Wunderkammer at the ICLDC

Wunderkammer was recently presented at the 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation in Hawai’i. A summary of the presentation can be downloaded from the online proceedings of the conference.

Slowly but surely

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working my way through my several hours of Wagiman recordings from my recent fieldtrip, all the time remarking at how excellent they are. It’s a combination of a good recording device; a Roland Edirol R-4, a great microphone with a proven track record in the field; a Røde NT41, and experience in microphone placement and input gain control2. I’m finding the best tokens of all the words I recorded for eventual insertion into the electronic versions of the Wagiman dictionary, including a Kirrkirr instance, and a mobile phone dictionary.

Splitting the recordings into some 1500 individual sound files is a time-consuming occupation, and unfortunately, as it’s the only one of my many jobs that isn’t actually paying me anything, higher priority tasks often win out.

Eventually though, we’ll have a Wagiman electronic dictionary ready for distribution, and a down-sampled version of the same ready for installation on mobile phones. So keep posted!

[Cross-posted at matjjin-nehen]

  1. Both of which were loaned from PARADISEC. []
  2. Gain control was really key in the end, as it was raining most of the time,which would cause low-level hiss if the gain were set too high. Luckily my speaker didn’t mind talking directly and loudly into the microphone, so I was able to keep the gain right down to stop too much ambient noise getting in. []

Das Wunderkammer-Benutzerhandbuch ist jetzt in deutscher Sprache verfügbar

Das Wunderkammer-Benutzerhandbuch ist jetzt in deutscher Sprache verfügbar.
(The User’s guide to Wunderkammer is now available in German.)

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.

Wunderkammer and wkimport 1.0

Wunderkammer and wkimport are now available. Wunderkammer can be used to display dictionaries on mobile phones and wkimport can be used to import electronic dictionaries in a variety of formats into Wunderkammer. See the wksite for downloads and documentation. There is also an online demo so you don’t need to download the MIDlet to your phone to see it working (although the online demo lacks sound).


Last night, as I waited at the local Indian take away for my palak naan to cook, I began entertaining myself in a way that, in retrospect, makes me think ‘wow, this is cool’.

With James’ expertise and programming, we’ve managed to produce a first generation mobile phone dictionary for Wagiman – it’s not for wider circulation yet as there are some serious corrections that need to be made first – and to test it I installed it on my own phone. Of course we have had mobile phone dictionaries of other languages, most notably Kaurna and Dharug, but this is the first time that I’ve had a chance to use such a dictionary of a language with which I’m familiar.

So while waiting for my naan, I was scrolling through the list of words under some random search string, ‘bar’ I think it was, stopping at each word I didn’t previously know or couldn’t remember and trying to learn it. I can tell already that this is going to be useful for me to get Wagiman back into my head, and useful for partial speakers to brush up on a language which perhaps they don’t speak as well as they should.

I don’t intend to say I was ever doubtful of the coolness of a mobile phone dictionary, just that it’s quite different when you get to use it yourself as it’s intended to be used, and when you derive some benefit from it. I’m looking forward to being able to show it off during my fieldtrip next month.

Yakgarra (interjection) ‘Wow!’

Welcome to the Project

Welcome to the website and blog of the Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries (rather Germanically acronymised to Pfed). This project aims to provide software and resources to create free, open source dictionaries.

Here we will publish software, documentation and instructions useful for creating useful, multimedia-rich, multi-format dictionaries, as well as (hopefully) regular postings from us as we navigate the world of electronic lexicography.