A Czech proverb serves as the introduction to Lauren Reed’s profile on her website
. The translation reads: As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being
By the time she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts (Arabic) in Melbourne, Lauren had three languages under her belt, in addition to English. She spent several years after graduation working outside of linguistics. She became a mother. In coming to ANU in 2016, Lauren re-immersed herself in languages, this time taking a more bird's-eye view.
“I realised it wasn’t only Arabic I was interested in; I was interested in a lot of different languages,” she says.
“And not just those languages as languages, but also language as a system in itself.”
“It is 0.1% of the world’s population in 1% of the world's area, and there is 20% of the world's languages spoken there,” she says.
“So it's incredibly linguistically diverse.”
One of her projects has to do with directionality within the verbs of Ende, an undocumented language spoken by about 500 people across three villages in PNG.
“Classically, linguistics thinks about verbs being able to inflect for tense – whether or not something happened in the future or the past – and aspectual distinctions like whether something is finished or is still ongoing,” Lauren says.
“However, verbs in some languages also inflect for whether motion goes towards or away from the centre of the action, which is usually the speaker.
“In Ende verbs of motion like swim, run, or walk, you can change the vowels inside the verb to give a sense of walking away from something or towards something.”
Lauren is also studying Kailge Sign Language, used in the Highlands in central PNG. In Kailge community and surrounds, the use of sign language is distinct from what occurs in many urban and/or western societies. There’s a high degree of fluency of the language among hearing members of the community, even those without family members who are deaf.
“We think it says something about the social dynamics of the Kailge area that people are willing to accommodate the deaf; that deaf people have the ability to speak with people who aren’t just their own family members,” Lauren says.
“It's a bit of a contrast to the West where the deaf are very much expected to get an interpreter, learn to lip-read.”
Her research is being conducted with Professor Alan Rumsey from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language, who has been working in the Kailge community for around 35 years with ANU anthropologist Professor Francesca Merlan. No other linguists in the world are currently studying the language.
Lauren’s connection to sign language is personal. Her two siblings are deaf, and she grew up using Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Both siblings still reside in Melbourne, where Lauren is from.
She developed a passion for food while living in the western suburbs.
“At that time, Melbourne [newspaper and blog-based] food writing was really focused on the other side of the city – the west had a really negative reputation,” Lauren says.
She thought the reputation was entirely unfounded and loved its food scene.
“I had small kids at the time and felt like a lot of the food writing was all about these fancy places.
“I just wanted to go and eat some good noodles and I didn't know where to go.”
With that, the Footscray Food Blog
was born. Through a friend, her writing was published in The Age’s now-defunct Cheap Eats Guide. From there, she began writing for more and more publications, along with running food tours and organising events.
That lasted five years. Lauren loved it, but wanted to do something else.
“I remember writing Top Ten Pies, Top Ten Doughnuts and Top Ten Chocolate Cakes and thinking, ‘This is not healthy, I can’t eat this many pies, doughnuts and chocolate cakes! It's not sustainable.’”
In 2016, she and her family moved to Canberra, which she found to be home to whisky bars, cafes and restaurants, spoken word performances and live music – everything she loved about Melbourne. She chose to study at ANU though because of its broad and diverse linguistics program.
There were benefits, too, in ANU being a big research institution: “The people who are teaching the languages are also the people who are publishing, researching and doing field work.”
“I really feel that those talks are just as beneficial as the coursework,” she says.
“You get to know exactly the cutting edge of what's happening in the field at the moment.”
Lauren is preparing to go on her first fieldwork trip in late September to Limol, Papua New Guinea, to collect data for her Ende verb directionality project. She’s also planning to record the signs Ende people use when they hunt – signing instead of speaking and scaring away the game.
“Limol is very remote, with no running water, power, phone reception, or shops. I’ll be eating cassowary, wild pig, deer and bandicoot, all of which is hunted by local people.”
It’s a far cry from noodles, doughnuts, and whisky, but Lauren can’t wait.
Lauren’s “Five dishes you must try in Canberra”
- Pierogi at the Polish Club, Turner
- Bánh bột chiên (fried rice cake) at Bistro Nguyen, Civic
- Popcorn cauliflower at Brod Dogs, the Hamlet, Braddon
- Hot pot fish fillets, Red Chilli Sichuan, Civic
- Xiao long bao, Yat Bun Tong, Braddon