Archive for August 2011

Umpila/Kuuku Ya’u Dictionary (V.2)

Patrick Butcher, an artist working at the Lockhart River Art Centre, with an in-progress artwork in the background. Commenting on the dictionary: “…more access to language is vital. This is easy to use, the words are just there. It’ll make it easier to make art work names. At the moment I have to search out one of the elders or a copy of the blue book [a sketch grammar containing a wordlist] now help is just in my pocket.”

In the last month I have been in Lockhart River, on the beautiful east coast of the Cape in northern QLD. It was great to be back there, to see my Lockhart friends and to continue work with Umpila and Kuuku Ya’u speakers. Part of my time at the start of my trip was spent creating a second version of the Umpila/Kuuku Ya’u – English Wunderkammer dictionary. I started work on this dictionary in a fieldtrip to Lockhart a year back, recording sound clips with speakers and some illustrative examples too (for a computer/book based version of dictionary), and then earlier this year I put together the first version. See the last two posts from David Thompson and myself which has a little info on the development and distribution of this.

This trip to Lockhart I wanted to vamp up the Wunderkammer dictionary a tad more and also continue getting feedback from users, following-on from David’s April trip to Lockhart. For Version 2, speakers and I recorded more sound clips and re-recorded some clips with better quality – invariably there are some instances where even with three or so productions of the word they all end up having some type of background noise that you didn’t quite notice or didn’t think would get caught by the mic, e.g. branches scratching on the roof, a dog scrap two houses back. The clips edited and prepped for Version 2 take the count to around 200 entries with sound. I also worked with speakers to add a more vernacular flavour to some of the definitions. We particularly worked on plant, animal and material culture vocab. In the first version of the dictionary definitions for this type of vocab were often pretty uninformative, e.g. simple entries like “tree species” or “spear type”. Even where I have scientific idents for plants and animals I wasn’t keen to use them given target audience “youth” user audience. I wanted to add a little more to the definitions of these types of words, something that captured the sorts of identifying features and descriptions that Lockhart people themselves use. So, speakers and I worked to record vernacular definitions for around 100 of the entries. Here are some examples: iinyi ‘cicada, “noisy minya” (nyanguru kuupi) which sings out, especially at dusk’; kanhin ‘trochus shell, in old mission times men used to dive for kanhin to sell to the Chinese and Japanese people’; thakura ‘yam type, hairy “New Guinea” yam, plenty grow on islands, like on Restoration Island’. As you can see these include some local knowledge of places and history, which wouldn’t usually be good lexicographic practice, but seeing as this dictionary has a targeted audience this sort of local flavour is a big plus. Given the limitations of the mobile phone screen “real-estate” we had to make these definitions not too long, but I think we did pretty well. The “full meanings” were one of things people commented on very positively in feedback. Note: Sometimes the Creole vernacular of speakers was somewhat modified into Standard English variety in these definitions. In latter versions we are considering adding Creole into the dictionary in some way. Perhaps not making a trilingual dictionary per se, but including Creole translations of the some of the words, or notation of the traditional language vocab which has been absorbed into the Creole, or a designated Creole vernacular definition field. So, lots more ideas to make this a cooler and more enriched little dictionary in coming versions!

As I went about Lockhart distributing and showing-off Version 2 I was keen to get some feedback back from users. I was particularly interested to see how users first interacted with and familarised themselves with the interface of the dictionary, and if they found it user-friendly. People were overwhelmingly positive about it. Everyone I talked with thought it was perfectly targeted at teenagers and twenty-somethings, including themselves. For this demographic, like elsewhere in Oz, a mobile phone is their main entertainment device, media player and song storage device, games console. There are few language resources available for Umpila and Kuuku Ya’u, and even fewer that would be captivating to this audience. So, that is a big positive for this platform.

As far as modifications go there were very few suggestions for changes, users were happy with the size and form of it, in terms of entries and file size (3.4MB). There were some people who suggested more content of specific types, based on their own usage ideas and needs, e.g. a teacher’s aid suggested including example sentences and a land and sea ranger suggested more detailed plant and animal information including photos. There will be more information on technical hurdles in distribution and user feedback in review/paper to come – more on this by-and-by.