Bilingual Dictionaries for Australian Languages: User studies on the place of paper and electronic dictionaries

Dictionaries have long been seen as an essential contribution by linguists to work on endangered languages. We report on preliminary investigations of actual dictionary usage and usability by 76 speakers, semi-speakers and learners of Australian Aboriginal languages. The dictionaries include: electronic and printed bilingual Warlpiri-English dictionaries, a printed trilingual Alawa-Kriol- English dictionary, and a printed bilingual Warumungu-English dictionary. We examine competing demands for completeness of coverage and ease of access, and focus on the prospects of electronic dictionaries for solving many traditional problems, based in particular on observations on the usability of a prototype interface developed in our project. The flexibility of computer interfaces can help accommodate different needs including those of speakers with emerging literacy skills, but they are not useful in communities where computer access is generally unavailable.
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