Kisa, described in Optimality Theory. Kisa is one of 19 dialects of the Luyia language spoken in Western Kenya, and has approximately 89,000 speakers. The project is motivated by the lack of documentation and in-depth research in the language, and particularly on the current synchronic state of the language in modern linguistic theories. The only in-depth study in the phonology of Kisa was conducted in 1936 and published in 1976 by Sample. Therefore, the main objective of the research is to describe the major phonological and morphological issues in the synchronic state of Kisa.

The research project will deal with the interaction of word structure and metrical structure. It intends to look at:

  • The structure of simple, compound and complex words in terms of word level affixation, compounding and reduplication. 
  • The interaction of word structure and stress. 
  • The phonological issues that have implications for word structure and stress assignment such as: vowel length; geminates; apocope; and the treatment of nasal-consonant sequences.

The results will help document the language, as well as provide a database for the language. They will also contribute to the understanding of the phonological and morphological issues dealt with, in Luyia and Bantu languages in general, as well as contribute to the characterization of Luyia dialects.

Topics in the grammar of Zahrani Spoken Arabic

Researchers: Salih Alzahrani

Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, and other Saudi dialects like Hijazi Arabic and Najdi Arabic have been studied for long time. However, other Arabic dialects such as Zahrani Spoken Arabic (ZSA) (spoken widely in the southern region of Saudi Arabia) have not been studied. This dialect is endangered: it has few speakers and many of those are moving to other regions in Saudi Arabia where they use different dialects. This research is timely because this dialect has not been documented before. The description of the ZSA will be an important step to document the dialect and to highlight some of the linguistic differences between it and Standard Arabic.

An Optimality Theoretic account of the Phonology of Kisa (Kenya)

Researchers: Emily Ondondo

This research project is about the Phonology and Morphology of Kisa, described in Optimality Theory. Kisa is one of 19 dialects of the Luyia language spoken in Western Kenya, and has approximately 89,000 speakers. The project is motivated by the lack of documentation and in-depth research in the language, and particularly on the current synchronic state of the language in modern linguistic theories. The only in-depth study in the phonology of Kisa was conducted in 1936 and published in 1976 by Sample. Therefore, the main objective of the research is to describe the major phonological and morphological issues in the synchronic state of Kisa.

The research project will deal with the interaction of word structure and metrical structure. It intends to look at:

  • The structure of simple, compound and complex words in terms of word level affixation, compounding and reduplication. 
  • The interaction of word structure and stress. 
  • The phonological issues that have implications for word structure and stress assignment such as: vowel length; geminates; apocope; and the treatment of nasal-consonant sequences.

The results will help document the language, as well as provide a database for the language. They will also contribute to the understanding of the phonological and morphological issues dealt with, in Luyia and Bantu languages in general, as well as contribute to the characterization of Luyia dialects.

Coronal Place Oppositions in Wubuy

Researchers: Dr Mark Harvey (University of Newcastle), Dr Brett Baker (Unviersity of Melbourne), Dr Rikke Bundgaard-Nielsen, Dr Christian Kroos and Professor Cathi Best (University of Western Sydney)

To record data on, and analyze coronal place oppositions in Wubuy, an Australian language of the Northern Territory. This project commenced in 2008 with EMA and audio recordings being made with Wubuy speakers. Since then, the team have been analyzing the results.

Outputs to date

Best, C. T., Bundgaard-Nielsen, R. L., Kroos, C., Harvey, M., Baker, B. Goldstein, L., & Tiede, M. (2010). How does a language contrast four distinct coronal stop places? Differentiation of lingual gestures by speakers of Wubuy (Australia). Poster presented at LabPhon12, Albuquerque MN, July 8-10.

Bundgaard-Nielsen, R. L., Baker, B., Harvey, M., Best, C. T & Kroos, C (2010). Prosodic context effects on acoustic differentiation of coronal stops in Wubuy. Paper presented at LabPhon12, Albuquerque MN, July 8-10.

Bundgaard-Nielsen, R. L., Baker, B., Harvey, M., Kroos, C., & Best, C. T. (2010). Co-option of ancillary articulatory parameters in the prevention of near-neutralisation of multiple coronals. Paper presented at the International Conference for Acoustics [ICA], Sydney, August 23-25.

Bundgaard-Nielsen, R. L., Kroos, C., Harvey, M., C., & Best, T., Baker, B., & Goldstein, L. (in press). A kinematic analysis of temporal differentiation of the four-way coronal stop contrast in Wubuy (Australia). To appear in Proceedings from Thirteenth Australasian International Conference on Speech Science and Technology 2010 Melbourne, Australia, December 14-16, 2010.

Bundgaard-Nielsen, R. L., Kroos, C., Baker, B., Harvey, M., & Best, C. T. (submitted). Consonantal timing and release burst acoustics distinguish multiple coronal stops in Wubuy (Australia).

AIATSIS Project: Getting on to country: Wagiman people and their land since 1960

In 1960 nearly all Wagiman people spent most of their daily lives in the bush, working on stations across Wagiman and neighbouring countries. Knowledge of country, and the consequent capacity to care for country, was transmitted through this regular pattern of movement. By 1970, following significant changes in the pastoral industry including the Equal Wages case, nearly all Wagiman people spent most of their daily lives in towns - Pine Creek, Darwin, Katherine. This has continued to be the pattern since 1970.

Since 1970, the options for Wagiman people to spend time on their country have been limited. This has greatly affected the transmission of knowledge about country, with consequent issues for the care of country. Wagiman people have regained some land under Land Rights and Native Title, and are involved in Park management and cultural heritage management on Wagiman country. However, these involve limited contact with parts of Wagiman country, rather than consistent movement across the whole of Wagiman country.

Project goals

  • To record oral history texts in Wagiman on the changes since 1960
  • To record discussions in Wagiman on people's views on the changes since 1960, the short and long term implications of these changes, and strategies to address these changes, particularly those relating to transmission of knowledge.
  • To prepare a report summarizing views on the changes and strategies for addressing the changes

A more detailed understanding of Wagiman views on these changes, and strategies to address them, is central to development of successful cultural and land management programs involving Wagiman lands. More generally, the project will be of wider benefit as its findings, summarized in the overview report, will provide bases for research into urbanization and its effects for communities across northern Australia.

Reconstituting texts in the Hunter River-Lake Macquarie language

Researchers: Dr James Wafer and Professor Hilary Carey 

The aim of the project is to complete a modern edition of the surviving texts in the language of the Hunter River-Lake Macquarie region. Most of the texts are translations undertaken by the early 19th century missionary Lancelot Threlkeld, but several much shorter texts were recorded by others, including the Wollombi poet Eliza Hamilton Dunlop.

The edition will include transcriptions from the manuscript sources; a reconstitution in phonemic orthography; interlinear gloss (morphemic analysis); lay gloss; free translation; annotations; an historical and linguistic introduction; and an appendix of materials that supplement the standard work on the language (Amanda Lissarrague's Salvage grammar and wordlist, 2006).

It is expected that other, shorter, publications on particular specialised aspects of the data will also result from the project.

First page of Lancelot Threlkeld's manuscript translation of the gospel of Luke

Outputs to date:

Wafer, Jim and Hilary M. Carey, in press. "Waiting for Biraban: Lancelot Threlkeld and the 'Chibcha phenomenon' in Australian missionary linguistics." To appear in Language and History.