Diyari project

Diyari is an Australian Aboriginal language traditionally spoken in the far north of South Australia, to the east of Lake Eyre. I began studying Diyari in 1974 as an undergraduate student, and undertook fieldwork on it for my PhD from 1975 to 1978. I have published the following materials:

  • a grammar of Diyari (the second edition is available for free download here);
  • an article about the four volume Diyari dictionary of Rev. J.G. Reuther and my current research to improve access and usability of it;
  • an article on the classification of Diyari and neighbouring languages;
  • an article on the history of the language and its use;
  • an article about postcards written in Diyari;
  • stories in Diyari, with English translations, some co-authored with Ben Murray — see here;
  • with Luise Hercus and Philip Jones, a biography of Ben Murray, one of my teachers.

From 2012 I have been working with the Dieri Aboriginal Corporation on language and cultural awareness, including co-organising with Greg Wilson workshops in Adelaide and Port Augusta in 2013 funded by an Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) grant. I established a blog called Ngayana Diyari Yawarra Yathayilha in February 2013 which includes information about the language, its speakers, as well as language lessons at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. In 2023 I began a podcast of audio presentations of some new and old blog posts.

From February 2021 for two years I am working on three major topics supported by a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship:

  • a full Diyari-English dictionary (with English-Diyari finderlist) incorporating all the available data, including links to the dictionary of missionary J. G. Reuther, results of my own fieldwork (1975-1978), ILS recordings, other published sources, and interviews and checking with contemporary speakers, especially Rene Warren, the last fully fluent speaker. The dictionary will have an introduction and grammatical overview for learners, and be published as a book with Asia-Pacific Linguistics and as an interactive multimedia resource using the model developed by David Nathan and John Giacon for Gaman, a multimedia resource for Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay language revitalisation in New South Wales. Smaller practical versions will be created from the data set and distributed to community members as a mobile app.
  • a book length biography of Ben Murray, co-authored with Philip Jones, an award-winning historian based at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. This biography will be unique in presenting Ben’s life history primarily through anecdotes in the Diyari and Arabana languages (and translated into English by myself and Hercus) combined with interviews in English and archival research by Jones. Ben had lived through a period of remarkable social and cultural change from the Lutheran mission to the Diyari, which began in 1965 and closed in 1914, to contemporary self-determination. In the past few years, we have uncovered new archival materials, including letters written by Ben in Diyari and English, and photographs and relevant legal documents that add new and important aspects to his life history. In addition, Clara Stockigt (University of Adelaide PhD) has interviewed missionary descendants and uncovered new biographical reflections from them to add to the fuller account. Wakefield Press, a high quality specialist historical publisher has seen an early draft and is interested in publishing the final version.
  • a case study in language and cultural revitalisation – many communities around the world are confronting loss of their linguistic and cultural heritage due to the impact of global and local political and demographic shifts and the influence of economically and politically powerful languages and cultures resulting in linguistic endangerment. Some communities are also responding with attempts to revitalise their languages and cultures, however we have very accounts and case studies of how revitalisation can be approached and how it might work in particular cases and in general. In published research, co-author Julia Sallabank and I have argued that principles, models and practices of revitalisation have been understudied and are under-theorised; it has not been thoroughly documented in many instances. In 2014 I published a paper on language shift and community responses for Diyari and I propose to extend this by examining current community initiatives and interviewing members of DAC to elaborate the motivations, socio-cultural embedding, and individual and community responses to revitalisation. This will add to our understanding of (un)successful models and processes of revitalisation and contribute to the theoretical and practical literature. An article in the leading journal Language and Society is planned as an outcome.