University


Nothing is official as yet, but I’m fairly confident that I can informally announce to the world that I will be commencing a Ph.D. next year.

My topic will be Classical Tiwi, an Australian language that seems to have escaped the radar for serious documentary research of late. This is especially odd, given that Tiwi1 is one of the country’s most populous languages with somewhere around 2000 native speakers2. Of course this is not quite the case when it comes to Classical Tiwi, which may have only around 250 speakers, many of them elderly.

I’ve been interested in Tiwi for quite some time, as a relative of mine married a Tiwi Islander, right when I started becoming interested in Australian languages. I even remember looking at the list of the authoritative publications for Australian languages, and noting that Tiwi was researched as far back as 1976. I somewhat facetiously told myself that I was going to do my Ph.D. on Tiwi and give Osborne’s 19763 description a surely-needed update.

Then, earlier this year, I was approached by a colleague who suggested for a bunch of reasons that I do Tiwi for a Ph.D., not knowing that I had Tiwi family connections and a previous interest. Quite serendipitous.

I’ll be enrolled at the University of Melbourne, so if all goes well throughout the application process, I should be looking to move to Melbourne sometime in early 2010.


  1. Officially there isn’t a difference between Modern Tiwi and Classical Tiwi, meaning that ‘Tiwi’ is considered one language still.
  2. The census numbers vary considerably. In 2006, 1724 people said they used Tiwi at home, while in 2001, the number was 2050, and I suppose people tend to overreport more than they underreport.
  3. Osborne, C. R. (1974). The Tiwi language : grammar, myths and dictionary of the Tiwi language spoken on Melville and Bathurst Islands, northern Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

As it’s been about a month since my last post, it’s probably about time I posted something at least to ensure that this site doesn’t get referred to as a ‘dead blog’. To make matters worse, not only have I not been posting, I’ve also been neglecting my reciprocal blogger duties of reading other people’s work, which I hope is a good indicator of how busy I’ve been. Reading through the myriad of blogs in my feed reader is  normally one of my most favoured activities.

So what is my excuse then?

The same old story really — work. But this time the various jobs are a little different. Besides my regular duties as audio engineer at Paradisec and my unrelenting duties as tutor of first-year linguistics, I have been preparing a grant application with a colleague to continue our work developing electronic dictionaries of minority languages, including dictionaries available as java applications on your mobile phone1.

We have also been preparing several papers, conference talks, seminars and so on to detail our project and our process of producing visually-rich multimedia electronic dictionaries from basic wordlists. There are a couple of conferences later in the year that this sort of thing would be perfect for, but we also plan to get a paper sent off to some prestigious lexicography journal somewhere.

As a teaser, here’s an abstract that we sent off to one such conference earlier this month:

Kaurna is the indigenous Australian language of Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains. It has not been actively used since 1929, when the last native speaker died. More recently, efforts have been undertaken to restore Kaurna to a state of community use. One recent project involved the creation of an electronic Kaurna dictionary carried out by a team at the University of Sydney during the first half of 2008. As this was a community-driven project, it had certain requirements, such as the need to archivally preserve the two main documentary sources of Kaurna: a book published in 1840, and a hand-written manuscript from 1857.

In an effort to maximise flexibility, portability and transparency, the Kaurna dictionary project opted for an XML formatted master dictionary that could then be converted to other formats, such as an HTML web-page, or even a printed dictionary. The current means of presentation is through Kirrkirr,  a multimedia-rich dictionary visualisation tool.

In this project we also developed software for presenting the dictionary on mobile phones. Mobile phones are almost ubiquitous today and most modern mobile phones have the memory capacity and features necessary for storing and presenting the dictionary content. They therefore present an excellent opportunity for learners of minority languages to have access to a dictionary. The mobile phone dictionary software is currently in its early stages, but we hope to improve it with further work and make it available to people compiling electronic dictionaries for other languages.

I’ll let you know how it all goes.


  1. You can read all about this project, which began with Kaurna, at a post of mine here, and at James’ post here. James’ post also includes example software for download, in case you want to try any of this out.

I’ve been at Sydney University now for over six years, including five years as a full-time student with full voting rights whenever any elections were held. So I’m not exactly new to the phenomenon of the stupid election slogan, but I still can’t help but wince any time I see fresh paint in the graffiti tunnel advertising the newest slew of pseudo-political hopefuls.

Sometimes I wonder why they do it. Friends tell me they’re usually politics students who want to catapult their post-graduate career straight into being a staffer in DFAT, or even being fast-tracked through the totally democratic factions of the Labor Party. I should point out that this last point is more characteristic of Labor than Liberal. Liberal party hopefuls tend not to be electable at uni – unless it’s for the editorial team of Honi Soir – their trajectory normally takes them through the Young Liberals instead. Predictably, I would just ask for the Greens affiliated candidate and be done with it.

Anyway, here’s a sample of this year’s contenders for the election to the board of the USU:

I Dig Doug1

Alex: A Union Revolution

K2 is Good for U3

Bec On Board

There are also a bunch of contenders that consider their mere name adequate to be a slogan in itself. First names4 are spray-painted, chalked, and emblazoned on walls, roads and footpaths, and even the highly visible vertical rise of outdoor staircases all over the uni, hoping to impress themselves on the consiousness of the undecided, or more likely, apathetic voter. I wish I could exemplify their effectiveness in making me want to elect them, except ironically, I can’t remember any of their names.

My favourite from the list above is K is Good for U, as it uses a highly considered pun on “U” – being a homonym for an English pronoun on one hand, and the initial of the point of the election, the Union, on the other – but it also effectively plagiarises pays homage to a breakfast cereal, using the (likely registered trademark) typeface and colour-scheme of Kellog’s Special K5.

So, what is the stupidest election slogan you’ve ever heard?


  1. Better would have been Me Doug. You Dig?
  2. Stands for Karina and is written like the K in Special K cereal
  3. U presumably stands for Union
  4. They only use first names, it seems
  5. I have no financial interest in using a brand name or product. In fact, Special K has to be one of the most odious cereals I know of