Bates Questionnaires Online.

More great news from the world of online publication, courtesy of this piece by Nick Thieberger of the University of Melbourne:

In 1904 Daisy Bates, an Irish-Australian journalist and ethnographer, sent out a questionnaire to squatters, police, and other authorities across Western Australia asking them to record examples of the local Aboriginal language. […] Importantly, the responses to her questionnaire, preserved in 21,000 pages of handwritten notes or typescript, are immeasurably valuable; in some cases recording all we have left of many Aboriginal languages, otherwise lost as a result of European invasion.

The papers are important not only for a general understanding of the diversity of languages that have been part of Australia’s heritage for thousands of years, but also for the people associated with those languages. Aboriginal communities can not only reconnect to their languages through the papers, they can in some cases trace their named relatives. Some of the words listed have also been used in Native Title claims, establishing continuity of the language over time. […]

However, until now, they’ve been largely inaccessible. The pages themselves have been spread across three libraries in different states and territories – the Barr Smith Library in Adelaide, the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and the Battye Library in Perth. Some have been published with English translations, but this work has not been linked back to the primary records in a way that is now possible with digital technology.

The Bates Online project has now done this and more, putting all 21,000 pages online in a searchable database, complete with maps showing where the words and phrases come from, as well as images of the original notes and typescript.

There are 4,500 pages of typescript representing languages from the Southern South Australia/Western Australia border all the way up to the Kimberley. At least 123 speakers are named in the vocabularies and, even now, it’s not clear how many languages they represent.

More details at the link; this is the kind of thing that makes the 21st century worthwhile. Thanks, Trevor!

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