December 04, 2010

gossip circles

I love the network of gossip around remote communities (or in any small community, I suppose). The intricate communication networks are quite astounding. A nice little example I was involved in was yesterday:

4pm: JJ calls from Ngukurr. I was in a meeting so didn't answer phone. JJ then calls CK who was in the same meeting. CK answered and put me on the phone. JJ's two daughters are travelling and in Katherine and could I lend them some money for their dinner tonight. "OK, no worries, I'll sort it out after the meeting".

5:30pm: Went to see IP who I knew would know where the two girls were so I could give them some money. Yes, she knew where they were so off I went on my scooter to lend them $50.

5:45pm
: Arrived at place where 2 girls were staying. Gave them $50. They laughed because they were hoping to get a lift to Red Rooster to buy some dinner, but they didn't know I was travelling by scooter. They also laughed: "Did IP tell you about almost sliding off the Wilton River crossing today"? No, she didn't.

9pm: See IP. "Hey you didn't tell me about nearly sliding off the Wilton River Crossing!". IP: "Haha.. who told you!?"

Next morning: JJ calls from Ngukurr. "Ah the girls thought it was so funny when you turned up in the scooter". Me: "Haha... they told you already?"

Too quick these stories go around! :)

November 16, 2010

untie me barry!

A munanga friend was telling me a funny story the other day, which I hope she doesn't mind me repeating here.

She got a text message from a Kriol-speaking relative but she didn't know who it was from. The number wasn't stored in her phone. So she replied with a 'who's this?' type message and then the reply came...

"untie me barry"

This SMS caused quite a bit of confusion. Untie him? Why, what's happened? Has he been locked up? Is someone holding him captive? Knowing that Kriol speakers are susceptible to not expressing themselves perfectly clearly over text messages, she didn't completely panic. But still... 'untie me barry'?

After going back to the message about 5 times, finally it clicked. My friend was reading the stress wrong and the sender was using non-English spelling to show that he was 'writing' in Kriol. She finally decoded the message:

Aunty! Me, Barry!

Which in standard Kriol spelling, would read: Anti, mi, Barry.)

Too funny!

I love that Kriol speakers are getting into new literacy practices like you find in text messaging, email and facebook. These writing forms have a lot more in common with spoken language than traditional writing forms like letter-writing and prose do. So naturally, Kriol speakers want to capture Kriol in their text messages. But unless you've learned the standard writing system (only some have), then you just have to approximate and do the best you can. In terms of language development, this is exciting because it may mean that new standardised spellings may evolve, naturally.

But in the meantime, Barry's Aunty is happy that Barry isn't tied up at all. And next time he's texts her, she'll know who it is...

November 03, 2010

Gumbaynggirr piece by Aden Ridgeway wins UN media peace award!

Last year I blogged about an opinion piece by Aden Ridgeway that was written in Gumbaynggirr and how cool it was. Well, it seems the UN also thought it was pretty cool because they gave it a media peace award! See an article about it here.

Good work Aden and also well done to those involved with the great work that seems to be going on in reviving Gumbaynggirr and making Muurrbay one of the best language centres in Australia (if not *the* best).

July 18, 2010

Ai nomo sabi tok Frentj

hehehe... I was at the Katherine Markets yesterday drinking yummy coffee and socialising. I was chatting to a couple I've known for ages - one speaks Kriol as a first language, the other speaks English as a first language and both speak the other language well. Because I'd just spent a couple of weeks out bush, my Kriol was well-oiled so I was switching between Kriol and English as I was talking to them.

After speaking Kriol a bit, their son (all of 4) goes to me, "Are you speaking French?". Now, this kid can understand Kriol pretty well and hangs around Kriol speakers quite a lot, so I was surprised he thought I was speaking French. I laughed and told him "ai nomo sabi tok Frentj" (I don't know how to speak French) but he still kept asking if I was speaking French... too funny.

I realised that for him, the majority of non-English speaking white people he's met in his short life are probably French speakers and I'm guessing he'd be lucky if he's met many other white people who speak Kriol well. So I think his brain connected my skin colour to the most likely foreign language name associated with that skin colour and hey presto, I was speaking French, not Kriol!

Now if I only I could find a French speaking black person and then see if he thinks they're speaking Kriol! :-)

July 11, 2010

spreading more ELAN love

Well, today was looking like a quiet Sunday in Ngukurr, working on my own processing some of the Marra recordings. Well, that's what I did in the morning, but after lunch, I thought I better go visit one of the old Marra ladies who I haven't had much of a chance to sit down with yet. Unfortunately, I couldn't find her, so instead I went to JJ's house and suggested I show the young women hanging around with not much to do (it's Sunday) a bit about processing language recordings using the ELAN program. It was a bit of a stab in the dark, but much to my surprise, the exercise caught on! So, I've just spent about 3 hours teaching two young women, with JJ there for support and supervision, how to transcribe recordings using ELAN. How fun! And they enjoyed it too!

This isn't the first time I've shown community language workers how to use ELAN (you can read a blogpost about a previous time here). Each time I've trained people on ELAN, it's been pretty much a raging success - very satisfying for me and satisfying for those learning. The girls I taught today picked it up very quickly and after 20 minutes, all they needed help with was a bit of Kriol spelling. There's something about ELAN that captures my 'students' attention - is it that they get to focus on a computer and the recording and not have to listen to a teacher drone away in English? They also get to have a giggle at the recording at any mistakes or funny things they say. Today, the girls just seemed to engage with it and happily spent a couple of hours working through a Kriol recording. I was quite pleased and surprised that this happened - especially as it was done so informally - on the verandah surrounded by dogs, TV on in the background, people constantly coming and going (and checking out what was going on too). What a productive way to spend my quiet Sunday afternoon!

What was also nice is that I learned a few more things about Kriol today. Which was nice, because it wasn't so much that there was anything in the recording I didn't understand, but rather by talking about some of the words with JJ and the girls and noticing their questions. For example (warning: linguist-talk follows...), the old lady talking on the recording, used the word gija a couple of times which is some sort of reciprocal/reflexive. The only other reciprocal/reflexive in Kriol is mijel. Much to my surprise, the young women unquestioningly wanted to transcribe gija as gijal. Young people say gijal! Who knew! We were all surprised at the young/old variation and I reckon that young people have changed gija to gijal to make it closer to mijel.

Another thing I noticed is the word usually written as thei in Kriol (from the English "they"): the girls asked if they should transcribe thei bin (they were) as thebin - one word, no diphthong. What a nice contraction - I never would've noticed it before and interesting that their instinct was to write it that way.

And they wrote the Kriol for "there" as ja - which is such a Ngukurr Kriol thing. The standard form is jeya or deya but no, it is so clearly ja here.

What I also liked about this exercise and ELAN in general is that it develops literacy skills really nicely - as long as you have some foundation to start from. They girls had some ideas on Kriol spelling but when you start transcribing and keep getting the same words, you really start to develop literacy skills. And I totally noticed how easy it was for them to engage in developing Kriol literacy - most likely because it's their first language (hello bilingual education?!) and because the spelling system is consistent (unlike English).

So that's my story of my surprising, impromptu, sitting-on-the-verandah-with-nothing-better-to-do, ELAN training session on a Sunday afternoon. :-)

July 10, 2010

warri-ngarlini (I returned)

I suppose I should start posting again now that I'm back in Ngukurr and experiencing lots of neat things again and feeling removed from mainstream Australia (hence the need to write about my experiences to process them and share with others so to feel a little less alone). I'm now into the 'fieldwork' phase of my PhD studies which is the bit that I'm most excited about. I have to be honest and say that after spending so many years working so closely with Aboriginal (and a few Islander) people on their languages, I find University environments quite strange in that there you talk/hear about small, Indigenous languages a lot but in an environment that is removed from context. Even though I adjusted to that during my 3 months in Canberra, now that I'm back in Ngukurr, I can feel that disjunct unsettling me again. Or maybe it's just that I'm really enjoying being back here and feeling so satisfied to be involved in exciting on-the-ground work again.

This is only my second week back in Ngukurr but I feel like we've achieved lots already - and lo and behold all our plans have gone to plan! (It is one of my favourite personal achievements that I feel like I have learned to work collaboratively and effectively in Ngukurr - a skill that I reckon takes a few years to develop and certainly something that all young non-Indigenous professionals grapple with when they first try and work in communities - okay, I'm tooting my own horn a bit there but I'm on a bit of a high at the moment...)

So I got back to Katherine about a month ago after a really great three months in Canberra at ANU. It took a little while to adjust to University again and get my rusty academic brain exercised again. But I really enjoyed the environment there and there are lots of great linguists and students there - all doing interesting work throughout SEAsia, Australia and the Pacific. Certainly very stimulating and I've found coming back to 'the field', I'm better equipped to study, learn and engage with working on languages here.

Last week was my first few days in Ngukurr. I hadn't been here for nearly a whole year so it was great to see lots of old friends/adopted family and lovely to feel welcome. Also great was that the Marra mob I used to work with were more than happy to get stuck into working with me. I brought back a bunch of recordings from the AIATSIS archives in Canberra - the oldest dates from 1959 and features lots of long passed Marra people that old people here knew and hadn't heard for goodness-knows how long. Straightaway we got stuck into transcribing and translating some recordings that were never transcribed or translated before. Pretty exciting. My rusty Kriol and Marra skills are coming back to me pretty quickly and will hopefully keep developing.

After a quick break where I went to Darwin to meet with my supervisor, I'm back again this week and again, we got stuck into more work. On my second day back, the Marra mob and I started planning to head to Numbulwar where three old sisters and their younger brother live who are all really strong Marra speakers and use it everyday for general communication - something that I think is pretty rare for such an endangered language. And yesterday, we made our first trip there to meet with them. It was absolutely awesome. They spoke so much Marra I was grinning ear-to-ear and getting a little bit emotional too! We listened to some of the archived recordings together, made a few new recordings and started talking about my project to work towards 'informed consent' - the response so far is really positive which I find heartening.

So I'm really enjoying being able to hear so much Marra and concentrate on the language, as well as finding out more about Kriol, as well as working together with Marra people all-the-way. Very satisfied.

And some language tidbits:

Yesterday, the old ladies at Numbulwar clarified a word on the old recording that the Ngukurr mob didn't know and wasn't in Heath's grammar/dictionary: muwurl - which we now know is the tail part of a muwarda (canoe) but is different to the word for tail-of-a-dog (jigurr).

And on the Kriol side, I'm learning more verbs that aren't taken from English: JJ told me that ngum-ngum means hitting someone on the back and jawak is similar to gula (argue, fight, yell) but different because it's not targeted at anyone in particular - when you jawak it's like when you are really angry and broadcast your yelling publicly for everyone to hear.

February 24, 2010

2010 Update

Well goodness. I started this blog what... 4-5 years ago? Originally it started because I was living out bush finding life and work tough and blogging/writing about it was a good way to process my thoughts and not feel quite so alienated. The past few years I've been living in town (the big smoke!) and that same motivation for blogging has waned. (I also blame facebook - it's so much easier to write a 1-2 sentence status update then form actual paragraphs!)

But anyways, I'm still here and still in the NT working on languages. The update for 2010 is that I've spent 18 months working at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education teaching language and linguistics courses to people from all over Australia and it's been mostly really really great. But always in the back of my mind were the languages and people I grew close to while working at Ngukurr for three years. And with the languages so critically endangered I had to make a choice. So now I'm off on my next adventure - a PhD! Goodness. I'm looking forward to the challenge and to learning new skills and geting more knowledge (and wisdom... and less hair) but most of all I'm looking forward to devoting an awful lot of time and energy to Marra language and people. There are only a few very old people who are really strong in Marra language and culture and I hope to do lots of work with them while they are still with us. So, next week I'm off to Canberra to get started with my PhD studies and I hope to be in the field before I know it, recording and documenting lots and lots of Marra language and stories. Wish me luck!

You never know - I may even start up with this blogging business again...

Ma. Guda.