ALS grants scheme and Laves and Jalwang scholarships recipients announced

ALS received a particularly large number of high quality applicants for the 2023 Research Grants scheme, and for the Gerhardt Laves Scholarship and the Jalwang Scholarship. All applicants are commended for the quality of their projects.

The panel has now notified the recipients, and ALS congratulates the following successful applicants. A brief description of each project follows the list of recipients.

Jalwang Scholarship

- Tom Ennever (Monash) for the project Ngurra Kutjuwarra: On Country Together

Gerhardt Laves Scholarship

- David Felipe Guerrero-Beltran (Melbourne/Université Paris Cité) for the project Tense, aspect, and modality in Gu-jingaliya (Maningrida, Northern Australia)

Research Grants

- Kirsty McDougall (Cambridge) and Debbie Loakes (Melbourne) Investigating the interaction between voice quality and plosive production in Australian Englishes

- Alex Bowen (Melbourne) Communication about criminal law and justice with NT Aboriginal defendants

- Tula Wynyard (Melbourne) Topics in Ritharrŋu-Wägilak Grammar

- Laurits Stapput Knudsen (Newcastle) Landscape, cognition, and language: A fieldwork-based investigation of inter- and intracommunity variation in Wik Mungkan

- Kate Charlwood (Melbourne) A linguistic description of contemporary Tiwi spoken by senior speakers

Ngurra Kutjuwarra: On Country Together (Ennever)

This project will bring into public view a published corpus of audio-visual materials that were recorded as part of the Return To Country trips organised by Warlayirti Artists (Balgo, Australia) in tandem with a range of other Aboriginal organisations of the (northern) western desert region: Kiwirrkurra IPA Rangers, Kanyirninpa Tjukurrpa ('KJ') and Japingka Aboriginal Art. In collaboration with the attendees on these trips, the aim of this project is to celebrate the significance of these trips through making accessible a corpus of language materials on an online portal. The primary outcomes are: i) An accessible online portal comprising an interactive map detailing the Return to Country trips with audio-visual media embedded on the map interface. ii) All audio-visual materials will be geo-located on the interactive map which will allow users to hear transcribed and translated stories in Kukatja and Pintupi. The map will also include community-approved toponymic information along with relevant stories for these places. iii) Artists associated with Warlayirti will be able to link their web-based artist bios with these stories as well as any online artworks they have. iv) All recordings (and accompanying placename and family history information) will be carefully worked through with individuals to ensure appropriate access conditions are in place.

Tense, aspect, and modality in Gu-jingaliya (Maningrida, Northern Australia) (Guerrero-Beltran)

This project aims to gather firsthand data for the analysis of the grammar and semantics of tense, aspect, and modality (TAM) in Gu-jingaliya (Burarra/Gun-nartpa), a non-Pama-Nyungan language from the Maningrida linguistic family. This project is directly related to my ongoing doctoral research on the expression of tense, aspect, and modality in Gu-jingaliya, which jointly involve the Université Paris Cité (France) and the University of Melbourne (Australia), in the form of a dual-Ph.D.

Gu-jingaliya has been the subject of previous grammatical descriptions, dictionaries, as well as corpus materials in the form of recordings and transcriptions. Despite this, it remains largely under-described in terms of its semantic and discursive characteristics. Like other Maningrida languages, the Gu jingaliya TAM system is of great grammatical complexity. It involves a highly synthetic verbal morphology, complex predication, non-verbal predication, and modal-aspectual specialised adverbs, whose interpretation relies upon both semantic and pragmatic factors. The tense system attested in Gu-jingaliya is based on a non-linear precontemporary vs contemporary temporal anchoring, rather than on the opposition between past and present, found in most languages. Typically, the same verbal inflection is used for ‘earlier today’ and ‘distant past’ (precontemporary), and another inflection is used for ‘just now’ and ‘yesterday’ (contemporary). The language also lacks specialised aspect markers on verb morphology. Instead, serial verb constructions are one of the main mechanisms to express aspectual contrasts. However, the preliminary results of this ongoing research show that the semantics of complex predication is far more complex than that. However, the existing data is still not enough to distinguish highly systematic patterns from idiosyncratic or incidental constructions. Particularly, there is a lack of negative data, which is crucial to understand the role of semantic and pragmatic factors in the temporal, aspectual, and modal interpretation of sentences in this language.

The firsthand documentation of new data is therefore highly relevant for the ongoing research and will contribute to the understanding of TAM in Gu-jingaliya and other non-Pama-Nyungan languages. This project will also complement ongoing language projects from Maningrida (such as the Burarra/Gun-narptpa dictionary) and will contribute to the preservation of the knowledge, experiences, and cultural heritage of the Maningrida Traditional Owners.

Investigating the interaction between voice quality and plosive production in Australian Englishes (McDougall & Loakes)

The aim of this work is to investigate the connection between voice quality (laryngeal behaviour) and consonant realisation (supralaryngeal behaviour). The project brings together these two, initially apparently independent phonetic features, and looks at how they interact. We will focus on VC sequences, looking at voice quality in the vowel and the type of plosive /t/ that occurs following the vowel production. Previous pilot work has shown that speaker groups with “breathier” /t/ types, such as fricatives and affricates, in turn have breathier voice qualities, while speaker groups that use “creakier” /t/ types such as glottal stops and pre-glottalised variants, also have creakier voices overall. These findings raise interesting questions about the groupings of these types of stops across each group and whether /t/ realisation could be promoted by voice quality.

This project is an experimental phonetic analysis looking at acoustic cues in vowels and consonants, and their possible interaction. The database contains speech from 61 speakers of Australian English (Aboriginal and mainstream Australian English) in two locations in Victoria (Mildura and Warrnambool). Regional variation and gender will also be examined as they have been shown to be important drivers of sociophonetic patterning for voice quality and plosive realisation when these two variables are looked at independently. The main research question is: Is there any correlation between type of supralaryngeal articulation (i.e. consonant quality) and glottal settings (i.e. voice quality)?

The idea that voice quality and consonant production could be connected has been articulated by a number of researchers over the last few years, but to date there is no detailed analysis into the topic. This project is important because it brings new understanding in analysing the interplay of voice quality and plosive production, potentially uncovering some of the underpinnings of variation which to our knowledge have not been comprehensively analysed in any variety of English.

As well as the knowledge outcome described above, we will produce a Journal of Phonetics paper with both named investigators and an RA as contributing authors. We also aim to have at least two lab talks to workshop some of the ideas, and will present at the SocioPhonAus conference in Brisbane and the British Association of Academic Phoneticians Colloquium in Cardiff, both in 2024.

Communication about criminal law and justice with NT Aboriginal defendants (Bowen)

This is a linguistic study of the quality of communication between legal professionals working in the settler legal system (lawyers, judges, court staff etc, who are mostly non-Aboriginal people) and criminalised Aboriginal people (and families). It is known that communication in the NT legal system is generally poor. Communication problems involve a combination of language, legal and cultural differences which are not well understood, especially within the settler legal system. There is desire, particularly from Aboriginal legal services such as research partner the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), to develop better capability to describe and advocate about language issues, and to educate settler legal professionals about skills that might improve their work.

This research is a partnership with NAAJA and builds on years of work, relationships, observations and looking for opportunities to learn about and improve communication. The goal of this research is to improve the foundations for language analysis and communication capability in NT criminal law contexts and beyond. This will be advanced by accumulating better evidence about key issues about what currently makes communication effective or meaningful, and by demystifying some knowledge relationships between the settler legal system, linguistics, and Aboriginal knowledges and experience. Through an intercultural and interdisciplinary methodology, it aims to centre Aboriginal knowledge, experience and expertise relating to language and law; focused through close linguistic study of actual language, evidenced in recordings of actual legal communication in and around NT Local Court circuits.

The project will be primarily carried out by the graduate researcher, Alex Bowen, a former NAAJA lawyer. The project design is grounded in ongoing relationships of trust with Aboriginal people including some who occupy leadership positions in NT and Aboriginal legal systems. Practical experience working in this environment helps to identify opportunities for incremental change in legal practices, building on existing settler recognition of language difficulties. However, the potential for short-term practical developments must be balanced against the need to talk about deeper problems with the settler legal system and the complexity of communication between cultures and legal systems.

The project therefore aims to contribute to incremental change in how settler legal professionals understand and carry out communication, in a way which will work towards greater intercultural understanding and recognition of the need for Aboriginal language expertise. It also aims to develop capacity to name and describe legal communication problems. Linguistics has numerous tools to describe (mis)communication, but these may be inaccessible and may not readily incorporate or align with Aboriginal knowledges. Therefore the methodology aims to model ways for Aboriginal language professionals to take ownership of this capacity for analysis and advocacy into the future.

Topics in Ritharrŋu-Wägilak Grammar (Wynyard)

Ritharrŋu-Wägilak is a highly endangered Indigenous language of Arnhem Land with only a small number of older fluent speakers remaining. Therefore, urgent action is needed to document the language in partnership with Elders. The region where the language is spoken lies between the Pama-Nyungan Yolŋu languages to the north and east and the traditional lands of Non-Pama-Nyungan languages such as Ngandi, Marra, Ngalakgan, Alawa and Rembarrnga, which have different structural properties. Previous documentation hints at intriguing patterns influenced by neighbouring languages. However, existing documentation is limited, and the proposed research aims to fill these gaps through in-depth analysis of newly collected data. The research aims to document and analyse the complex grammatical structures of Ritharrŋu-Wägilak, with particular attention to multi-verb constructions such as serial verb constructions and co-verbs; as well as the complex system of bound and free pronouns. The methodology involves conducting fieldwork in collaboration with Elder speakers to record and transcribe the language in various contexts such as elicitation, narratives, and naturalistic speech. The research output will be a published PhD thesis, as well as contributions to the revitalisation programs led by the Ngukurr Language Centre and other language education organisations in the region.

The PhD thesis will contribute to Australian linguistics by analysing new language data within the context of linguistic typology and theory, expanding our understanding of linguistic diversity. It may also benefit research in syntax, morphology, phonology, historical linguistics, and language contact and change. The Ritharrŋu-Wägilak community has expressed a strong desire for language documentation and revival, making this research significant in preserving cultural and linguistic knowledge. The linguistic documentation of the language could open avenues for grants and research funding, providing economic and social advantages for language workers and the community. It will also offer younger Ritharrŋu/Wägilak people additional opportunities to engage with their heritage language.

The research outcomes will include a published PhD thesis that will incorporate and analyse the recorded linguistic data to document complex grammatical phenomena. New lexical data and detailed analysis of the language will represent a step forward in our understanding of Ritharrŋu-Wägilak, as well as contributing to linguistic work on languages in the region and Australian languages more broadly. Given that Australian languages exhibit linguistic patterns that are rare in the global context, this data and analysis will also provide scope for further research in linguistic theory and typology. Additional outputs may include journal articles, conference presentations, and a plain-language report for community organisations. The project involves recording language with Elder speakers to capture valuable insights for future generations. The recordings will be archived in PARADISEC and AIATSIS with appropriate access permissions determined by the community of speakers. Extensive consultation with the local Indigenous community will be an ongoing part of the project, and collaborations with the Ngukurr Language Centre and local schools aim to create teaching materials towards preserving the Ritharrŋu-Wägilak language.

Landscape, cognition, and language: A fieldwork-based investigation of inter- and intracommunity variation in Wik Mungkan (Knudsen)

The aim of this project is to explore how landscape, culture, and social diversity shape the representation of physical space in the minds and grammars of Wik-Mungkan speakers. The project provides new insights into human spatial cognition, spatial language, and the environment by documenting modern day Wik-Mungkan language and culture in Aurukun.

This grant will fund fieldwork that is not supported by other sources. During this fieldwork, I will collaborate with community members to verify data and fill gaps in the corpus. It is crucial to validate my interpretation of these texts within the community before finalising my PhD and will support the quality of the descriptive work. The data collection methods include standardised elicitation tools described in the project description. By allowing for validation of the collected materials this funding will also facilitate an additional opportunity to engage the community in the analysis of the language, and the conclusions to be drawn from the work. Outcomes include new knowledge in the areas of diversity in spatial behaviour within a single community, the influence of culture and landscape on language development, and the conceptualisation of space in response to the environment, and the research will offer empirical insights into patterns of individual linguistic variation shaped by demographic, cultural, and environmental factors.

The field trip will also bring community benefits. Collaboration with the Koolkan School in Aurukun is an essential part of the project, and this trip will allow for further discussion and dissemination of previous work on young people's spatial language to be shared with the Wik language team at the school. Part of my PhD is a collaboration with this team to produce knowledge of young people’s spatial language, to be used as a benchmark for curriculum development in the language program. Furthermore, through the Cape York Employment (CYE) program “Pathways to Real Jobs”, I have been involved in introducing linguistic software and recording equipment to community members interested in doing cultural projects, including language programs in the community. By being present in the community, I can continue supporting this program and its participants in their training.

In summary, this field trip is a crucial step in confirming and refining the collected data, engaging with the Wik-Mungkan community, and contributing to our understanding of spatial grammar, Australian languages, and cultural preservation. The outcomes will advance knowledge in diverse research areas, ensure community engaging in all stages of my PhD project, as well as benefit the community through capacity building and curriculum development.

A linguistic description of contemporary Tiwi spoken by senior speakers (Charlwood)

This project aims to document, describe, and analyse contemporary Tiwi spoken on the Tiwi Islands (Northern Territory, Australia). The research will focus on the language of speakers aged 50 to 80 and be conducted primarily in Wurrumiyanga with shorter periods spent in Milikapiti and Pirlangimpi.

Timely documentation of Tiwi is important because the grammatical structures of Tiwi have changed significantly over recent times, yet the last documentation of Tiwi was conducted over 40 years ago by Lee (1987). Tiwi community members are deeply concerned that Tiwi is becoming further endangered as a result of ongoing contact with English. In response to these concerns, the project focusses on the language of senior speakers for the sake of language preservation. The study offers an opportunity to evaluate the vitality of the language and the extent to which linguistic innovations are emerging in the language that may or may not be related to contact with English. An updated account of Tiwi also has the potential to direct language maintenance efforts and inform educational materials.

Focussing on the language of speakers aged 50-80 provides an opportunity for longitudinal analysis of language variation and change in the context of contact with English-lexifier languages. This cohort of speakers broadly corresponds to the cohort of speakers recorded during Lee’s study of young people’s Tiwi in the 1970s/80s. Lee (1987) describes a striking amount of variation in her study, and so the present research hopes to determine whether the language ecology has maintained a similar degree of variation, continued to shift, or stabilised towards a more homogenous register of the language.

A varied pool of data collection methods will be used to create a multi-genre corpus of contemporary Tiwi. As well as personal narratives, conversation between multiple participants, and targeted elicitation, I will collect stories based on picture and video stimuli (for example, O’Shannessy’s Monster Story series, Totem Field Storyboards and the Pingu series).

Particular areas of grammatical interest include argument marking; the expression of tense, aspect, and mood; and the function of co-occurring determiners. Preliminary analysis of data collected during a two-week field trip in 2022 suggests variation in how person and TAM are marked on the verb as well as preliminary evidence that contact with Kriol may be leading to the development of coverb reduplication to express durative aspect. Furthermore, despite significant reductions in verb morphology over recent years, preliminary analysis of recently collected data suggests that object pronouns may be re-affixing to the verb. Finally, the functional split between co-occurring determiners has been under-analysed in previous descriptions and is worth further investigation.

Contributing to both the linguistic and Tiwi communities, a comprehensive study of contemporary Tiwi is long overdue and will require a significant period of field work to be successfully achieved.

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