Research Outcomes

The proposed documentation aims to deliver the following specific outcomes in the two targeted languages, Marori and Smärky Kanum:

  1. A database of specific ethnobiological terms in the local languages with their specific names, their English and Indonesian translations, their high-quality still pictures, and geographic locations (in terms of GPS coordinates);
  2. A second database of lexical data, consisting of vocabulary items in relation to the entries included in the aforementioned database, and other lexical items reflecting everyday language use.
  3. Documentation of local indigenous knowledge, folklore and other oral histories in relation to ethnobiological terms and related place names; and further documentation regarding general language use in a range of contexts.
  4. Around 10 to 12 hours of selected audio/video recordings with transcription for each targeted language per year.
  5. Local literacy material, including booklets containing edited parallel texts (local languages, English, Indonesian), sub-grouped in terms of local themes.
  6. A guide book on the ethnobiology of the Wasur National Park, which will contain selected plants and animals of high cultural significance, especially those of which associated knowledge is endangered.
  7. A bilingual or trilingual dictionary will be produced on the basis of the lexical database for each targeted language.
  8. Academic papers reporting documentation issues from socio-cultural and linguistic perspectives, as well as the analysis of the data from descriptive, typological and theoretical linguistic perspectives, and analysis of other broader issues in relation to conservation/revitalisation and local capacity building.

Further Considerations

The project’s research outcomes inhabit the interdisciplinary nexus of conservation-environmental science, biology, linguistics and anthropology. The project’s special focus on the documentation of ethnobiology will produce rich datasets concerning biodiversity and its socio-cultural aspects in the languages of the Wasur National Park, including current ecological changes. The team includes the relevant experts: Arka (Linguist), Waluyo (Ethnobotanist), Mote (Biologist), Hisa (Forestry) and Suryawan (Anthropologist). We will collaborate with a local environmental scientist, Dra. Paschalina Rahawarin MSi (the director of the local branch of WWF).

The linguistic scholarship of the project will emphasize descriptive and typological analysis for the targeted languages. Typologically, the SNG languages have a notably complex verbal morphology. Their salient unusual features include constructed strategies (i.e. employing distributed morphological exponence) in coding complex grammaticalised systems of TAM, number values, and syntactic relations/valence structures. Further documentation on Marori and Smärky Kanum promises additional discoveries to deepen our understanding of each of their grammars, especially in areas such as complex clausal formation and information structure. We will do a corpus-based linguistic analysis, and expect to have fresh empirical evidence and better understanding of the typological profiles of the project languages. As such, the proposed project will make significant contributions to research in Papuan linguistics, and in linguistic typology in general.

We will develop parallel corpora on certain topics, in close collaboration with the Documentation Thread of the ANU’s COEDL where Arka is an Associate Investigator. Such corpora will not only serve as empirical basis for the general linguistic analysis outlined above, but also as practical reading materials.

Large-scale parallel corpora are increasingly important, not only in computational linguistics and NLP applications (Dipper 2008), but also, in general linguistics, as a complement to monolingual corpora, especially for research in less-studied minority languages (Aijmer 2008, Ostler 2008). Using both parallel/multilingual and monolingual corpora in tandem is ideal for discovering corpus-based patterns of different kinds, within a given language, or contrasting them with equivalent patterns in other languages. Linguistic research making use of parallel corpora includes discovering translation correspondences, establishing contrastive stylistic or lexical-semantic fields (e.g. cross-linguistic variability and tendency of a particular category), discovery of richer inventory of meanings with more contexts in multilingual lexicography, and investigation into information structure and markedness in discourse.

The ethnobiological research will result in a detailed ethnographic snapshot of the situation in West Papua. It will show the richness/diversity of traditional ecological knowledge reflecting local people’s intimate/spiritual connection with their habitat, and the unprecedented socio-cultural and economic dynamics in contemporary Indonesia that have profound negative impacts on the loss of biodiversity, local knowledge and language.

We expect to gain more evidence and deepen our understanding in the complex nature of the ecological-sociocultural variables in language endangerment. Such an understanding will have significance implications in conservation/revitalisation studies where interdisciplinary approaches (such as from linguistics, biology and anthropology) are needed.