The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) research project that provides access to primary records of over 840 indigenous languages from Australia and its region, with a focus on linguistics, ethnography, and ethnomusicology.

PARADISEC is a research resource that allows speakers of these languages and scholars to build on existing records to create richer research on those languages. It has been operating as a collaborative project between Australian National University (ANU), University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne since 2003, and now has over 5,200 hours of digitised audio, together with transcripts and other textual information. The research project has been funded by several Australia Research Council (ARC) Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grants together with the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, University of New England and Australian National University. It is currently an integral part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language.

PARADISEC (the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures) is a facility for digital conservation of endangered cultural materials primarily from Australia, the South Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia. It is run as a consortium of three universities: the University of Melbourne, the University of Sydney, and the Australian National University.

Over 2,000 of the world’s 6,000 different languages are spoken in this region. That number, however, is expected to fall to a few hundred within a century. The majority of these languages are poorly documented. PARADISEC holds records of varying kinds for over 900 languages.

Assoc. Professor Nick Thieberger, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics, is the director of PARADISEC, which he helped establish in 2003. It followed from his PhD fieldwork in Vanuatu, during which he developed a new methodology for citation of primary records.

“Initially PARADISEC was set up to digitise field recordings that linguists had made and nobody was looking after,” says Assoc. Professor Thieberger. “It immediately became a research project because these were research outputs and people wanted to use them but they were unusable as analogue tapes. So we digitised them and put them into a research space. It then put us into a whole digital humanities framework because we are making primary data citable.”

Time is of the essence to find and digitise analogue tapes, explains Assoc. Professor Thieberger. “It won’t be long before the playback machines are no longer available or the tapes themselves fall apart, so we’ve got a window of another ten or twenty years and after that the tapes won’t be playable.” PARADISEC also accepts deposits of new material. “Because we’ve established such a good infrastructure for this material, people come to us with their born-digital recordings.”

PARADISEC has attracted significant international attention. It was an early recipient of the Data Seal of Approval. The collection’s content has been inscribed in UNESCO’s Australian Memory of the World to acknowledge its heritage value.

Funding has come from multiple sources, primarily grants from the Australian Research Council. At present, PARADISEC is the repository for the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. It has a digitisation lab, with research assistants to perform the lengthy process of digitising tapes.

There are now around 10,000 items in the collection with over 5,000 hours of digital audio. Content includes cultural events, oral traditions, and singing. These are often the only recordings of some languages. Instead of sitting in somebody’s attic, PARADISEC allows the recordings to be reusable and to be accessed by the source communities.

PARADISEC contributes substantially both to scholarship and to communities. “By creating a repository of primary research materials,” explains Assoc. Professor Thieberger, “we’ve built a good research base for researchers and we’ve also created something that has value to the broader community and to our region.”

The greatest rewards come through the connections with communities. “Making this material available for speakers and their descendants is a big responsibility. Often researchers haven’t been very good at fulfilling the promise that we make to these people that we’re going to make good records. This provides a way that the records can be made available back to the communities.”


Languages and Linguistics


Languages; Linguistics



Chief investigators

Australian Research Council Future Fellow, School of Languages and Linguistics