Two new Aboriginal language dictionaries

Two wonderful books were waiting for me in my mailbox when I returned from a workshop yesterday. Both are dictionaries of Australian languages and both were grass-roots efforts, produced locally and based on a combination of older sources and the knowledge of language rememberers.

The Jandai language dictionary is the first dictionary of the language of Stradbroke and Moreton Islands. It’s a full-colour dictionary, compiled in Lexique Pro and exported with a fairly detailed English finderlist. Colleen Hattersley did the word processing and the linguistics, while working with seven language and culture consultants. There is a beautiful welcome from Margaret Iselin, the President of the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council, who talks about how she learnt her language from two of her grannies when she was a little girl, and they had to hide from the missionaries who had forbidden anything other than English to be spoken. The Jandai-English part of the book is great to browse through. Each entry has a headword in standard spelling, a pronunciation guide based on English, the original spellings form the old wordlists (with source information), and definition, cultural/encyclopedic information, photos, and grammatical information such as inflection for verbs. Hattersley has made great use of colour in the dictionary, with the original spellings in red so they stand out for readers who want to use them, and important information and pronunciation in purple. For example, the entry for the bullrout stinging fish, bilonga, has “This is poisonous, do not eat.”. The photos are great too, made me very homesick. Words are listed by semantic field, and there is a short sketch grammar at the end. The dictionary is also available on CD.

The second dictionary is Taungurung: Liwik-nganjin-al Ngula-dhan Yaawinbu Yananinon, and was recently published by VACL. The author is Lee Healy, a Taungurung Traditional Owner. (Taungurung is from central Victoria, north of Melbourne on the Goulburn River.) The book begins with a gorgeous picture of a Taungurung possum skin cloak, with a sketch of the panels and explanation of the symbols. The dictionary begins with some information about word inflection and pronoun paradigms, and a pronunciation table, and also a list of sentences which show some common phrases. The dictionary entries themselves are clearly set out, with headwords, derivatives and inflected forms. Although the book is printed in full colour (like the Jandai dictionary), the entries themselves are in black and white. Headwords with multiple derivatives are in all caps, with a line to set them off from the other entries. There are also quite a few explanatory notes in italics, which provide more information about the gloss or definition. This is a clear and effective way of presenting the information. The book ends with an extensive English – Taungurung finderlist.

The Taungurung dictionary has a limited print run, I believe, but is available from VACL. I’m not sure how widely circulated the Jandai dictionary will be.

Congratulations to both groups and all the best for your language programs.


One response to “Two new Aboriginal language dictionaries

  1. Colleen hattersley

    Thank you for the encouragement and positive comments, Claire.

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