Notes for the computer assisted language worker

November 1994 version, prepared by Nicholas Thieberger,

For the 1998 and newer materials
(incl. Reviews; Digitised sound software; Geographic mapping software)
Part 2 of this document

This is a work in progress which will greatly benefit from the feedback of other researchers. Please send any corrections, comments or additions to Nick Thieberger ( All contributions will be acknowledged in this document.
These pages are now presented as historical relics. More recent work on reviewing tools and methods can be found in the technology reviews section of the journal Language Documentation & Conservation.


Work on these pages has been furthered by information, suggestions and advice kindly provided by:



These notes aims to provide general information for anyone wanting to use computers to help in working with Australian languages. It is aimed specifically at workers in language centres and field linguists who do not have great access to information about software.

It was an ongoing project of the AIATSIS Aboriginal Dictionaries Project and the Aboriginal Studies Electronic Data Archive (ASEDA).

The main focus of these notes is how to use computers to get Australian language material from recordings (in books, manuscripts, or on tapes) out into forms that are accessible and easy to use. The type of output could include:
- a book of stories
- a wordlist (with pictures, listed either alphabetically or by topic or both)
- a dictionary
- an electronic book
- an interactive multimedia information set (on disks or CD)

For more information on dealing with historical manuscripts you should see the AIATSIS book Paper and Talk: A manual for reconstituting Australian indigenous languages from historical sources (1995).


Computers let us store, change and retrieve information in a very efficient way. We no longer need to retype drafts of documents everytime we correct a paragraph, now we correct the disk version and either print out the document again or pass on a copy of the file, bypassing paper entirely.

Computers can also analyse information. A brief summary of the functions of some of the software available for linguistic analysis is given on page .

In these notes you will find examples of types of software and ways of using the software to take your data from fieldnotes or transcripts of tapes through to neatly presented texts, wordlists, dictionaries and databases. The reader is directed to the AIATSIS book Revised linguistic fieldwork manual for Australia (Sutton and Walsh 1979) for infomation about recording Australian indigenous languages and the type of sounds and structures that can be expected.

This information is based on the best information available in 1994, and will of course be out of date shortly. The principles involved should last longer, so keep an ear out for new machines and software that will make all of the work we talk about in these notes much easier.

An overriding principle that runs through this guide is that the software discussed should not be expensive, and that the level of assumed computer knowledge is not very high. As we all know too well, there's not a lot of money around for this kind of work. Despite what some might think, there is also not much money around in selling books or dictionaries of Australian languages.

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