Archive for the ‘online dictionaries’ Category

Online Wagiman dictionary

23 July 2012

The Wagiman online dictionary contains about 1500 words and is a work-in-progress.

Wagiman (waq) is a language spoken in the Northern Territory, Australia, by less than 10 people.

Please read Annie’s entry about this on the Australian Aboriginal Languages Student Blog, which alerted me to the dictionary.

What is Gegawewamingo Miniss?

13 September 2011

Answer: Stockton Island.
Question: What is Gegawewamingo Miniss?

Answer: Bear.
Question: What is makwa.

So goes Ojibwe Jeopardy, a game invented by Ojibwe park rangers David and Daniel Grooms. As all language learners know, the acquisition of vocabulary is a long, painful process, and a wide range of activities can make learning more fun.

The article “Citizen Dave: St. Scholastica students fight to keep the dying Ojibwe language alive” in the online Isthmus talks about efforts of the Grooms brothers to learn and revitalize Ojibwe, along with a brief history of efforts by the US government to eradicate the Ojibwe language.

Ojibwe (oji) is a macrolanguage with eight dialects according to Wikipedia, and seven according to the Ethnologue. The variety spoken on the Red Cliff Reservation is Chippewa (ciw). Of 720 first-language speakers of Chippewa, one is on Red Cliff, and of about 75,000 second-language speakers, 50 are on Red Cliff–according to Wikipedia (and my calculations).

Hopefully Ojibwe Jeopardy will inspire people to increase that number, and the Red Cliff Band has language classes and resources (Objibwe Language) to help as well.

Pāli Revival?

10 September 2011

The Tipiṭaka (“three baskets”) or Pāli Canon is the oldest complete Buddhist canon. Written down just over two thousand years ago in Pāli (pli), the Tipiṭaka is the standard scriptures for Theravada Buddhism.

Although Pāli is primarily used for access to religious texts, revitalization movements have been around since the nineteenth century.

According to “When a dead language came alive after almost a century,” those movements continue on and Pāli was used for the first three sessions of the International Pali Conference 2011, hosted on September 1 by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

The “Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary” can be searched at Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. Lessons in Pāli with a dictionary are available at On-Line Pali Course.

Romanizing Cree

16 June 2011

Cree (cre) is a macrolanguage or language family spoken in Canada and the US. As noted in the Wikipedia article, Cree is one of the most widely spoken languages in those countries, but has little institutional support.

Some of the dialects of Cree are traditionally written not with the Latin alphabet, but with the Canadian Aboriginal syllabics. A “syllabic” is a single character combining a consonant and a vowel, such as found in Cherokee (chr) and the Japanese hiragana.

The Canadian Aboriginal syllabics are of a writing type known as an abugida, where you write the consonant and then somehow modify it to indicate the vowel. For example, drawing a line to the right over an “n” character makes the “n” into ᓂ or “ni” and a line that goes to the left makes ᓀ or “ne.” See Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics on the ScriptsSource website for good examples of how this works.

Learning the writing system requires a major investment of time, however, and as some dialects are conventionally written with the Latin alphabet anyway, there is a movement to exclusively use the Latin alphabet. The Cree Literacy Network provides resources for Romanized Cree, including a list of Cree books written with the Latin alphabet.

For a Romanized Cree dictionary, see Online Cree Dictionary. Also, for a blog on Plains Cree, see That Môniyâw Linguist.

Assyrian Dictionary Complete

14 June 2011

After nine decades of work, scholars have completed the 21-volume “Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.” Although the set can be purchased for USD 1995, it is also available free of charge to download (with restrictions on use).

A language whose literature includes the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” Old Akkadian (akk) was spoken between 4500 and 4000 years ago, after which scholars consider the language to have broken into two dialects: Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian. These continued to develop, disappearing about two thousand years ago. The dictionary project covers all known stages of the 2600 years of the language.

Running about 9700 pages in length (not including the front matter), the dictionary includes 28,000 words, a number perhaps comparable to the number of unique words Shakespeare used.*

As with the Oxford English Dictionary, the plan for the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project was ambitiously wide in scope and the expected time to compile grossly underestimated. The database used to compile is nearly two million file cards, and the dictionary will surely be recorded as one of the greatest accomplishments of scholarship.

Will Assyrian/Akkadian be brought back to life as we see with Latin, Old English, Sanskrit and other ancient languages?

The article “Dictionary of dead language complete after 90 years,” one of the sources for this blog post, includes a short audio clip of Irving Finkel speaking Akkadian. The Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, has a series of recordings, including many of the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

John Heise maintains a site on Akkadian, including grammar lessons, where he suggests tuppi bitim “home clay tablet” as the word for “home page.” The 1961 edition of the text Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar by I.J. Gelb can be downloaded as a PDF. The 1881 “A Sumero-Akkadian grammar” by George Bertin is also available for download.

Also, YouTube videos can assist in learning to write the language, such as “You Can Write in Akkadian, Lesson One” by GiskAkina:


Because no people today claims descent from the ancient Akkadians and no language exists that descends from Akkadian, it seems unlikely Akkadian will become the target of revitalization. The literature, however, will continue on and the “Assyrian Dictionary” will be a valuable resource for understanding this ancient culture.

* For the number of unique words Shakespeare used, see:

  1. The Man Who Shakespeare Was Not (and Who He Was)” by Charlton Ogburn
  2.  “Shakespeare’s Vocabulary Considered Unexceptional” by zwischenzugs
  3. Shakespeare’s Vocabulary: Myth and Reality” by Hugh Craig (I do not have access to this and have not confirmed the contents)

Report of last Yaghan speaker passing along the language

11 June 2011

Yagán or Yaghan (yag) is a language isolate (unrelated to other languages) spoken in Tierra del Fuego, off the southern coast of South America.

“Spoken” may be an overstatement, however, as the only speaker of the language is Cristina Calderón, a woman in her eighties who is generally known as abuela or grandmother.

According to a blog post by Jim dated today on the Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd blog, Calderón is teaching her granddaughter, Cristina Zárraga, the language.

According to Wikipedia, the two along with Ursula Calderon, the sister of the older-generation Cristina, published “Hai Kur Mamashu Shis,” a collection of Yaghan stories in 2005.

According to “Hai Kur Mamashu Shis” on the Connections blog, blogger Jacqueline Windh and the younger-generation Cristina published an English-language version, and a new edition is planned for later this year.

The Intercontinental Dictionary Series has an online Yagán dictionary (select simple or advanced browsing to find the languages). The University of Chile also has information on Yagán in Spanish.

Further work on the Lenape Talking Dictionary

28 May 2011

The Lenape Talking Dictionary is a growing collection of 14,000 words with almost 5,700 sound files and over 1,400 sample sentences. Lenape refers to the southern dialects of Unami (unm), spoken in what are now the US states of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

According to “The Lenape Language Preservation Project” on the website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Lenape Talking Dictionary got its start when a 1997 survey showed a large number of people interested in learning to speak Lenape. In 2002, a grant allowed the Lenape Language Preservation Project to construct a database, which was put on the Internet.

This year, the funds from a Documenting Endangered Languages grant are allowing further work on the project. One of the new features coming is the ability to search for words in Lenape as well as for just parts of words.

Here are three words from the dictionary:

  • pënaelìntàmhikàn – computer
  • xanikw – squirrel
  • selahtinalìtin – a game similar to jackstraws, also known as pick-up sticks and mikado
One of the nice features of the Lenape Talking Dictionary website is an introduction of the Lenape speakers who provided recordings for the dictionary.

New hope for Hupa

12 May 2011

Possibly the first dissertation written for a linguistics department (a relatively new discipline) was on Hupa (hup), a language spoken in northern California. According to “Home drives — and pulls — a UC Berkeley student” on the Contra Costa Times site, that was in 1903 at the University of California, Berkeley.

While Wikipedia cites the US census in saying there were 64 people between the ages of 5 and 17 who spoke Hupa in 2000, the Ethnologue has eight speakers as of 1998, and a grant description on the HRELP site states there are fewer than five native speakers.

Despite those troubling statistics, there is a new hope for the language: Graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, are studying Hupa, and their number includes Kayla Carpenter, a Hoopa Valley Tribe member.

One of their projects is a password-protected online dictionary of Hupa, which looks like it will be useful in many ways as can be seen in “An online multimedia dictionary of Hupa (Athabaskan),” a presentation about the project. According to Andrew Garrett’s page at the University of California, Berkeley, graduate students Amy Campbell, Ramón Escamilla, Andrew Garrett, Lindsey Newbold, and Justin Spence are working with Victor Golla to create the resource, not yet available to the public, which is based on Golla’s dictionary, probably referring to the second edition of the Hupa Language Dictionary.

Although some of the links are now old, an excellent resource for Hupa links is Danny Ammon’s Hupa Language Web Site.

Internship with Video Dictionary Project – US

11 May 2011

SAIVUS and VizLingo have announced an internship on the VizLingo project. The internship will be unpaid, but college credit is possible.

Not many details on the VizLingo project have been released, but it appears it will offer a way to create online video/picture dictionaries. According to the internship announcement, VizLingo will go live soon, and this internship will be for the summer months.

The project is located in New York City, though telecommuting may be possible.

The deadline is May 22, 2011. See also the announcement on the SAIVUS blog.

Last speaker of Nuchatlaht in news

30 April 2011

Nuu-chah-nulth (noo) is an endangered language spoken on Vancouver Island, off the western shore of mainland Canada. According to Wikipedia, Nuu-chah-nulth has 12 dialects, though there is a huge gray area in determining whether two ways of speakinh are different languages, dialects or just variation.

Estimates on the number of speakers vary from 115 to 500, with the lower number probably closer to the actual number. Nuu-chah-nulth has 35 consonants, seven more than English, and has interesting linguistic properties.

According to “Lapsing languages offer different view of world” on the Times Colonist site, the last speaker of Nuchatlaht is Alban Michael (84 years old) and he rarely gets to use his language any more. It is only when he sees a friend who speaks the Mowachaht dialect, which is somewhat close to Nuchatlaht, that Michael uses his language.

You can find Michael’s voice on the Ehattesaht Nuchatlaht Community Portal of the FirstVoices website. Words he has recorded include kʷapiqiły̓aq (coffee pot), kałniiłiq (ceiling light) and  ʔusit (body).