Professor Nick Evans, a 2013 Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL), has been leading a coordinated effort to record and secure hundreds of local languages at risk of being lost or no longer being passed down to the next generation.

A key part of CoEDL’s strategy in 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages, has been to deepen the involvement of Indigenous researchers at all levels of the Centre. A major goal is to increase the enrolment of Indigenous students at CoEDL, while supporting Indigenous researchers to set up an alliance, to give voice to their concerns and to strengthen the relations between speech communities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous linguists.

That relationship is vital in supporting efforts to maintain and reclaim languages, and to increase language documentation, which Professor Evans says is urgently needed for nearly all of the 121 languages the Centre is documenting. Of around 300 languages which were spoken when Europeans arrived in Australia, today only about fifty are still spoken and most are gravely endangered.

Under the leadership of Professor Evans, CoEDL is producing linguistic resources for under-resourced language communities (such as dictionaries and story books), and training new field linguists using state-of-the-art methods and technologies.

Professor Evans said that we stand to face a huge loss of human knowledge if we do not do our utmost to record the wealth of the world’s tongues, “in all their clamouring variety, sonic dazzle, and epistemic originality”. The work of Professor Evans and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language are an essential part of that effort.

The work of CoEDL continues to gain recognition on the international linguistic stage. One indicator is the decision of the 20th International Congress of Linguists, held in Capetown, South Africa, in 2018, to adopt as its theme the ‘Dynamics of Language’ and invite Director Nick Evans to give the opening plenary address.

Image: Director Nick Evans manages the lively Q&A session at the public lecture by Dr Alpheaus Graham Zobule, Founder and Executive Director of the Kulu Language Institute in the Solomon Islands, during CoEDL Summer School 2018.
Credit: CoEDL.