Archive for February 2009

Wagiman and Dalabon Dictionaries

I’ve been in the Territory for a week now, mainly working on the content of the Wagiman Electronic Dictionary and recording sound files for it. But I’ve also been canvassing interest in the dictionary from the members of the community. Thus far the reception seems positive; the school-age children were keen to see it and give it a go, and the adults agree that using mobile phones is a great way of getting their kids to learn such information.

Last weekend I was in Katherine seeing some linguist friends, and while I was there I had an informal meeting with someone from the Northern Territory Department of Education, and they too were interested in the mobile phone dictionary as well as the Kirrkirr dictionary, so much in fact, that we’ve undertaken the job of producing a dictionary of Dalabon – more on that later. I foresee that, if this takes off, the Kirrkirr dictionary would be used at school, either on the ubiquitous Smartboards with the whole class, or individuals working at computers with the software loaded, but it would be used in addition on the students’ mobile phones in their own time, perhaps to complete set homework tasks.

Even if four hours per day of education in the Northern Territory is mandated to being English-only, thanks to Marion Scrymgour, language education teachers could capitalise on the remaining one hour of tuition per day by using an interactive and visually rich program such as Kirrkirr.

I had the brainwave, while I was showing off the software in Katherine, that the dictionary need not translate between Wagiman and English on its own, but it could also contain the Kriol translations of Wagiman words. It would then be a matter of selecting a different stylesheet within Kirrkirr to display either the Wagiman-English or the Wagiman-Kriol version. It would take a bit of work on my part to translate the entire dictionary into Kriol, especially since it’s a language that I don’t speak, but with help from someone it could quite easily be done. Wamut has already helped me with the first bit of the dictionary to undergo trilingual representation, with the entry for Ngal-martdiwa ‘Old woman’ within the semantic domain ‘Human classification’; this now becomes ‘Olgaman’ in the semantic domain ‘Ola wed bla pipul’. Wamut also pointed out that Kriol would map much more closely to Wagiman than English would, most obviously in areas such as kinship terms (dedi versus uncle), semantically ambiguous verb meanings (hit versus kill) and free pronouns (melabat versus us).

It wouldn’t be a complicated computation task either; the MDF specifications for Shoebox/Toolbox already support multiple content languages, using codes such as \ge for ‘gloss English’ as opposed to \gn ‘gloss national’ which could be taken to mean Lingua Franca. In an XML formatted dictionary, it would simply mean adding another XML chunk for definition, and call it something like <MeaningsKriol>.

I mentioned the possibility of a Dalabon dictionary earlier, so I might explain what’s going on. The representative from the NT Education Department has a potential Dalabon project in the pipeline, and having a visual dictionary paired with a mobile phone version of the same would be immensely helpful for that effort. I’ve contacted all the authors and have received permission to go ahead with this. With any luck, the current dictionary (a backslash coded text file) is complete and consistent and won’t require any actual work on our part, besides configuring the file that translates from backslash codes to XML. But that’s James’ domain. Finding sound files and inserting them should be¹ the only complicated task, but this we’ll have to leave to one of the linguists working with Dalabon. For now though, a user-friendly, visual version of what the three authors painstakingly produced would be a great way for Dalabon kids to engage with their language again.

¹­Yeah, ‘should be’, but of course things always go wrong.