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Lockhart River Mobile Phone Dictionary

I went to Lockhart River on Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, last week to try out a dictionary on mobile phones for the Umpila and Kuuku Ya’u languages. Clair Hill and I are working on a language maintenance project for the community and the dictionary is a great resource to have with it. These two dialects are very close and Clair prepared a combined list of over 400 words, some of them with sound files attached, and she converted it to a Wunderkammer dictionary with help from James.


Photo: Eleven-year old Camden has learnt some language words from his grandmother Lucy Hobson (left) and mother Phyllis Hobson (right). He spent some time using the dictionary to check words and practise speaking them with the help of his mother.

I found that the mobile format of the dictionary created immediate interest. The first man I showed it to said, “It blows my mind!” Lots of young people and adults are using mobile phones and the children especially took to the format. They were soon scrolling and checking words. The sound files attracted most interest and helped them to sound out the words correctly and to avoid English intonations.

I quizzed them about the dictionary and its uses. It is clearly both a self-learning and a shared-learning tool that is readily used in the home or anywhere. As a visual tool it shows correct spellings and meanings while the audio side encouraged people to verbalise the words correctly. The ready phone access contrasts with limited computer access in this community, mainly in the library and local school.

We had a problem with the display of the words as the colour of them did not contrast well with a dark background. The audio could be louder too. This will be tweaked for a second trial. We also had a problem trying to transfer the dictionary to people’s phones by Bluetooth. They are mostly Telstra branded phones, which do not like you doing that. We will have a workaround next time.

One person saw the potential for the dictionary to be developed further in a computer application by adding both sound and pictures to words to enhance the language learning. James will also develop a Kirrkirr version for computers.