I’ve been back in Sydney for almost a week now, having been in Melbourne before that to attend the University of Melbourne Linguistics and Applied Linguistics Postgraduates Conference, where I presented the Kaurna Electronic Dictionary1 to a sell-out crowd. It was the final leg of an epic, two part world wind whirlwind tour that began in Wellington almost two weeks ago.

The reception was a little better in Melbourne, possibly because of the relative informality of the conference as compared with the Australasian Lexicographic Society’s annual affair, but perhaps also due to the fact that the crowd was comprised mainly of linguists and linguistics students, not professional lexicographers. For a start, the room was practically full by the time I started, and a couple of stragglers came in late. I think every chair bar one was in use. For a small conference of around 40 participants, I reckon filling a room of 25 or so is a pretty good effort.

I also managed to time myself considerably better. I gave the talk in a more or less organised manner, rather than jumping back and forth between minor points willy-nilly as I think I did in Wellington. As a result, I had time left for questions. Rachel Nordlinger pointed out the benefit – within Kirrkirr – of the network view which allows the user to visually search through a word’s connections: synonyms, antonyms, sub-entries and main-entries. She suggested, quite rightly, that this feature could serve some benefit for prefixing languages such as Wagiman, in which a verb stem is usually embedded inside the actual surface form. With the Kirrkirr dictionary, the user could search for the surface form, say, garinyin ‘it’s falling’, and see immediately that it’s actually a sub-entry2 of a verb rinyi ‘to fall’.

This wasn’t my intention, but rinyi ‘fall’ is a great example. The only form that would emerge without a prefix would be 3rd person past, /rinyi/+/ra/. However, it would never occur on the surface as beginning with an /r/, since all non-intervocalic /r/ become /l/, thus /rinyi/+/ra/ would surface as [linyira]. Therefore, no matter which form of the verb a speaker used in order to look up the word ‘fall’, they could permissibly not think of looking for it anywhere where it would ordinarily occur. They’d have to already know something about Wagiman verb morphology in order to look for it using its underlying /r/-initial form. The Kirrkirr visualisation however, would simply direct the reader straight from garinyin or linyira to rinyi. This is another advantage of electronic dictionaries in the Australian languages3 context that I previously hadn’t considered.

The next item on the calendar for the Kaurna dictionary is the first annual Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation in Honolulu, in March next year. As I’ll presumably be teaching, James will be giving the presentation.

We can only hope there’ll be a market for dictionaries like this in the future, as Marion Scrymgour’s new education policy in the Northern Territory may have devastating effects on any current community efforts to teach language. Unfortunately as busy as I’ve been, I haven’t had a chance to comment specifically on this policy, so let that parenthetic comment indicate my opinion towards it4.

  1. For some background on the dictionary, see these posts (definitely not automatically generated):
    Mobile Phone Dictionaries

    Ceased to Be

    Conferences, Seminars and Dictionaries

    More Good News
    One down, one to go []
  2. Or actually just a cell in the inflectional paradigm, but the difference from the frame of reference of a Kirrkirr dictionary, is negligible. []
  3. Or for any prefixing languages, for that matter. []
  4. Actually, one more parenthetic comment: With all these policies aimed (badly) at increasing English literacy in the Northern Territory, you’d think English was an endangered language or something []