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5. Allied Societies and Activities

NSW Aboriginal Languages Database Project
Christopher J. Kirkbright LL.B., B.Juris., Dip. Mus.( kirkbright(at)

The initial phase of this project will run from November 2003 till the end of June 2004. Basically the idea of the project is to create a database for NSW languages, which will bring together existing resources for NSW languages and provide tools and techniques for creating new resources.

The situation to date has involved many small-scale projects operating in a largely uncoordinated way across the state. While some excellent results have come out of these efforts we feel that more could be achieved and the access to these outcomes could be improved. For instance, the Awabakal people of the Newcastle area have developed a website which includes language material. While this material may be of interest to many Aboriginal people, whether or not they have Awabakal ancestry, chances are those people are unaware of this information or of how to access it. The idea is to encourage local autonomy in projects but allow each local project to draw on the available resources, wherever they are. This can be managed through a central database, which can be accessed remotely.

A similar concept underpins the First Voices Project in Canada :

FirstVoices is a group of web-based tools and services designed to support Aboriginal people engaged in language archiving, language teaching & culture revitalization.

By the end of 2003, 20 groups of Indigenous language recorders will be actively recording words and phrases. These language archives will be accessible at as the archives build. As more language communities sign up to archive their languages at FirstVoices, members of the public will gain access to a growing collection of language data, including text, pictures, sound and video.

In the NSW Database Project the emphasis will also be on providing access for Indigenous people to information and tools. To that end it is essential that the project design should involve ongoing community consultation.

The project will advance through a series of stages.
Stage 1 November 2003 - January 2004
Initial research and development of the concepts underpinning the Database Project. This will involve consultation with the ALRRC Advisory Board in early December.
Stage 2 January 2004 – May 2004
Initial basic and applied research will be carried out through five language projects across the state. This will allow improvement in the database design, development of tools and further community consultation.
Stage 3 May-June 2004
Assessment of outcomes of the five language projects. Consolidation of the website design. Development of a strategic plan for the future of the NSW Languages Database Project.

Draft Statement on Community projects
Conducted throughout NSW to cover the whole state
Investigate community aspirations for NSW languages
Recording and documenting language
Uses of database for language knowledge transmission (eg dictionary making, language teaching tools, archiving
[5 projects under consideration]

Some initial thoughts on the Database
Functions of the Database
• to preserve language and related cultural materials for the Indigenous peoples of NSW
• to provide a resource base for language revitalization efforts
• to enable access for Indigenous communities to their linguistic and cultural heritage

1. ‘Basic’ language documentation: a list of all documentation on NSW languages; profiles of each NSW language; online materials eg wordlists; audio files; scans of manuscript and typescript material
2. Other supporting documentation: genealogies; life histories; photos etc
3. Language revitalization documentation: accounts/examples of language revitalization in NSW, other parts of Australia and elsewhere in the world
One goal is to produce The Handbook of Language Revitalization for NSW Languages. The earlier work, Paper and talk: a manual for reconstituting materials in Australian indigenous languages from historical sources (edited by Nicholas Thieberger, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995), is an important and still useful guide but is not specific to NSW and also now needs updating, especially because of advances in ICT.
4. ‘Processed’ language documentation: this part of the database would house materials that had been produced after some kind of processing. This could run from the conversion of a manuscript by R.H. Mathews into typescript through to the production of suitable pedagogical materials. At present much of the pedagogical material is locally produced and ephemeral. This part of the database would allow at least for the preservation of such material and possibly for wider access.

Access and Compatibility
Crucial to the development of the database will be issues of access and compatibility. In terms of compatibility it obviously makes sense for the NSW Aboriginal Languages Database to link effectively with the Indigenous Languages Database under development at AIATSIS (see State of Indigenous Languages in Australia – 2001, especially Appendices 2&3
techpapers/index.html). The NSW Database should not involve duplication of effort but instead be complementary to this and other databases, like OLAC [] or PARADISEC []. In fact, the NSW Database will have much more detail precisely because it is a more specialized database.

Whatever the eventual shape of the database for NSW Languages a number of factors arise in connection with access. One of the most important is that the relevant Aboriginal community should have control over its linguistic and cultural heritage. Another issue is the level of detail that different user groups need or require. One possibility would be to set up a range of options: basic; detailed; advanced. For instance with online dictionaries, some users basically just need the word, perhaps with an audio file, and its meaning; other users may want more detail such as the relationships between this word and its equivalent in neighbouring languages; and finally, other users may want all the detail that is available. Any of these issues will need to be refined and resolved after appropriate community consultation.

Community Consultation
ALRRC as a whole and this Database Project in particular will operate through ongoing community consultation. Overall this is handled through the Indigenous Advisory Board but on a day-to-day basis the expectation is that appropriate community consultation should be sought on a local, regional or statewide basis, as relevant.

Future of the Database
Over the next few years the evolving database would be housed and managed by ALRRC.. If, at some time in the future, ALRRC could not continue then some kind of contingency plan should be set up so these important functions can be maintained. In the event that ALRRC itself evolves into a more permanent entity it seems appropriate for ALRRC to continue this overall management function with the direction of its Indigenous Advisory Board.

Australia's endangered heritages
Michael Walsh mjw(at)



A team of us are engaged in a major project which will bring together ethnomusicologists and linguists to focus on a particular language with special reference to its song language and use of figurative language. The Australian Research Council site gives these details: DP0450131 Prof AJ Marett, Dr MJ Walsh, Dr N Reid, Dr LJ Ford
Title: Preserving Australia's endangered heritages: Murrinhpatha song at Wadeye
2004-2008 : $650,000

This project will produce authoritative, thorough and archivally sound musicological and linguistic documentation of one of Australia's most vibrant indigenous song traditions, the public dance songs of Murrinhpatha people at Wadeye, NT. We will work with traditional owners to document three song genres (Dhanba, Wurlthirri, and Malkarrin) in the light of their historical and contemporary interrelationships with other local genres. More broadly, we will assess the song corpus as endangered cultural heritage of national and international significance, and will develop and apply appropriate electronic media interfaces to ensure longterm conservation and accessibility of the research within the community and outside.

Global Source Book on Biocultural Diversity: Call for Contributions
Ellen Woodley Ewoodley(at)

Terralingua would like to collaborate with practitioners of biocultural diversity conservation to gather information for a Global Sourcebook on Biocultural Diversity. This publication, which will be available both in print and electronic format, will provide the biocultural diversity field with its first global source of information.

The loss of languages, cultural practices and indigenous ecological knowledge all reflect the breakdown in the relationship between humans and their environment. Seeking solutions for the sustainability of both human communities and the environment must recognize the link between cultural diversity and biological diversity. Terralingua invites you to work together with us to document information on biocultural diversity conservation on a global scale. We are asking for your input in a survey of biocultural diversity projects, programs, and initiatives. The survey will be the basis of an inventory and classification of such activities around the world. Based on further collaboration and information gathering, some projects will be selected as "model" examples of projects that support biocultural diversity. These examples will specifically highlight local stories in the voices of the people involved. Discussion of "best practices" and "lessons learned" will offer guidance for future efforts at biocultural diversity maintenance and restoration. The Source Book will benefit practitioners of biocultural diversity conservation by increasing the visibility of this newly emerging field and by developing a network of people actively involved in these issues.
The survey form and further details are available on the Internet at: or may be obtained by contacting:
Ellen Woodley Ewoodley(at)

Native Amer. Literatures and Translation
Brian Swann (swann(at)

The University of Nebraska Press has invited me to edit a series titled "Native American Literatures and Translation." We intend to publish about two books a year and I am in the process of soliciting proposals. I am particularly interested in the practical and theoretical problems of translations from Native American languages throughout the Americas, as well as in collections of translations themselves. It might be a good idea to look at my Coming to Light and Voices from Four Directions, as well as On the Translation of Native American Literatures, though I am open to other formats and approaches. Perhaps we will be able to utilize technical innovations such as CD-ROM and the Internet.

Proposals should be as detailed as possible and addressed to:
Brian Swann
Humanities and Social Sciences
Cooper Union
Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
Phone 212-353-4279
Fax 212-353-4398
Please do not send proposals via e-mail. Feel free to put out the word.

New Building Opened for Endangered Languages Archive and Research

"Linguists estimate that if we don’t do anything, half of the world’s languages will disappear in the next 100 years,” said Professor Peter Austin of the School of Oriental and Africa Studies at the University of London. “There are currently about 6,500 languages in the world, so that’s 3,000 languages completely going.” Prof Austin holds the first Marit Rausing Chair in Field Linguistics. On 24 March Princess Anne opened the new £2 million Research Centre building at SOAS which will house the Endangered Languages Academic Programme and the Endangered Languages Archive.

The event and the issue was widely taken up in the British media, with interviews on BBC World Service, Radio 5, BBC Brazil, Radio Solent, Radio Cardiff, Scotland “Newsdrive”, and including the agenda-setting Today programme on Radio 4: high prestige, but requiring attendance at the studio by 6 am!. RTE Radio 1 of Dublin, the Guardian and the Financial Times Science editor, Clive Cookson, all got into the act., and traces can still be found at
/england/london/2945575.stm and

EBLUL recommendations for the Inter-Govt. Conf. on Draft Treaty of the European Constitution

European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages, Brussels, 18 April 2004

On 18 April 2004 the Board of Directors adopted its recommendations for the IGC on the Constitutional Treaty.

EBLUL supports the constitutional process of the EU and emphasises the importance of linguistic diversity among the 40 million EU citizens. The EU includes more than 60 language communities, with regular use of regional and minority languages. Respecting, promoting and protecting them will maintain and extend Europe’s cultural heritage and tradition. Therefore EBLUL proposes 3 recommendations.

The first is to support the Presidency proposal of the Naples Ministerial Conclave of 25 November 2003 on Article I-2. This Article refers to the EU’s belief in rights for members of minority groups, which by the Copenhagen Council of 1993 are viewed as a necessary condition on new member states.
The second recommendation is to add to the anti-discrimination Articles III-3 and III-8 the possibility of discrimination based on language. In contrast with the Charter of Fundamental Rights -which now is included in the Draft Treaty- and the European Convention of Human Rights, the European Treaties so far have never included discrimination based on language. The amendment is of importance, since Article III-3 and III-8 create a competence for the Union to act in these areas, whilst the relevant article in the Fundamental Rights Charter solely establishes the principle of non-discrimination.
The last recommendation is to extend the qualified majority voting system (QMV) to Culture and Education matters as suggested by the Convention under Articles III-182 and III-183. So far the qualified majority vote has only been applicable in the field of education.