Language by source materials

For the curious, here is a map of the languages in the full database, color-coded by number of items. As you can see, there’s considerable variation, but there are also a good number of languages with substantial holdings.


Counts of sources in Australian lexical database, as at August 19, 2015

Phase one database sources

I have a list of sources that will be released in Phase I of the Australian Lexical Database.

This represents about 170,000 lexical items and about 80 sources other than the Curr (1886) wordlists, which comprise the bulk of the collection.

We have been conservative in what is released because not everyone we have contacted about data has replied, and because we are still in the process of finding contact information for all the relevant stakeholders.

Of the people we contacted, only 5 sources were ‘closed’ (that is, unable to be distributed). The vast majority of researchers and communities gave permission for their languages to be represented in the database, which was really gratifying.

Phase I sources mapped against languages in comparative lexical database

Phase I sources mapped against languages in comparative lexical database


Phase I sources

Documenting Endangered Languages outreach videos

A new set of videos have been released which provide information on how to apply for a grant to do language documentation. The series is focused on the requirements for the National Science Foundation’s DEL program, but there is much information that would be useful to anyone applying for funding for their language projects. The videos are aimed at community members as much as (if not more than) academic linguists.

I have two of the video segments: components of an application, and 6 things that tank a grant proposal. The first segment is DEL-specific; we walk through the sections of an application. The second one, however, is very general, and applies to just about all grant applications.

In brief, the six things are

  1. A project outside the agency’s mandate (e.g. DEL funds linguistic work on endangered languages)
  2. Project doesn’t meet the agency requirements (e.g. they ask for X, Y, and Z in the application, but if that’s not provided, it’ll be rejected;
  3. Unrealistic aims, budget, time frame.
  4. Too vague
  5. Too specific, too narrow for the scope of the budget or time, ie not good value for money
  6. Inconsistency in the proposal.

You can watch the video here for further information.

Edited to add: Production of the videos was funded by NSF grant BCS#1500695, awarded to Racquel Sapien and Carlos Nash. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

New Publication of Learner’s Guides

I have released two learner’s guides on One is for Yan-nhaŋu, the other for Bardi. They were written several years ago (first version for Yan-nhaŋu was 2006, and 2010 for Bardi) but I have been unable to find a more ‘traditional’ publisher for them. They have both been circulated in the relevant communities in both electronic and paper form. Perhaps ironically, this circulation was one of the reasons that I haven’t been able to find a publisher; the publishers I contacted assumed that I had already saturated the market for the books and that there would be no demand.

The uploaded versions of these Guides are based on the most recent updates; 2010 for Yan-nhaŋu, when I used the guide in a class on Aboriginal languages at Yale, and 2011 for Bardi, when I was last in the field. My negotiations with community members about these guides included permission to publish. Here are the direct links:

Please note the pricing structure: you don’t have to pay for them to download them, but you can. You name your own price. I have suggested $14.99 for each book. The proceeds from these books will go to support the Endangered Language Fund. The ELF supported two trips to work on Bardi (in 2003 and 2011). The royalties are 90% minus 50c, so of a $14.99 book price, $12.99 goes to the ELF.

The Bardi learner’s guide was originally a class project, at Rice in 2006. It was subsequently heavily edited (several times) and expanded, most recently by my former student Laura Kling, who did her senior thesis on Bardi. The Yan-nhaŋu guide was originally written after 5 weeks fieldwork at Milingimbi, but was expanded after subsequent trips. I have a big debt to Prof. Jane Simpson in these guides. Both guides used the Warumungu Learner’s Guide as a template (the Yan-nhaŋu guide more closely than the Bardi one) and it made it much easier to write a fairly detailed guide in the short space of time available.

The books use leanpub as the host site. I have been quite impressed with how easy it was to use them. They mostly have technical computing books but it would be nice to see more language-related materials up there. Their pricing structure seems a bit more friendly than Amazon’s (though they don’t have print on demand). is another self-publishing site that has been recommended to me.

Pama-Nyungan language locations

As noted in a previous post, I’ve started to put some of the results of my Pama-Nyungan prehistory grant on my lab web site, at One of the recent updates is a language map. The data are not new; this map was released in about 2011 (though with updates since). It is released through a wordpress plugin on the site, which allows easy embedding of maps into sites. I highly recommend it for its ease of use, except for the fact that it doesn’t seem  to render in Chrome on a Mac (at least, not on my mac).

Comments on language locations, names, etc, on the map are very welcome. Please use the comment form on the map’s page.

Semantic maps in Pama-Nyungan

One of the advantages of a large lexical database is the ability to test large-scale ideas about language behaviors. As a quick experiment this afternoon, I extracted all the colexification patterns from the database. These are all the words that are glossed by multiple distinct words within the same language.* 20 minutes to download the file, and about the same to manipulate it with the igraph package in R to produce some cluster visualisations.

Fruchterman-Reingold layout, colexification patterns appearing more than 50 times in Australian languages. (c) Claire Bowern, 2015

Fruchterman-Reingold layout, colexification patterns appearing more than 50 times in Australian languages. (c) Claire Bowern, 2015

*Of course, there are going to be issues with this, particularly in the lack of colexification evidence for some languages. The data are only as complete or as good as the dictionaries that went into the database in the first place.

Release of the Australian lexical database

I will be releasing the part tranche of data in the 775,000 word lexical database in Mid-August. It will most probably be available as a series of downloads at In order to download the data, you will need to register and agree to some terms and conditions. More about that once the data are released.

In the meantime, I will be doing a series of posts about features of the dataset and some of its uses. I hope this will encourage others to contribute data, or to allow us to make data readily available.