Book launch: Kaytetye Dictionary

At the Aboriginal Languages Workshop at North Stradbroke Island last month, as usual there were things to celebrate. I had the honour of helping launch the Kaytetye Dictionary*. Book launches are a lovely way of thinking about and celebrating people’s work and ideas. Here’s what I said, more or less.

Things I love about this dictionary

1. it’s alkenhe (big) and contains elperterre (hard language).

2. It has lots of audiences: community members, linguists, scientists, teachers, people who want to learn the language. And the compilers, Myfany Turpin and the Kaytetye linguist, Alison Ross, have done their best to help all of these audiences. This is a dictionary that we will all learn from, not just for the encyclopaedic knowledge of Kaytetye it embodies, but also for how to present dictionary information.

3. I was trying to think of a metaphor to describe the Kaytetye Dictionary project. And I came up with the quandong tree (not a tree from Kaytetye country but not far off…).

Quandong tree: fruit
The bright red fruit looks pretty and it’s delicious. So I dip into the Kaytetye dictionary anywhere and I find things I love, I just keep on eating. Here are some:

Pronunciation: Arandic languages have a spelling system which takes a lot of getting used to – but the introduction to the dictionary is a real winner. It explains the system, demonstrates how sounds are made, gives respellings that will help English speakers, and even fuzzy spelling search clues. One thing I really like is the cross reference to words that sound similar arerre ‘collarbone’ and ararre ‘white bread’ are cross-referenced to help you distinguish between them.

Words: The dictionary includes not just traditional words but words for new things, words which show Kaytetye as a living language, one that a speech community uses to talk about things like batik wax, atnkere, and not-so-everyday things like guardian angels, arremparrenge. It also includes placenames, and a map with around 100 place names including country names. Yes!

It includes words for things which are very hard to elicit without the wholehearted deep involvement of native speakers. The clitic =akwele is glossed as:
“Of course, certainly; shows you are sure that what you are saying is true because you are speaking from your own knowledge, experience of authority” and then as a second sense:
When someone is repeatedly telling you something, akwele shows that you have heard what the person is saying and suggests that they don’t need to keep on about it.

ayntengarrenke is glossed as “Crawl back to someone after rubbishing them”. Not the kind of word that comes up in elicitation sessions..

And the gloss leads to another thing I like: Myf and Alison have used a lot of everyday language from Central Australia which will make it more useful to Kaytetye people. So, – you’ll find mpwarle arlwar-atnenke glossed as ‘busting for the toilet’.

Quandong tree: roots and branches
Like a quandong tree,the roots and branches are what produce the dictionary – and that is the fieldwork, and the resulting collection of tapes, transcriptions and linkages between example sentences and speakers that underlies the dictionary. This dictionary is just a fraction of what’s contained in that collection, which has already produced the Kaytetye Picture Dictionary. If you find something missing, it’s almost certainly in the massive underlying collection – e.g. following the practice of the other Arandic dictionaries, examples are not sourced, but that information is in the underlying files.

Quandong tree: root sustaining
A special thing about quandong trees is that, to start growing in the first place, they have to have initial sustenance from the roots of trees growing around. And for dictionaries, that sustenance is generosity. This generosity has manifested in many forms.

First are the more than 70 Kaytetye speakers who gave their time and enthusiasm to work with Myf and Alison on the dictionary. Many have since died, and the dictionary honours their work.

Second are the earlier researchers on Kaytetye and on Arandic: Ken Hale, Harold Koch, Grace Koch, and Gavan Breen, who freely added the material they’d collected to form the basis of the Kaytetye dictionary.

Third is the community of Alice Springs, an amazingly collaborative place, where Myf was able to collaborate with natural scientists who have worked to identify plants, animals, reptiles. (but she did say in her speech that some insects had proved hard to label, and the best they could suggest for witchetty grubs was that she let them hatch to see what they turned into..)

Fourth is the wonderful Alice Springs collaboration on picture dictionaries, learners guides and reference dictionaries published by IAD Press. A whole grove of them has grown up since the early 1980s. Through the efforts of Gavan Breen, Veronica Dobson, Cliff Goddard, Jenny Green, John Henderson, Robert Hoogenraad, Jim Wafer, David Wilkins and many others, there are materials such as picture dictionaries, learners guides and reference dictionaries for Mparntwe Arrernte, Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri…. and each dictionary compiler has built on the dictionaries of the past, so that the Kaytetye Dictionary draws on the information and good ideas of the previous dictionaries.

Finally there is the generosity of the compilers. Myf talked about Alison Ross and how she had worked with her grandmother and had produced several hundred written definitions in Kaytetye. I talked about Myf. She has over many years published an enormous amount of analysis and documentation of Kaytetye that is of great benefit to the Kaytetye community as well as to linguists. In 2000 she produced A Learner’s Guide to Kaytetye. IAD Press, Alice Springs, NT. In 2003 came the text collection Growing Up Kaytetye. Stories by Tommy Kngwarraye Thompson. (It’s one of his paintings that provides the beautiful cover of the dictionary). In 2004 she and Alison Ross produced the Kaytetye Picture Dictionary, and a CD Awelye Akwelye: Kaytetye women’s songs from Arnerre, Central Australia. (This was distributed by Papulu Apparr-kari language and culture centre, Tennant Creek. Recordings by Grace, Koch, Linda Barwick and Myfany Turpin, commentary by Myfany Turpin and Alison Ross. Somewhere along the line she produced a Kaytetye version of Sesame Street. Oh and by the by she fitted in her PhD thesis, Form and meaning of Akwelye: a Kaytetye women’s song series from Central Australia: University of Sydney PhD, 2005.
And now, this enormous dictionary. In today’s academic climate this has been an extraordinarily generous act. And it’s been a family act – one of the three proof-readers was Myf’s mum.

Alkapertawe! (finished, completed, done)


*Claimer: I’d gone out and bought a copy as soon as I saw it…before being asked to launch it…

One Comment

  1. Claire says:

    Alas! No overseas shipping from IAD…

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