Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

The Mathi Group of Languages

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

The Mathi Group of Languages

Article excerpt

The Mathi Group of Languages

Barry J Blake, Luise Hercus, Stephen Morey with Edward Ryan 2011

Pacific Linguistics, Canberra, xv+327pp, ISBN 9780858836358 (pbk)

Aboriginal languages research in Victoria and New South Wales has long awaited this excellent book from an authorial team of such a high level of experience and reliability. The northwest of Victoria and border languages have been to this point critically under-researched, leaving Aboriginal communities with little to take up in their reclamation programs, and academic research little to include in comparative work. Blake, Hercus, Morey and Ryan have collected and analysed the historical records, together with Hercus (1986) and related work, with great care and consideration, providing us with as much detail of information and transparency of analysis as we could hope for from the available dataset, and giving communities and the linguists who work with them a solid foundation for our endeavours in these languages from this point. The book covers Mathi-Mathi, Wati-Wati (Piangil), Wati-Wati (Swan Hill), Pura-Pura and Letyi-Letyi, with detailed discussion of how and why the different sources and languages have been grouped in this way. In this review I niggle at a couple of points here and there, but my overall response to this book is one of excitement and gratitude.

The book displays some interesting variations on a standard reconstruction grammar format. While the bulk of the book focuses on a very thorough discussion of all available grammatical evidence for each language, some less conventional but equally important material is also included: extensive listings of place names (providing an advance on what is available in Clark and Heydon 2002); personal names and kin terms; a biography of Jack Long, the Mathi Mathi man recorded by Hercus (expanded from Hercus and White 1971); a very nice 76-page comparative table of words in both reconstructed and recorded spellings, with comments; and a 14-page story as told to Peter Beveridge by Turangin (in mixed English and Wati-Wati), fully annotated with word glosses and additional comments. Appendices provide some further material from RH Mathews, with a wealth of analysed sentences, stories and (where available) songs presented for each language (and revised where these have been presented in earlier publications). Each of the four languages is dealt with in its own section or chapter, and it is heartening to find the very sparse records of Letyi-Letyi and Wati-Wati (Piangil), in particular, treated so thoroughly. The lack of either a list of tables or an index reduces the book's navigability, and I found myself seeking a greater degree of cross-referencing between comparable discussions for different languages--or perhaps some grammatical comparison tables in the manner of Blake and Reid (1998). Both of these points are somewhat alleviated by the comprehensive table of contents.

In the preface, the authors identify their goal 'to write a grammatical description that meets the needs both of linguists and members of the various communities whose languages we are writing about' (p.viii). I think there can be no doubt that the needs of the former group are well met in this book. It is always difficult to decide how to balance academic requirements with the sometimes quite different requirements of a community audience. But the authors are not claiming to target the language communities as an audience as such, and possibly it would not be feasible to target both groups in one and the same publication. Rather, the potential community audience of this book can be reached through 'translation' into plain language and/or workshop formats by people fluent in the language of linguistics.

Given this, there is much in this book which I anticipate will be of interest to Aboriginal people reclaiming their languages. First, it is possible that many of the 'additional' inclusions mentioned above were selected for just this purpose, as they will certainly be appreciated, as well as immediately accessible to many. …

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