AUSTLANG: Web-based Indigenous Languages Database PDF Print E-mail
Since November 2004, AIATSIS (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies), in collaboration with Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Melbourne, has been developing a Web-enabled Indigenous Languages Database, AUSTLANG.


The aim is to develop a user-friendly, easily accessible database on Indigenous languages of Australia that will attract a wide audience.

IN fact, AIATSIS has been working on such an Indigenous languages database for some time, with its card catalogue identifying a number of languages and variant names and spellings. By 1994, all of this information was collated in `Australia's Languages' HyperCard stacks by Nick Thieberger. Then in 2001 Thieberger converted this data into a FileMaker database to form the basis of the Indigenous Languages Database (ILDB). The ILDB was developed when AIATSIS (Patrick McConvell and Nick Thieberger, both linguists) was contracted to write Australian State of the Environment Languages in Australia by the Department of the Environment and Heritage. Thieberger designed the database and painstakingly put data from different sources, such as Tindale materials, regional handbooks on Australian languages and OZBIB, together. The database contains a list of Indigenous languages and provides information about alternative names used in different sources, speaker numbers, geographic locations, language programs, available resources for each language, researcher's name, etc.

It seemed a natural development to make this database accessible to anyone who is interested in Indigenous languages and also to add more data to it and keep the database updated. So AIATSIS came up with an idea of developing a web-based database application which anyone can access by Internet, and asked Doug Marmion, a linguist, to draft specifications. AIATSIS then contracted computer scientists at University of Melbourne (Steven Bird, Baden Hughes, David Penton, and Amol Kamat) to develop a database. The development of a new database, AUSTLANG, started in September 2004.

The first stage of development of AUSTLANG has now been completed and the database has been put on a temporary website for testing. The database contains data from ILDB and some additional data. Users can do search by a key word to find information about a particular language or click the map of Australia to find what languages are spoken at a particular location.
AUSTLANG uses the standard Geoscience Australia map set to display geographical locations of each language.

AUSTLANG currently contains limited information about the names of the languages, the number of speakers, the locations of speakers, and documentation. Users are warranted that AUSTLANG does not contain any language data. However, in the next development, the data from OZBIB a linguistic bibliography of Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait Islands (Lois Carrington and Geraldine Triffitt, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics) will be added to AUSTLANG. This will allow AUSTLANG to provide information about publications and theses available on each language. (However, the information is limited to the materials listed in OZBIB). OZBIB was published in 1999 and it has been updated with additional materials published between 1999 and early 2005.

One of features of AUSTLANG is that it allows users to send feedback to the AUSTLANG editor from its website. The editor will then make change/correction/addition to the database according to the user's feedback. Indeed, in order to have accurate and updated information on the database, user's feedback is very important. The project team is currently checking and updating information in AUSTLANG and appreciate users' comments on the information.

Now that the framework is done, the project team is keen on getting more data into the database and also adding more functions and features to the database. The project team also hopes that AUSTLANG will provide a portrait of the state of Australian Indigenous languages, and this may help to promote the importance of funding provision to Indigenous language maintenance and preservation work.

AUSTLANG is currently on a temporary website. The URL of the website can be obtained by contacting Kazuko Obata, AUSTLANG editor at AIATSIS ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).