Workshop on the Languages of Papua 4

Starting the year with a bang, I made my over to the Workshop on the Languages of Papua 4 held at Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia! That was 1) my first ever talk at an international conference (debut!), and 2) my first ever time in Indonesia (a pretty niche location, I know). The last workshop was held in 2014, just a bit before I started my PhD. I’d heard good things about it, so was pretty keen to check it out for my self. It did not disappoint!


West Papua gets a bit of a bad wrap as a site of sensitivity re: Indonesia, West Papuan Independence, and things like that. But the city it of Manokwari itself felt very safe, much safer than a city like Daru in Papua New Guinea. Those of us who work on the PNG side were all amazed that the roads were beautifully paved, and that there were motorbikes! We had a great time chilling, and the hosts at the Universitas Papua were wonderful hosts.

View from the water front Cafe Laut at our accomodation, the Hotel Mansinam.

The conference was held across four days, and brought together linguistic researchers who work in the island of New Guinea and the surrounding islands (West Papua in Indonesia + Papua New Guinea). A broad range of topics were covered (which is the way these regionally focused conferences inevitably go), and there seemed to be a good spread of Austronesian and Papuan languages being represented. Topics ranged from grammatical descriptions, language contact, cultural practices, pragmatics…

The talks I personally found super interesting and relevant was the stuff that is coming out of Marian Klamer and her mob over at the University of Leiden. They are working to untangle the complex language history of the Sunda Islands, trying to work through inherited change vs. contact induced change. There was then the familiar work of Russell Gray‘s using ecology to model language diversity, and all the stuff from our usual ANU mob. I don’t know an awful lot about prosodic structure and phonetics of that kind, but I enjoyed the findings of that ilk (here, here) like those presented by Nikolaus Himmelman, and Carlos Gussenhoven.

It was also a nice opportunity to spend some intensive time with fellow fieldworker/Papuanists/people who work in this region – other PhD students, but also finally meeting the Bill Palmer who’s editing a soon-to-be published book about Papuan languages and linguistics… one of the first things I contributed to upon commencing my PhD!


Cheers to Yusuf Sawaki and David Gil for a wonderful conference!



Prof Poplack Giving Me Some Thoughts

Prof. Shana Poplack giving a master class on variationism at the University of Queensland

The frequency at which a particular variant/linguistic variable occurs may change over time, but the conditioning factors are stable.

In which case, for language change to occur at that locus of variability, something needs to happen to disrupt the transmission of those conditioning factors to the next generation.

I’m trying to unpack the diachronic consequences of long term, stable multilingual communities with balanced bilinguals making up the population. For where I am in Southern New Guinea, I feel I should read up of this, about the social networks of hunter-gatherer societies… Because there must be some effect about interaction frequency and social networks in explaining language change?