July 27, 2006

Conference

Hey all. Sorry I’ve been slack with my blog. I was away from Ngukurr for a few weeks. Part of my time away was spent in Brisbane going to my first ever linguistics conference. 8 days of conference! Well, 3 days of conference then 5 days of linguistics courses. It was pretty full on, interesting and fun and very much a different scene from what happens here at Ngukurr.

The main thing that struck me while at the conference was how different the two worlds of linguistics are – one world being the on-the-ground, community-based, community development, applied linguistics stuff I do here at Ngukurr and the other world being the world of academic linguistics which is what dominated the conference.

While I find that world interesting and it definitely has a lot to offer, sometimes I couldn’t help thinking what little relevance it has to people like the guys I work with at Ngukurr – especially things like historical linguistics and typology… I can’t stop myself from thinking sometimes ‘yeah that’s all very interesting, but really… so what?’. Each to their own I suppose.

One of the other things I thought about was that by having such a focus on academic, theoretical stuff, all the good stuff that linguists do on the ground, working with Aboriginal people is usually backgrounded, which is a shame, because personally I think it’s more interesting and important. I mean, I listened to people talking about various grammatical features of languages and comparing this language to that language and re-analysing this-that and the other, but I know that some of those same people have done amazing things in terms of producing language materials, dictionaries, training Aboriginal people, language education etc., but that just wasn’t what the conference was about. I found myself imaging what the Australian linguistics scene would be like if linguists weren’t being competitive about analysing a certain grammatical feature or reconstructing proto-What-have-you but instead were competitive about who’s making the most user-friendly dictionary, who’s implementing the best training programs for community-based language workers and who’s creating the best educational resources for Aboriginal languages. Ah, that would be great… then I would really be engaged! And the two worlds of linguistics would be much more aligned.