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Keeping language strong and flourishing, AIATSIS launches ‘decades in the making’ Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary

Callan Morse -

Collated over more than six decades, the words of hundreds of Warlpiri speakers have been compiled into the landmark Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: Warlpiri yimi-kirli manu jaru-kurlu.

The dictionary is an unmatched and comprehensive resource for use by Warlpiri speakers, language students and those who value the culture and history of Warlpiri people.

The 1400-page dictionary documents the language spoken in and around the Northern Territory's Warlpiri triangle, which extends from Willowra to Nyirrpi and Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert as well as communities elsewhere.

The dictionary translates Warlpiri words to English, provides examples of Warlpiri cultural and historical practices and offers a guide to Warlpiri grammar and the complex vocabulary of Warlpiri family relationships.

Detailed information about native flora and fauna accompanied by more than 500 illustrations and maps of Warlpiri Country are also included in the 'monumental' single volume.

The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary has been developed through the collaboration of hundreds of Warlpiri speakers, beginning with those recorded by linguist Kenneth Hale during field trips in the mid-20th century.

Combining major contributions by Mickey Jupurrurla Connell and Sam Japangardi Johnson (Yuendumu), Paddy Jupurrurla Stuart (Lander Warlpiri) and Stephen Japangardi Simpson (Hanson Warlpiri), Hale's transcriptions of Warlpiri speakers make up the majority of the languages resources that dictionary entries are based upon.

Teacher, curriculum developer and researcher Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan and Tanami Desert bilingual education expert Marlurrku Paddy Patrick Jangala co-compiled the text, providing definitions of words and examples of use.

Children investigate the Warlpiri Dictionary after its arrival in the Northern Territory's Yuendumu community. Image: supplied, AIATSIS.

The pair's Warlpiri language expertise was used by the dictionary's chief compiler Mary Laughren, who began learning and documenting Warlpiri in 1975 after being posted to Yuendumu as linguist support for the then newly developed bilingual school.

After the program was extended to other Warlpiri community schools, Laughren spent decades working with a number of Warlpiri and non-Warlpiri co-contributors in remote Northern Territory communities such as Lajamanu, Wirliyajarrayi, Yuendumu and Nyirrpi.

Released Aboriginal Studies Press, the publishing arm of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary is an example of language preservation and revitalisation essential to the institute, says AIATSIS chief executive Craig Ritchie.

"Language is central to strengthening the cultures, identities, and wellbeing of First Nations peoples," Mr Ritchie said.

"The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary is an outstanding example of what can be achieved in terms of documenting a language and making available material to help it to thrive – today and into the future."

AIATSIS funds the publication of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language dictionaries such as the Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary as well as the Giga Dictionary, which documents the language of the East Kimberley's Giga people.

The Warlpiri Encyclopaedic Dictionary: Warlpiri Yimi-Kirli Manu Jaru-kurlu is now available through the AIATSIS online shop.

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