February 22, 2007

Permits review - please submit something

The permit system (where you need a permit to be on Aboriginal Land) is under review and submissions are due next Wednesday! (Feb 28). All options are on the table - from no change, to removing the permit system altogether. I don't know a link that provides more info, but maybe email me or leave a comment - I'm trying to get a hold of the NLC newsletter that talks about the matter.

I urge everyone to think about making a submission. I'm against changing the system because I worry about taking away power from communities/Traditional Owners. They're oppressed enough as it is.

Any individual or organisation can send a submission. Address it to:
Greg Roche
Assistant Secretary, Land
Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination
Woden ACT 2606
Fax: 02 6282 3601
Email: greg.roche at facsia dot gov dot au

I think the government's trying to rush this through before the election and it's got me very worried.

February 19, 2007

a bit of waagilak

This one's for you mami.

My waawa BW and muluri AP were hanging around a bit today and BW asked about SN. AP translated my reply into Waagilak:

(note: i haven't checked my spelling and don't know how to put in Yolngu matha characters either. forgive!)

Banggul'yurru ngay ngulbitj dhang, ngarndimuya
(She's coming back cold season time, your mother).

Then BW and AP told me what to say next:

Barri ngay banggul'yurru babang' mirri nu
(Might be she's coming back with your father) (That is, she might be bringing back a husband)

And we all chuckled.

Then the next bit was for my privelege:

Ngarra ya yang'ngaraya nhina na baman'nu, birr
(I've stayed here for a long time now, shit.)

Ngarraya barri matha mirri nu banggul'yurru.
(I might go back speaking language.)

Too deadly eh? Thanks guys. :-)

February 17, 2007

Nagooka, Nooka and Ngukurr

[Update (Oct 2012): go here for a more recent post and video about pronouncing Ngukurr]

Before I came to Ngukurr, I already had a good idea how ‘Ngukurr’ should be pronounced (because I’m a clever linguist). I remember laughing at a story I heard long before I came here of a white person who called this place ‘Nagooka’. That’s the worst mispronounciation I’ve heard of.

Less worse, but still wrong, is what the majority of munanga say, which is ‘Nooka’. I hear some munanga say, ‘oh the g is silent’. The g isn’t silent, it’s there – it goes with the n. The ng is the same ng you get when you say ‘singing’. But in English, you don’t get the ng sound at the beginning of words, so most munanga have a very hard time hearing and saying the ng.

Secondly, the two us in Ngukurr are pronounced the same – like the u in ‘put’. But most munanga turn the second u into an ‘ah’ sound.

Lastly – the double r. It’s not silent. It’s a rolled r, we don’t get that in English either, and lots of munanga can’t roll their rs.

So even though this place is known throughout the white part of the NT as ‘Nooka’, really, it’s proper name is pronounced Ngukurr, just like it’s spelled – ng- u- k- u- rr.

I never thought about it much until last year when the principal at the school made a point of saying that munanga should show respect by trying to say Ngukurr properly. Before that, to me it was just one of those things – everybody says ‘Nooka’ and that the way it is.

But I started to take notice.

Firstly, I noticed how whenever local mob are talking to munanga, they will say ‘Nooka’, because that’s what munanga know and understand, even though everyone here knows that not how it’s really pronounced. I started to realise that this was a bit sad – the local mob are changing the way they’re speaking on white people’s behalf, and mispronouncing the name of their own community! But the reverse isn’t happening, munanga keep saying Nooka in ignorant bliss.

Secondly, I keep noticing how important it is to local mob to use and maintain the real placenames and their correct pronounciation. Last year we went camping at Lumayirrima. On the maps this place is called Lomarieum Lagoon – obviously a total bastardisation of its actual name. I jokingly suggested we graffiti the sign there to correct the name, but to my surprise the response was serious – yes, we should, it should have the proper name there.

Then the other day we were editing a story we’d written. The author had written two local placenames with their more common, but incorrect names. I wrote up the story on the board for editing and when I asked if they wanted these names or did they want the correct names to response was clear – yes, put the proper names there, properly spelled. And so ‘yellow water’ became Yawurrwarda and ‘wadjalai’ became Ngujulayi.

It seems that it is important to people here that placenames are used correctly, it’s just not being asserted.

And so lately, I’ve started saying ‘Ngukurr’ instead of ‘Nooka’, to white people as well as the Ngukurr mob. And I’m finding the response interesting. Over the phone, when I’ve said ‘Ngukurr’ to a white person, the response is always ‘where?’, and I’ve had to repeat myself and say ‘Nooka’. No wonder this mob just say Nooka, they get misunderstood enough as it is. But I’m gonna try and persist... I no longer work at the Nooka Language Centre, I’m at the Ngukurr Language Centre.

February 10, 2007


Here I was starting to wonder if my job here is becoming a bit stale.

Today was one of those not so exciting days where our main job was to scour the school roll, sorting kids into language groups and organising where, when and how to run our school classes… not really something I need my linguistic skills for, just a long-winded adminstrative task.

But it’s funny how things can just turn around.

Old F has been keen to work with these old Marra ladies (the world’s best Marra speakers) who are usually either at their remote outstation, or in Numbulwar (inaccesible this time of year). But she saw those old ladies here in Ngukurr today. And so at the end of the day, sick of my admin tasks, I went to Old F to see if she wanted to sit down with the two old ladies. And she did – she’s been hanging out to check the Marra materials she makes). So we went off to ask them.

And it was the best ever! The three of them sat for an hour, speaking Marra 80% of the time. I sat there quietly, recording every word. It was so great. I understand a good deal of the conversation, mostly because I knew what they were talking about (because they were going over Marra materials I’d helped produce). But still, it was the first time I’d heard so much Marra and the first time I’d heard Old F speak Marra in conversation. And when I had a go at using some of my basic Marra skills the response was excellent and the old ladies complemented me. Ahhhhhh. Such a good feeling and it was so wonderful to be listening to some of the last speakers of Marra in the world sit around and bust out their language like it was as ordinary as a language with millions of speakers. And for me to follow what was going on!

February 08, 2007



Has anyone looked into or had a go at contributing to Wikipedia?

It looks like there's a bit of a rigmarole, but might be worth doing?

February 07, 2007

back in Ngukurr

I got back to Ngukurr on Sunday. I actually felt like a real adventurer going deep into the wilds. I had to drive 40kms down a very soggy and muddy unsealed road until I got to 4mile boat ramp, on a very swollen Roper River. From there, a boat made the 1 hour trip up the Roper to get me and take me back to Ngukurr. And now I'm here, and I could be here for a couple of months because the roads will be cut for quite a while. So yes, I feel a bit like I'm in wild depths of Australia. (But not really, because this place is far from foreign for me now).

So I'm straight back into work. The last few weeks, some of the language mob have been working with another lady. She's not a qualified linguist, but it was good to have her around to keep things moving along in my absence. And so the language mob had to work a bit more independently. Their task was to make a book about bush medicine. And they did a great job. R and A wrote short stories for about 10 bush medicines, and F and B did the same for Marra. They did all the writing themselves and did the best they could, and they actually did really well.

However, they did get stuck with not knowing how to spell quite a few words. They decided to have a go anyway, and then wait for me to help straighten it out. And so that's what we've been doing since I got back.

But it's felt a bit funny. Really, these guys have done great work to do as much as they have and their writing is actually really good. Mistakes are inevitable. But it's felt funny to have me come in and 'correct' their work. Firstly, it feels a bit like I'm coming in saying they've done it wrong, when their work is good and they should be really proud of what they've done. Consequently, doing these corrections has made it very clear how prescriptivist linguists can be. I feel like I've come in saying: 'I know the orthography, I know the way things should be spelled, and I'm going to change how you've written your language'. It feels strange.

But I don't know how it can be different. I mean, the language mob put me in the 'expert' position themselves and they want me to make sure it's right. (But I'm still concerned that it's disempowering). And I also think that they would like to improve their skills and learn more from me, so I don't think what I'm doing is a bad thing. All the corrections I'm doing are with the language workers. I guess the worse scenario is to go off and do it all myself without them - somehow this would be easier though, in that I probably wouldn't realise how prescreptivist I'm being. But when I'm doing it in front of the language workers, it's plain as day.

Does anybody out there have any similar experiences... like a linguist working on a bilingual school program... does the linguist always end up having the final say on spelling when producing materials? (I guess that depends on the skills of the blekbala linguists too...)