On Thursday 29 June 2006 I joined heaps of overcoated people in the large, airy Reading Room of the Australian Institute of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra. We were celebrating the launch of “Indigitisation” – a three year funded digitisation program for sound, text, film, and photographs. The view of lake, sky and trees and some determined ducks was a distraction from the speeches, but some things stuck – 40,000 hours of sound recordings of Indigenous languages to digitise, lots of expensive machines, some enthusiastic staff, and as yet no off-site backup. Storage problems mean they’re not digitising everything at 24-bit, 96 kHz. They’re planning to deliver some sound files through the web, where communities have given permission. So in future you should be able to click on some on-line catalogue entries and download sound files.
The AIATSIS Library staff showed “Collectors of words” – a web presentation of the nineteenth century word-lists of Australian languages from E. M. Curr and Victorian and Tasmanian languages from R. B. Brough Smyth . They’re available as pdfs, organised alphabetically according to the place the words were attributed to, and linked to maps. A nice feature is the linking to the AIATSIS catalogue, so that you can find other materials referring to the same language group. Unfortunately the pdfs are only images – you can’t search for text in them. If you want text copies of Curr, go for the transcribed copies in AIATSIS’s electronic text archive ASEDA. These aren’t yet linked to the scanned images – a job for the future!
Any linguist who’s worked in an area for which there’s a Curr list or a Brough Smyth list will have information about that list – is it actually a list from the area it is claimed to be from? Are there obvious typographical mistakes? What’s the modern name for the language? Plus there are manuscripts to compare, and annotations from Curr himself to check. So, if anyone has data curating desires (and time and money and energy and..) – a lot more could be done to make these online Curr and Brough Smyth lists more useful.