Getting in Touch: Digital resources for Indigenous languages

Getting in Touch: Language and digital inclusion in Australian Indigenous communities
Getting in Touch: Language and digital inclusion in Australian Indigenous communities

The Getting in Touch project seeks to create new and meaningful language projects with Indigenous communities with respect to the development of new digital technologies. The Getting in Touch project aims toward the concept of Digital Inclusion: making sure that Indigenous communities have support to develop digital resources in their own languages. In April 2014, a workshop was held at the Batchelor Institute's campus at the Desert People's Centre in Alice Springs. It brought together teams from Indigenous communities, linguists and technology experts. The workshop discussed issues and ideas about digital tools for Indigenous Language Speakers. Everyone brainstormed these ideas and created maps and plans for future resources. Among those present were language teams from Maningrida, Wadeye, Warruwi (Goulburn Island), Ti Tree, Alice Springs, Willowra, Ngaanyatjarra lands, Pitjantjatjara lands, and Mwengart (McClaren Creek). The workshop was funded by the University of Melbourne Social Equity Institute, and supported by the Australian Government's Indigenous Languages Support Program, the Australian Research Council, Batchelor Institute and First Languages Australia.

You can read a presentation about the project and watch a short video about the workshop on the Central Australia Batchelor Institute NT's news web page.

One outcome of this workshop are the Getting in Touch bird apps. These apps enable people to listen to recordings of language names for birds alongside photographs of birds and the sounds of their calls. The apps present short stories about birds as well, telling about their cultural significance, behaviour and habitats in Indigenous languages and in English. Knowledge of plants and animals and their place in country and culture is highly valued by Indigenous peoples. Digital technologies have a role to play in maintaining and respecting this knowledge, and passing it on to the next generations.

Getting in Touch bird apps
Getting in Touch bird apps

The first app from this project, a Kaytetye bird app called Thangkerne Kaytetye Birds, was developed by Ben Foley, Margaret Carew (Batchelor Institute), Myfany Turpin (University of Sydney), and Alison Ross (Artarre community), and released in 2015. Momentum is growing, and work is underway on bird apps for Anmatyerr, Arrernte, Pertame, Mawng, Burarra, Gun-nartpa and Murrinhpatha. For more information please visit the Central Australia Getting in Touch and Getting in Touch Bird Apps web pages.

The idea of sharing resources and expertise and making apps for a number of languages began at the Getting in Touch workshop in Alice Springs in Central Australia in April 2014. Language teams from Indigenous communities, linguists and technology specialists came together to discuss the development of digital tools that meet community goals of maintaining language and cultural practices. The project arose out of concern that the majority of digital resources available to Indigenous users are in English, even though English is not a first language for many. At the workshop Indigenous ecological knowledge was one of several domains that emerged for app development, alongside kinship and apps to support knowledge of mental health and emotional states.

The first version of Thangkerne was based on open source software developed by Museum Victoria for flora and fauna field guides. The new apps are using Jila, a template developed by ThoughtWorks with Mabu Yawuru Ngan-ga, the Yawuru language centre in Western Australia.

The Getting in Touch project was jointly funded by the Melbourne Social Equity Institute (The University of Melbourne), RUIL (Research Unit for Indigenous Language, The University of Melbourne), BI (The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education) and FLA (First Languages Australia). Continuing work on app development is jointly managed and funded by RUIL and Batchelor Institute.