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The Northern Myth

Oct 29, 2017

Word of the week: kahmudngalalahminj (Dalabon)

The ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL) is investigating language as a diverse, dynamic and evolving organism that interacts with our perceptual processes in ingenious ways.

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Earlier this year I was privileged to attend a week-long workshop at Barrapunta in south-central Arnhem Land that I’ve posted about here, here and here. Most of the time we talked about and looked at birds, fire and land management, but as linguist Professor Nicholas Evans of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language noted in this post, one of the most interesting surprises to come out such collaborations are the new words pop up.

As Professor Evans said: “Working on Dalabon is a never-ending quest,” said Professor Evans after the workshop. “My Dalabon teacher Maggie Tukumba is around eighty, and worries she is forgetting things, but will stay up half the night trying to remember a bird name we haven’t recorded yet, then give it to me the next morning. Working on special language, like the Lorrkkon cycles, throws up all sorts of amazingly specific words which I’ve never heard before.”

One Dalabon word that came up this trip, in the ‘leg’ of the song cycle tracking a djamunbuk (male Antilopine Wallaroo Macropus robustus) as it tries to flee a hunter, was the word kahmudngalalahminj.

This means ‘its (the wallaroo’s) fur stood on end (in fright at being hunted)’.

The surge of collective knowledge and conference-like intensity of the workshop threw up a whole host of details like this – that’s one of the great benefits of bringing so many experts together in one place.”

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Photo: Wallaroo, Macropus robustus. Alice Springs, 2016.

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Some information about the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL)

The  Centre is investigating language as a diverse, dynamic and evolving organism that interacts with our perceptual processes in ingenious ways. Understanding why the world’s languages are designed so differently—and how our minds acquire and exploit them to achieve different outcomes—will help generate important scientific insights and exciting new technologies.

What We Do

We are investigating how languages vary, how we learn them, how we process them and how they evolve.

We aim to integrate typology and descriptive linguistics, evolutionary approaches, and studies of learning and processing across a wide range of linguistic types with the aim of setting up a new approach to language that places diversity, variation and change at centre stage.

At the heart of the Centre‘s work are four basic puzzles – language diversity, language learning, language processing and language evolution.

See more about CoEDL’s work here.

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