The Sounds of Aboriginal Languages: Free public talk

The opening talk of this year’s Australian Linguistics Society conference will be a public lecture by Prof. Andy Butcher from Flinders University. Andy’s work is utterly fascinating; he looks at the sounds of Indigenous Australian languages and how this is possibly influenced by a hearing condition otitus media with effusion (OME), or ‘glue ear’. This is the summary from the website:

Chronic OME develops in the majority of Aboriginal infants in remote communities within a few weeks of birth, typically affecting hearing and the perception of speech sounds. Among the specific consequences of this are difficulties in hearing differences between sounds “t” and “s” in words like “tap” versus “sap”, or the “p” and “b” in words like “pack” and “back”. Given the importance of these sounds in distinguishing words, OME-induced hearing loss has been shown to disrupt speech and language development in English. It also may have an adverse role in the development of English literacy. Interestingly, the specific sound frequencies where hearing is not lost happen to be typically those that are used in the acoustic makeup of speech sounds in traditional Aboriginal languages.

In other words, these languages favour consonant and vowel sounds which exploit precisely that area of hearing ability which is most likely to remain intact in OME. Thus Aboriginal languages may be acoustically more robust than English as a medium of communication for those with OME-associated hearing loss.

The talk is on Tuesday the 1st of October at 5pm at The University of Melbourne. You can get more information and register here.

ALS 2013 wrap up

Last week was the 2013 Australian Linguistics Society annual conference. This year it was hosted by the University of Melbourne, and as I was involved in the admin side of things I didn’t get to see as many of the talks as in 2011 and 2012 (although the good news is that I’ll be editing the proceedings, so I’ll get a chance to read about some of the research I didn’t get to see).

I’ve storified some of the best tweets from the conference - it’s nice that every year there’s a growing community of people adding an extra layer of conference experience through social media.

I greatly enjoyed the plenaries, we were very lucky to have Eve Clark and Martin Haspelmath in the country for the first time, and after years of hearing about Andy Butcher’s work I really enjoyed hearing him talk about it. There was also a great range of work on Auslan - and it was even more excellent that it was dotted throughout the program. The number of people who were interested in child language acquisition was also really positive, especially in remote and small languages; the workshop on the topic had people packed in.

My first ALS was in Melbourne in mid-2009, when I was only a few months into my PhD. Now, a few months beyond graduating, it was lovely to reflect on how much more I feel a part of the ALS community.