Old words to be heard again

Wednesday, 21 September 2016
(L-R) Amanda Lissarrague (AIATSIS), Rhonda Smith (AIATSIS), Doug Marmion (AIATSIS/CoEDL), Julia Miller (CoEDL/PARADISEC), Kazuko Obata (AIATSIS), Lyndall Osborne (AIATSIS). Photo: AIATSIS
(L-R) Amanda Lissarrague (AIATSIS), Rhonda Smith (AIATSIS), Doug Marmion (AIATSIS/CoEDL), Julia Miller (CoEDL/PARADISEC), Kazuko Obata (AIATSIS), Lyndall Osborne (AIATSIS). Photo: AIATSIS

Original recordings from the prolific language collection of the late Arthur Capell have been gifted by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to the Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC). The transfer was made possible with the assistance of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL).

The 167 field tapes containing Asian, South Pacific and European language recordings have been handed over in Canberra and will travel up to Sydney to be digitised this week. The tapes are accompanied by analogue preservation and access copies of the recordings produced by AIATSIS.

Linguist and Chief Investigator with CoEDL, Nick Thieberger helped established PARADISEC in 2003. He says the valuable collection of Capell’s recordings will be digitised, archived and made available to interested communities and language researchers. He says the move means that once digitised, the old material will be accessible anywhere in the word, even in remote parts of the Pacific on a mobile device.

“We now hold material from all over the world and currently have over 1000 languages represented in the collection. Our primary motivation is to make these recordings available to the descendants of those people that Arthur Capell recorded. Capell’s work is invaluable and it is our privilege to become caretaker for some of his original recordings.”

AIATSIS have been custodians of the recordings since the mid-nineties, when they were deposited with the Institute for safe-keeping along with Capell’s large collection of Indigenous Australian language recordings.

AIATSIS CEO Russell Taylor AM said Arthur Capell’s legacy is felt keenly throughout the Institute.

“Arthur Capell was a foundation member of our Council and his early work inspired our referencing system for Australian languages which is still used by our linguists and collections staff today,” Mr Taylor said. 

“We have been the proud custodians of the original tapes for over two decades, keeping them safely preserved for future use. But given the focus of our work we felt it was time to pass them on, and are pleased to be handing them to the CoEDL/PARADISEC team.”

Arthur Capell (1902-1986) was a linguist, anthropologist, ethnographer and Anglican clergyman. He was born and raised in Sydney where he attended Sydney Teachers’ College and later completed a Masters at the University of Sydney. He then studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Ph.D., 1938), writing a thesis, `The Linguistic Position of South-Eastern Papua’.

On his return to Australia in 1938 Capell investigated the little-studied languages of the Kimberley region of north-western Australia and then Arnhem Land languages and dialects. Throughout his career he engaged in field work in Melanesia and Australia.

He wrote pioneering linguistic surveys of Papua, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, the New Hebrides and Timor. He produced some one hundred scholarly publications, which included contributions to social anthropology, his major works comprised a series on Austronesian languages, grammars of several Oceanic and Australian languages, and a major reformulation of his ideas about the structure and development of Australian Aboriginal languages.

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Last reviewed: 14 Oct 2016