The Ring

Linguist’s legacy lives on at the Smithsonian

Wed, 2011-03-23 10:36

Rare and valuable research materials generated by the late UVic linguistics professor Geoffrey O’Grady will be available to future generations of scholars, thanks to the interest of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which will serve as their repository. O’Grady, who died in December 2008, taught at UVic for nearly 30 years and was widely regarded as a pioneer and leading scholar in Australian Aboriginal languages.[See obituary at http://bit.ly/ehMtfz]

Instrumental in arranging for the preservation of O’Grady’s work at the Smithsonian was Emanuela Appetiti, a scientific program specialist in the Department of Botany of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian, and CEO of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions. She is particularly interested in Australian Aborigines, with a special focus on the traditional medicine of the communities of the Central Desert.

While visiting UVic with her husband and colleague at the Smithsonian Alain Touwaide—who is an adjunct professor with UVic’s Department of Greek and Roman Studies and frequent visiting professor here—Appetiti met with O’Grady’s widow, Alix. They agreed that O’Grady’s professional legacy should be maintained and preserved so that others may continue to benefit from his scholarship, and the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA) seemed the perfect repository. The NAA collects and preserves historical and contemporary materials that document the world’s peoples and the history of anthropology.

In October 2010, the collection was prepared for the move and shipped to the Smithsonian, where it is currently conserved, waiting to be digitized and properly catalogued.

It includes approximately 40 tapes of texts and vocabularies in the following Aboriginal languages: Adnyamathana, Bayungu, Yinggarda, Ngarla, Nyangu, Wadyeri, Wariengga, recorded in l967; another 50 tapes on Australian languages; more than 20 tapes on Hopi-Tewa recorded in the early l960s; tapes on Amerindian Salishan, Cowichan, Halqu'melem, Loucheux, Southern Tutchone, Gwich'an, E. Esquimaux; and much hand-written material.

Most of this collection is also at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, but having it available at the NAA greatly improves convenience of access for North-American scholars.

The O’Grady collection is a good fit with the Smithsonian’s recently launched research program Recovering Voices: Partnerships on Endangered Languages and Knowledge Systems, which encourages the documentation and prevention of language endangerment and loss of knowledge and works to raise public awareness of the problems associated with this threat.

The Smithsonian had worked with O’Grady in the past, as among the traditional music in the catalogue of the Smithsonian Folkways series of recordings is a CD entitled “Songs of Aboriginal Australia and Torres Strait,” recorded by Alix and Geoffrey O’Grady in the mid-1960s [and still available at http://bit.ly/e3p5C2].