Warlpiri Dictionary.

Great lexicographical news from The Conversation:

The first large dictionary of the Warlpiri language began in 1959 in Alice Springs, when Yuendumu man †Kenny Wayne Jungarrayi and others started teaching their language to a young American linguist, †Ken Hale. Sixty years in the making, the Warlpiri Dictionary has been shortlisted for the 2023 Australian Book Industry Awards – a rarity for a dictionary.

Spoken in and around the Tanami Desert, Warlpiri is an Australian Aboriginal language used by around 3,000 adults and children as their everyday language. […] From the start of this project, Hale tape-recorded and transcribed many hours of Warlpiri people talking about language, country, kin and diverse aspects of traditional life.

The Warlpiri people he recorded came from different parts of Warlpiri country, speaking their own distinctive varieties of the language. From this material, Hale hand-wrote the words and meanings on small slips of paper that could be sorted in different ways. […]

Dictionary work became a focus for the new linguist position at Yuendumu School, first filled in 1975 by the dictionary’s chief compiler, Mary Laughren. She worked closely in the school with dictionary co-compiler †Jeannie Egan Nungarrayi.

Over the next four decades, in a type of early crowd-sourcing, more than 210 Warlpiri speakers from different Warlpiri communities worked on and off with Laughren and others. They found words (ultimately 11,000 plus), decided how to spell them, translated them into English, showed how they can be used in Warlpiri sentences, and provided the social, cultural and biological information that makes this a truly encyclopaedic dictionary.

Co-compiler †Marlurrku Paddy Patrick Jangala took on a mission to preserve the meanings of conceptually difficult and older words by writing definitions directly in Warlpiri. The 4,000 complex definitions in Warlpiri provide Warlpiri perspectives on the most important characteristics of each concept. […]

Computer scientists assisted with data management and experimented with an electronic display, called Kirrkirr. Kirrkirr users can type in a word and see a visual display of meanings connected to that word (for example, words with a similar meaning, or the opposite meaning). They can also hear it pronounced, and see examples of how the word is used in Warlpiri.

Experts (among them anthropologists, Bible translators, botanists and zoologists) helped to identify plants, animals and more. And artists, including Jenny Taylor and Jenny Green, provided images they had created for the Institute for Aboriginal Development Press Picture Dictionary series and other publications. […]

The commitment of Warlpiri people to bilingual education has been – and continues to be – enormous. Since 2005, they have dedicated royalty money through the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust into supporting this work. Warlpiri want Warlpiri children to be able to speak for themselves in a meaningful way – in both English and Warlpiri. Today, many Warlpiri now live away from Warlpiri country.

The article contains a couple of samples of Warlpiri text, with translations. They explain the daggers in a prefatory note:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names of deceased people. The symbol † next to a personal name is a conventional respectful indicator that the person has died.

I like that. (I got the link from Steven Green’s Facebook post.)


  1. I don’t where else to mention that but a good acquaintance of mine just won the Booker and I’m excited about it. Yeah, Angela and Georgi.

    Angela was in a band with a friend of mine from primary school among other things.

    Angela Rodel translating Georgi Gospodinov.

  2. Looks like a very interesting book, too.

  3. The “dagger” symbol next to a name, signifying “now dead”, is a common usage in dictionaries and other scholarly works which have been compiled in fascicle form over many years, i.e. in small sections destined to be bound together as full volumes when complete. I remember many examples from my years as an academic librarian, some of which were still ongoing from the early years of the last century, with multiple generations of editors and compilers listed.

  4. Yes, it’s a usage here too — look to your right!

  5. David Marjanović says

    It’s not a dagger, it’s a cross. It’s a Christian funeral in print.

    German newspaper headlines are sometimes just a name followed by a space and a cross, too.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    Headlines ? Surely more often in death notices aka Todesanzeigen.

    [“Obituary” is Nachruf. There’s also Nekrolog, but I suspect that word is out of fashion except in circles of learnèd preciosity.]

  7. David Marjanović says

    More often, yes, but I get to see them less often than full-blown obituaries, so I thought of those first.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    Do you have to hand a link to such a “headline” with name and cross, nothing more (except for the space between them) ? I’m wondering if this is a transweißwurstäquatoriales thing. I get only the limp cis-buits here.

  9. It’s not a dagger, it’s a cross. It’s a Christian funeral in print.

    Not to be all woke and everything, but that seems inappropriate for native Australians, not to mention many others.

    (I’m guessing Ron DeSantis doesn’t read this blog, so I’m probably safe).

  10. That’s one reason I called it a dagger, which is a perfectly cromulent usage: “2. (typography) The text character †; the obelus.”

  11. David Marjanović says

    Of course the custom comes from the interpretation as a cross. A dagger would be outright macabre in this context!

    Do you have to hand a link to such a “headline” with name and cross

    I’ll try to look for one.

  12. cuchuflete says

    (I’m guessing Ron DeSantis doesn’t read this blog, so I’m probably safe).

    There, all fixed.

  13. German Wikipedia uses an asterisk for the birth date and a cross for the decease date of most people, including Gandhi, Herzl, and Khomeini. For some it uses “geboren am…” and “gestorben am…”, including for Martin Buber and the “Gaon von Wilna”. I don’t know if that is because of sporadic religious sensitivity or just random inconsistency.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    Just been reading Alain Delplanque’s grammar of Dagara, and noticed that he uses a prefixed asterisk before incorrect forms but a dagger before “proto-Gur” forms. I suppose protolanguages are dead (and it actually isn’t a bad idea in principle to have different symbols for “wrong” and “reconstructed.”) I don’t recall seeing that convention before, though. Maybe I just didn’t notice.

  15. Stu Clayton says

    I suppose protolanguages are dead (and it actually isn’t a bad idea in principle to have different symbols for “wrong” and “reconstructed.”)

    A protolanguage is reconstructed, not resurrected. It may never have existed except as a best-effort approximation – a point that has been made here many times. A protolanguage was alive only in the imagination, so it can only there be dead.

    Protolanguages are more like creatures of Dr. Frankenstein, patched together from bits and pieces.

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    Quite handy to have a nice abbreviation for “erroneous reconstruction” though.

  17. John Cowan says

    I have seen * for incorrect forms and ** for reconstructed or otherwise hypothetical forms. Most of the time, the overall context provided by the article in question tells the story.

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