Happy silver anniversary to the Gamilaraay web dictionary

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay web dictionary that was first developed in late 1995 by David Nathan and myself, and after extensive community consultation by David was officially launched in Moree, New South Wales, Australia, in Gamilaraay country (see map), on 16th February 1996. The currently accessible version dates from 1998, after the addition of Thesaurus listing, organised by semantic fields.

The Gamilaraay dictionary was the first fully hypertext bilingual dictionary of any language published on the world wide web — it contains (clickable) hypertext links between entries (as see also links) that express semantic relationships like antonymy, synonymy, or hyponymy. There are also clickable links from the Finderlist and Thesaurus to the main dictionary. Its on-screen formatting replicates traditional lexicographic (dictionary-making) practice by having headwords in bold, part of speech information in italics, and sub-entries indented under their headword. It also includes scientific names for plants and animals, ethnographic notes (about kinship terminology, traditional uses of plants etc.), as well as other notes about information sources (thus the entry bagaan ‘elder sister’ notes that “*Mathews says “before puberty”. Tindale recorded this meaning for Upper Barwon dialect”). It is important to recall that 25 years ago this use of formatting and hypertext to encode the type of information content and relationships between entities was a very new cutting-edge development and application of web technology. Also, general use of the internet really only started to take off from 1995 with the spread of the Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers (the latter bundled with the Windows operating system) so we were engaged in the new medium very early.

The online dictionary was generated as a set of HTML files from a relational database using specialist programs written by David. The database design was developed at La Trobe University in a project funded by the Australian Research Council. The same database was used in 1993 to create the printed Reference Dictionary of Gamilaraay (published by La Trobe and long out of print). Because of the explicit database representation of lexical entities and relationships the information could be easily presented in multiple formats, both print and online, demonstrating the utility of sound data design and management principles from the beginning of the project. Again, we were early adopters of this approach within descriptive linguistics.

Other resources for Gamilaraay have been subsequently produced, including the large and very detailed Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay Yuwaalayaay Dictionary by Anna Ash, John Giacon and Amanda Lissarrague (IAD Press 2003) and the interactive multimedia resource Gayarragi Winangali developed by David Nathan and John Giacon. However, the original remains alive and well on the web, still attracts users each day, and deserves to celebrate its silver 25th anniversary.


For further information about the Gamilaraay language (and the related Yuwaalaraay), including links to resources and language learning materials see the Yuwaalaraay gaay Gamilaraay garay website. John Giacon’s 2014 detailed Grammar of Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay is available for free download, as is his 2020 book Wiidhaa: An Introduction to Gamilaraay, which is available here.

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