Carmel O'Shannessy spent this past summer doing fieldwork in the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu in Northern Australia. Carmel has also recently learned that she was awarded an NSF grant to support her ongoing work on Warlpiri - we will report in more detail on her grant in a future story. But for now, I hand over to Carmel to tell us about her fieldwork in her own words.

Carmel's experience in her own words

I'm sitting with two Warlpiri elders and some members of their families, listening to traditional songs I recorded last year by one of the men, Henry Cooke Jakamarra, and writing the words of the songs as the elders say them. As I write 'nyangkamarda', ('white cockatoo'), a young woman called Nangala, about 20 years old, is behind me, walking back from the kitchen with a cup of tea, and she reads the laptop screen as she walks past. "Not 'nyangkamarda', 'ngangkamarda'", she says, and I correct the word-initial nasal. I'm really pleased, not only because the transcription is now accurate, but because Nangala is applying the Warlpiri literacy skills she learned as a child in the bilingual education program that first drew me to Lajamanu - first language literacy works!

The traditional songs project was the main focus of my summer field trip* to Lajamanu, in northern Australia. The songs contain highly specialized cultural and linguistic knowledge. These days only a few senior elders know the songs well, and Jakamarra asked me to record and archive the songs for learning purposes and future access. Now that the 37 verses are transcribed and the meanings documented, I will work with an ethnomusicologist, Myfany Turpin (University of Queensland) to analyze them and produce a publication for the community.  

While in the community I also trialed new elicitation stimuli, developed during the previous year with a UROP student, Brianna Steiner. The stimuli are short animated videos, designed to elicit constructions in the context of one person addressing another, in naturalistic speech - these are not usually easy to collect. Examples are available here and here.

A third project was to collect another set of data in preparation for phonological analysis of the mixed language, Light Warlpiri. I'm working on this project with UM students Ariana Bancu, Elizabeth Gall and Gabrielle Valentic.

*Funding was generously provided by the Linguistics Department, UM Office of Research, and Office of the Vice Provost for Research.