2022 Research Grants announced

ALS is pleased to announce the award of three grants under the Research Grant Scheme. We congratulate the following grantees, with a summary of the funded projects:

Domestic uses of fire in past and present Australia: what language can tell us.

Maïa Ponsonnet (UWA/Laboratoire Dynamique Du Language, Lyon) and Luisa Miceli (UWA)

Bringing together Australian linguists, First Nations language experts, and archaeologists, this project will innovate a style of collaboration where language knowledge and lexicography play a pivotal role in understanding Australian cultures past and present. The team will explore an under-researched aspect of Australian Indigenous life: domestic uses of fire. In spite of their cultural centrality, everyday practices and techniques around fire in ‘camps’ (i.e. hearths) have not been systematically documented so far (but see Evans 1992), perhaps because they typically pertain to traditionally ‘female’ knowledge.

Building on a pilot study that involved 10 Australian languages (Ward et al. 2021), this project will systematically investigate an additional 30 languages across the continent. From this data we will extract frequent lexical categories for functions and techniques related to fires, including potential regional contrasts and historical developments. This will feed linguistic analyses of semantic extension networks within this rich and significant field (article to be submitted to the Australian Journal of Linguistics). These linguistic results will in turn inform archaeological enquiries based on hearth excavations (article to be submitted to Australian Archaeology).

The project also includes a fieldwork component, allowing the academic linguists and archaeologists on the project to undertake consultation with Noongar First Nations experts. Their contribution will bring a contemporary emic perspective onto the lexical data, and will serve as a springboard to develop extensive collaborations with Indigenous communities around this project in the future.

German as a Heritage Language and Culture in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley Australia Phase 2

Jaime Hunt (UON) and Sacha Davis (UON)

This project forms part of a multigenerational study investigating socio-historical factors shaping the maintenance, evolution and/or loss of cultural and linguistic practices of German-speaking migrants and their descendants living in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. This also includes an analysis of the ethnolinguistic vitality of German as a heritage language in the area. The experiences and language use of German-speaking migrants to regional centres and their descendants have been largely overlooked in previous studies, which have focused on either migration to capital cities or relatively concentrated and isolated rural communities. Conversely, regional urban centres, with their distinct cultural-linguistic environments, have previously been neglected in the literature.

Phase 1 of this project (German as a Heritage Language in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley,) involved interviewing 29 second and third generation descendants of German-speaking migrants. Phase 2 investigates participants who migrated to the region from a German-speaking land in the period from the 1930s to the early 1970s. They will be asked to attend one interview to discuss their lived experiences before and after migration, German cultural practices, language use before and after arrival, and (possible) cultural and linguistic transmission to subsequent generations. These interviews will be analysed in the context of changing language policy in Australia, both at the national and state-levels, as well as fluctuating language education policy. Where possible, these interviews will be held in German, thereby providing both sociolinguistic and historical evidence and detailed samples for corpus linguistic analysis of phenomena such as code-switching and anglicism use. Few previous studies of German-speakers in Australia have focused on large samplings from three generations; by extending our study to first generation migrants, we are able to draw broader conclusions about cultural-linguistic maintenance, shift, and loss across multiple generations. In addition to academic publications, this study will inform an exhibition at Newcastle Museum, opening in August 2023. If participants grant permission, edited audio data from the interviews will also be made publicly available as an enduring research asset via the Living Histories website (https://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au), the digital home of the University of Newcastle's Special Collections. This grant will fund the transcribing of interviews with first-generation German-speaking migrants. It is important that the transcriber be a native speaker of German who also has knowledge of the local area and is familiar with Australian English. This will allow for a more accurate textual record of local references and instances of potential code-switching.

To the side of, or just nearby? An eye-tracking study of an undifferentiated egocentric transverse axis in Australian English.

Bill Palmer (UON) and Kiwako Ito (UON)

This study tests the spontaneous interpretation of spatial terms by native speakers of Australian English. Specifically, the experiment tests differences in the degree to which speakers apply a transverse interpretation to terms such as to the side of, at the side of, beside, next to, by, and near. We aim to test a hypothesis that these terms sit in that order on a cline from strongest to weakest effect in prompting an undifferentiated transverse interpretation, rather than merely encoding proximity. In other words, we hypothesize that speakers are most likely to interpret to the side of as a substitute for to the left of and to the right of (the transverse axis), but not as a substitute for in front of or behind (the sagittal axis), whereas they are most likely to interpret near as encoding locations on both axes – i.e. simply encoding proximity, with terms in between on the cline displaying a increasingly weak transverse effect. The study also aims to test the hypothesis that a language may encode an undifferentiated transverse axis (treating left and right alike) in the egocentric (“relative”) frame of reference, even a language that makes heavy use of egocentric left and right like English.

We propose to test these hypotheses by employing an experimental eye-tracking protocol that can capture the granularity of spatial term interpretation necessary to observe degrees of strength in transverse interpretation. The project will generate data from monolingual adult English speakers that can serve as the baseline data for future research in various directions, such as spatial language processing, child spatial language acquisition, and cognitive processing of spatial terms in aging adults. The findings will be applicable to understanding languages other than English, including Indigenous Australian languages, that may appear not to encode an egocentric transverse axis at all due to an absence of projective left-right terms, but may in fact encode a transverse axis, just one that is undifferentiated.

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