Following on from Jane’s announcement during the week of all the great news regarding successful grant applications, I have another bit of good news to share: James McElvenny and I recently applied for, and even more recently received, a grant from a philanthropic foundation to support our current work in compiling dictionaries.
Regular readers will know that James and I have been involved in an electronic dictionary project that began with our production of a dictionary for Kaurna, the language of Adelaide. Furthermore to this dictionary, James was able to create, for relatively little extra effort, a mobile phone version of the dictionary (as seen on TV!). The benefit of delivering usable dictionaries via mobile phones should be obvious to anyone who has been to a remote indigenous community; while computers and internet connections are rare, mobile phones are almost ubiquitous – and now that Telstra’s NextG network is the standard, these phones are usually well-and-truly equipped for the installation of third-party software such as ours.
Our modus operandi, it has emerged, is to keep on developing the workflow of converting unformatted text dictionaries or Toolbox lexicons into multimedia-rich, visually stimulating dictionaries based in XML, as well as developing the software that runs these dictionaries on mobile phones, while simultaneously working on dictionaries for more and more Australian languages. The initial project had only Kaurna in its scope, but now we’re working with the Dharug community in doing a similar thing for their current electronic dictionary project, and we’ll soon be moving into the language that I work most closely with, Wagiman.
Wagiman’s situation is a little different from either Kaurna or Dharug in that these two languages are in the revitalisation stage, having nearly died completely in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while Wagiman is the first language of only a handful of people. A fair amount of research and lexicography work has already been done with Wagiman, and an HTML dictionary has been published, but it’s only available on the internet, or as a bootleg photocopy of an outdated version. The Wagiman community don’t generally use either of those resources. We plan on revising the content, as the dictionary was last updated last century, adding multimedia content such as images and sound files, and preparing the dictionary for display using the dictionary visualisation tool Kirrkirr, as well as producing mobile phone versions and printable dictionaries.
The funds that we’ll soon receive will see me travelling back to Wagiman country to make these revisions, and to consult with the community as to their wishes concerning how the electronic dictionary will look and work. The other half of the money will be for James to further the development of the mobile phone dictionary software. At the same time, we’ll each be working on implementations of a variety of electronic dictionaries for both the Dharug and Wagiman languages, and will soon have something to hand back to the respective communities.
We’re both happy and excited to have the support of the Hoffman Foundation to continue this work, and we are very grateful to them for their kind donation. We’re also grateful to Jane Simpson, Rob Amery and the Kaurna community, and Amanda Oppliger and the Dharug community for all their support of this project so far. We hope that in not too long, we’ll have an even better way of producing easy-to-compile, easy-to-use electronic dictionaries of the languages that really need them, so that they no longer have to employ people like us to do so!