A short grammar of Urama

24 March 2017
Dancing masks at Tovei, Urama
Dancing masks at Tovei, Urama [1], Frank Hurley, 1921. National Library of Australia, nla.obj-149365784.

Dr Jason Brown has just published a short grammar of the Urama language with three of his students and graduates.

Urama is a Papuan language spoken primarily on Urama Island in Papua New Guinea.

Jason explains that the grammar was "a long time in the making".

The project started as part of the postgraduate course in linguistic field methods that he coordinates. In the course he works with students to analyse the structure of an unfamiliar language.

Jason was looking for a language to analyse for the course, and came across a student in Population Health, Karika Anea, who spoke Urama — a language with no documentation.

Urama is part of the sparsely-documented Kiwai language family, which is distributed along the south coast of Papua New Guinea. Stephen Wurm estimated that there were 1500 speakers of the Urama language in 1971.

Jason and his postgraduate students spent a year working with Karika to document the language. This work turned into masters projects for Alex Muir and Kimberley Craig.

Since then, the quartet have slowly been piecing this grammar together.

Jason is enthusiastic about the experience of working with his students to publish this book.

"It's one thing to teach the class and give them the tools to do this, but another to give them the chance to use these tools and make an actual intellectual contribution."

They consulted with people on Urama Island to outline its geographic, social and anthropological background and to lay out the phonology, morphology and syntax of the Urama language.

"It was a really collaborative effort."

This collaboration has resulted in a rich description of a highly under-documented language. The resulting publication is freely available to linguists around the world.

A short grammar of Urama