Archive for the ‘Development’ Category.

Dictionary distribution: A workaround for Bluetooth block

As in the previous blog entry from David Thompson, David and I are working with Umpila and Kuuku Ya’u speakers in Lockhart River (up in the Cape, QLD) to make a Wunderkammer dictionary. A great resource for the community’s mobile touting younger gens! An unexpected and pretty big obstacle that we’ve faced in Lockhart is difficulties installing the dictionary on community mobile phones via Bluetooth transfer. The solution we’ve come up with might also help other people out there stuck with various Bluetoothy hiccups holding up dictionary distribution.

Because of the remote location of Lockhart in Far North QLD the only telecommunications company is the national carrier Telstra. The majority of the mobile phones in the community are Telstra phones on Telstra contracts. Unfortunately we found out that Telstra restricts some of the functions of the phone, in this case preventing installation of java applications via Bluetooth (or via a USB cable). This was a great shame as the easiest way to propagate the dictionary across the community would be through simple Bluetooth transfer between phones. The solution we’ve found to workaround this is to host the dictionary java file on a secure webpage and download the java file using the mobile phone’s internet browser. However, few of the phone contracts in the community have a data component and therefore cannot access the webpage. This second obstacle has been overcome simply by using a project sim card with a data component. The sim card can be swapped with the community member’s sim card allowing the dictionary to be downloaded and installed. Once installed on the phone, the original sim card can be swapped back. Voilà, a working Wunderkammer dictionary! Some phones might generate a message asking if you want to download the file to the phone or the sim, select phone of course, so that it’ll remain behind when you switch the cards back. Each download of the Umpila/Kuuku Ya’u dictionary (V1.0) is a small 2MB and only takes a few minutes to install.

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.

wkimport 2.2

wkimport package 2.2 is out now. The new package includes a French localisation and French documentation. See it at the wksite:

wkimport package 2.1

wkimport package 2.1 is now out. The most notable new feature is Russian localisation of the wkimport UI and documentation. More localisations to follow.

Unicode and custom input methods in Wunderkammer (#4: Custom input method)

Step 3: Custom input method.

First of all, you will need to add your custom input method into the code of the MenulessTextField class in the source code of Wunderkammer. This can be done in any text editor, but as you will need to compile the whole thing later anyway, its probably better to do everything in NetBeans or another Java IDE right from the beginning. You can find the whole MenulessTextField class with the custom Tura-French input method here.

There are only a few things that you are likely to need to modify. Thus, you will probably want to customize the mappings for low case (see picture) and upper case letters onto a typical 3×4 mobile phone keypad. The <\uXXXX> sequences are the unicodes for every special character (I added the characters themselves as comments in green to make things clear).

The low case mappings of the Tura custom input method

Furthermore, you might wish to modify the part “\ue003\ue004\ue005” in brackets after TextField.addInputMode and TextField.setDefaultInputModeOrder, which stands for <ɛ̀ɛ̂ɛ́>. This is just the way I chose to indicate the low case Tura custom input method at the right end of the search box in WK, similar to “Abc” or “123”.

When you are done with adding your custom input method, build the WK project in NetBeans (there is a button for this in NetBeans). To update the WK binaries in wkimporting, all you need to do is replace all the files in the directory wkimporting/bundle/build/preverified with all the preverified binaries from the project. So build the project and then go to build/preverified and copy everything except the ‘META-INF’ and ‘res’ directories to wkimporting/bundle/build/preverified.

Basically, that’s it. Now, after you import the dictionary into WK, you should get a dictionary with the custom input method you defined.

Unicode and custom input methods in Wunderkammer (#3: Theme file)

Step 2: Dictionary theme file.

You can customize the dictionary theme file with the LWUIT resource editor in many ways. For instance, you can create a bitmap font and include it into the theme file. The procedure is rather straightforward. You select a font installed on your system, its size and style, anti-aliasing method and define a character set that needs to be included in the bitmap font. For example, the character set of TuraGSM Sans Condensed I used is reproduced below. Note that the last character in the charset is a space (U+0020).

TuraGSM Sans Condensed charset for the Tura dictionary theme file

TuraGSM Sans Condensed charset for the Tura dictionary theme file

Unicode and custom input methods in Wunderkammer (#2: Font)

Step 1: Font

You need to have a font with all the necessary characters as single glyphs. The reason is that the dictionary theme file in LWUIT (step 2) uses a bitmap font which cannot use combining characters (LWUIT creates such a font for you from any font available on your system). Thus, the character <à>, latin small letter a with grave, must be represented by a glyph with unicode point U+00E0 and not as a combination of two glyphs, viz. one with U+0061 for <a> and one with U+0300 for the combining grave accent. This single glyph requirement was problematic for the Tura script because it contains a range of characters, viz. some IPA characters with tone diacritics, that Unicode fonts render only by means of a combination of a glyph for the respective letter with a combining glyph for the diacritic, such as <ɔ̀> latin small letter open o with grave.

To get around this problem, I created a new Unicode TrueType font software, TuraGSM Sans Condensed, that contains the necessary accented characters as single glyphs in the Private Use Area range (U+E000 – U+F8FF). I did this by modifying DejaVu Sans Condensed, a free Unicode font, using FontForge, a free font editor application. DejaVu Sans Condensed font makes part of the DejaVu family. DejaVu fonts are TrueType fonts that contain glyphs of most Unicode characters, including all the IPA characters and diacritics used in the Tura script. I chose the Sans Condensed version of DejaVu as a basis for the Tura font because it produces particularly compact lines which normally still remain well legible even at a small font size, such as 10 points, the size that I used for the indexes and entries in the Tura mobile phone dictionary. This is an obvious advantage when rendering characters on mobile phone screens. Besides creating new single glyphs for some of the accented characters, I also had to modify a few glyphs used for the Tura script to enhance their visual distinctiveness on a mobile phone screen.

Step 1 will probably be the most time consuming part of the process of tweaking WK for your language.

Unicode and custom input methods in Wunderkammer (#1)

Wunderkammer now endorses Unicode and allows the use of custom input methods, which practically means that you can use any IPA or other non-ASCII characters in your dictionary and let the users search for words using all these characters.[1] To paraphrase, that’s a small step for Wunderkammer, one giant leap for its users. Especially, for those of them, such as myself, who are involved in languages outside of Australia and Oceania.


For quite some time, I’ve been working (in Toolbox and my spare time) on a dictionary of Tura (toura in French, wɛɛn /wɛ̰̀ɛ̰̀/ in Tura), a small Mande language spoken in a mountaneous region near the city of Man in the west of Ivory Coast. My Tura-French dictionary currently counts around 3000 quite well-elaborated entries, which, given the predominantly monosyllabic nature of the Tura lexicon, represents a rather complete coverage (you may have a look at it here). Eventually, I hope to make it nice and publishable as a book. In the meantime, a mobile phone version is likely to be a much more palpable outcome of the project for the community. And it will definitely be more exciting to use than a book.

Here, I’d like to share my experience in adapting Wunderkammer for Tura. If you’d like to tweak WK for another language, you will need to do the following three things:

  1. If you do not have a font that has all the characters you need as single glyphs (as was the case with the Tura script), you will need to create one yourself, e.g. using FontForge (potentially, this is rather time consuming, but otherwise not so difficult)
  2. Customize the dictionary theme file with the LWUIT resource editor (also see wksite) by adding the desired character set (that’s an easy one)
  3. Add your custom input method into the code of the MenulessTextField class in the source code of Wunderkammer, build the modified version of Wunderkammer and update the wkimport binaries (this part sounds much worse than it is in reality)

To accomplish this, you will probably need to install some additional software and look up the unicodes for the characters you wish to use. The (free) software you will need includes an IDE (integrated development envinronment) for Java, such as NetBeans, the LWUIT resource editor and a font editor application, such as FontForge. The software mentioned definitely works on Windows. I do not have experience with other systems.


As a result, you should be able to use wkimport to build a dictionary with all the necessary characters and the desired input method. To give you an idea of what the end result may look like, here is a demo version of the Tura-French dictionary and some screenshots (for the installation procedure see wksite). The theme image is an oil palm nut kernel, wɛ̂n in Tura, which according to folk etymology is the source for the word wɛɛn ‘Tura’. 

[1] Small print: except for complex East Asian scripts, such as Chinese, and right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic. It must be possible to make Wunderkammer work with them as well, but I’m passing on that, as these scripts are somewhat beyond my current interests.

The Wagiman Electronic Dictionary

Last week, I undertook a brief fieldtrip to Pine Creek and Kybrook Farm, Northern Territory, to present the completed Wagiman Electronic Dictionary to the Wagiman community.

It has been a long time coming as several of us have been working on this dictionary in our spare time for the last six months, and so it felt especially good to be able to see a finished product, and better yet, to give it back to the community. In that six months, we successfully integrated recent research into Wagiman plants and animal species by Glenn Wightman, as well as very recent work done by the CSIRO on fish species in the Daly River. The electronic dictionary now contains all that up-to-date information. We also managed to produce sound files for the majority of lexical entries in the dictionary. There are around 1250 sound files in the dictionary altogether, totalling some 15 minutes of high-quality audio.

Lardukkarl nganing-gin using the Wagiman mobile phone dictionary

Lardukkarl nganing-gin using the Wagiman mobile phone dictionary

The Wagiman community are very pleased with the dictionary, and all enjoyed listening to the marluga¹ who recorded each of the sounds. The Wagiman people were also excited to see the mobile phone version of the dictionary. It’s not quite as complete as the computer based dictionary; it contains far fewer sound files (around 300), and doesn’t contain the sometimes lengthy dictionary comments that accompany many lexical entries. This is an unfortunate constraint of the size of a standard mobile phone screen — too much information can be hard to navigate through.

I also met with representatives of the Northern Territory Department of Education, who were interested in supporting the dictionary and possible collaboration into the future. The Wagiman have given the tick, and the Department are going to go ahead and install the dictionary on all the computers in the schools in Katherine as a first step. We’re hoping that we’ll also be able to get the Northern Territory Library on our side and install the dictionaries on library computers. That way, most computers accessed by children and young adults in the area will have the Wagiman dictionary installed.

In addition to the computer- and mobile phone-based dictionaries, we have also been looking to produce a printed version. Hopefully the Wagiman community will be able to take advantage of the increased interest in Indigenous languages recently, and sell copies of the dictionary to tourists through various shops in Katherine, Pine Creek and Darwin.

Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this particular project is the demonstration that accessible electronic dictionaries for Indigenous languages can be produced for relatively little extra effort, provided that the language in question has been adequately described. Although for many languages, this remains a significant obstacle.

The Wagiman people have given us permission to allow the public to download a demonstration version of the Kirrkirr dictionary, which we will try to have ready soon. A full version will be available upon request to the Wagiman community.

¹Marluga, (nom.) Old man.

Sydney University Linguistics Department Seminar

This is probably very short notice, but James and I will be presenting Wunderkammer, WKimport and the project in general at a Linguistics Department seminar tomorrow evening at the University of Sydney. Here are the details:

Monday 1st June
4 pm – 5.30 pm
Eastern Avenue Seminar Room 119

Wunderkammer, mobile phone dictionaries and the Wagiman electronic dictionary

James McElvenny and Aidan Wilson
The University of Sydney


In this talk we will demonstrate Wunderkammer, software that allows electronic dictionaries to be stored and displayed on mobile phones. We will show how we have used the software to produce a mobile phone dictionary of Wagiman, an Australian language from the Daly River Region in the Northern Territory. We will also discuss how other linguists can use the software to make their own electronic dictionaries available on mobile phones, as well as the future possibilities for dictionary delivery in technologically under-resourced areas.