Alan Rumsey

Alan Rumsey first came to Australia in 1975 as a University of Chicago PhD student to study language and its relation to other aspects of social life among the Ngarinyin people in the Kimberley district of Western Australia. During 1978-95 he lectured in the Anthropology Department at the University of Sydney. While continuing his work with Aboriginal people in the Kimberleys, since 1981 Rumsey has done his main research in the Ku Waru region in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, partly in collaboration with Francesca Merlan. Their work there has included projects on language and politics, verbal art, and child language socialization. In 1996 Rumsey joined the Anthropology Department in what is now the College of Asia and the Pacific at Australian National University, where he is a Professor and former Head of Department. In 2004 Rumsey was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. During 2010-11 he served as President of the Australian Anthropological Society. He is currently heading a major, ARC funded comparative project on Children’s language learning and the development of intersubjectivity, with special focus on Ku Waru children’s interactions with adults and other children . Key publications include ‘Wording, meaning and linguistic ideology’ (American Anthropologist 90: 91:346-61, 1990); Ku Waru: Language and Segmentary Politics in the Western Nebilyer Valley (Cambridge University Press, co-authored with Francesca Merlan, 1991); ‘Agency, personhood and the ‘I’ of discourse in the Pacific and beyond’ (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6:101-115, 2000); Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands (ANU Press, co-edited with Don Niles, 2011); and ‘Intersubjectivity, deception, and the “opacity of other minds”: perspectives from Highland New Guinea and beyond’ (Language and Communication 33:326-43, 2013).

Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands »

Studies in Form, Meaning, and Sociocultural Context

Publication date: August 2011
The genres of sung tales that are the subject of this volume are one of the most striking aspects of the cultural scene in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Composed and performed by specialist bards, they are a highly valued art form. From a comparative viewpoint they are remarkable both for their scale and complexity, and for the range of variation that is found among regional genres and individual styles. Though their existence has previously been noted by researchers working in the Highlands, and some recordings made of them, most of these genres have not been studied in detail until quite recently, mainly because of the challenging range of disciplinary expertise that is required—in anthropology, linguistics, and ethnomusicology. This volume presents a set of interrelated studies by researchers in all of those fields, and by a Papua New Guinea Highlander who has assisted with the research based on his lifelong familiarity with one of the regional genres. The studies presented here (all of them previously unpublished and written especially for this volume) are of groundbreaking significance not only for specialists in Melanesia or the Pacific, but also for readers with a more general interest in comparative poetics, mythology, musicology, or verbal art.