Don's Diary

十月 5, 2001

Woken up by noisy birds to a sunny but cool morning. My university flat is spacious if a little sparse, but a balcony overlooking the garden where some of the famous West Australian spring flowers are in bloom is a plus, as is the knowledge that the college (outdoor) swimming pool is due to open next week.

I have been assigned a comfortable office and already have 43 email messages. My research partner Marie-Eve has handed me a draft chapter already, and tomorrow I must start work in earnest, and make the most of these two months.

The parrots wake me at 5am. Reading The West Australian at breakfast, I come across a phrase that stumps me: "Beer drinking in the Old Dart has sunk to a 30-year low." At lunchtime, my linguistics colleagues are able to tell me that Old Dart refers to Britain, but not what the origin is. So I make for the library and the Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English , where I discover "dart" is a British dialectal pronunciation of "dirt", referring to land as a possession. I shall have to think of a way of dropping that into a presentation.

Still lots of red tape: but it is really not so bad walking from one office to the next through arcades, past the sunken garden and moated library, catching glimpses of brightly coloured parrots in the foliage of bottle-brush and eucalyptus trees.

Anna Wierzbicka from the Australian National University gives a talk about the possibility of a framework of universal concepts that could apply to non-human primate communication, as well as to human verbal and non-verbal communication. She argues that instead of using culturally specific and anthropomorphic terms to refer to primate behaviour, we can reduce them to the prime elements of that behaviour: for example "conscious self-recognition" becomes "I know: this is me". A lively debate between linguists and anthropologists follows.

The American terrorist attacks dominate the news here, but the hottest domestic topic is the collapse of Ansett Airlines. It has had an effect on participants in the Australian Linguistics Society conference, due to start in Canberra today, and on my planned seminar presentation in Melbourne. A trip to the city to change my air ticket proves to be less straightforward than expected - this will take a while to resolve. But my first-ever sushi lunch cheers me up, as does the discovery of a wonderful second-hand bookshop.

To the office for a project meeting with Marie-Eve: plan work, grant budget and timing of seminars. Then to the library to hunt down some references. I think about the coming weekend: probably a trip to the Royal Perth Show and to the native flower festival in King's Park.

Dulcie Engel is senior lecturer in French at the University of Wales Swansea, specialising in linguistics. She is visiting research fellow at the University of Western Australia, Perth, where she is researching perfect verb forms in varieties of English and other languages with Marie-Eve Ritz.

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