Bringing life to dying languages

Media releases

Australia and its immediate neighbours are home to a third of the world’s languages, most of which could disappear without trace. A national archive project is capturing what it can, and making the resource available online to researchers and regional cultural centres.

The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) project has been recognised with the Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative (VeRSI) Award in humanities and social sciences. The project team will receive a server worth over $26,000 thanks to the prize’s sponsor, Dell.

“PARADISEC shows how eResearch can transform humanities research,” says Dr Ann Borda, Director of VeRSI, a Multimedia Victoria-supported initiative that is helping researchers unleash the power of IT to transform vast amounts of data into useful shared knowledge.

“It uses terabytes of storage to transparently house, describe and search archival material in digital form to internationally accepted standards. It allows ethnographers to ensure their precious recordings and notes are safely stored electronically while at the same time making the material available via CD to regional cultural centres and to authorised users through a website at”

The archive is a collaboration between ANU and the universities of Melbourne, Sydney and New England.

PARADISEC also offers training in the latest digital techniques for collecting, transcribing, digitising, managing, preserving, storing and cataloguing cultural material. Already it has stored tens of thousands of pages of field notes and many hours of recordings of music, interviews, and even radio plays.

“This is vitally important work which often records language structures and knowledge of the culture and physical environment that would otherwise be lost,” says project manager and visiting fellow at the University of Melbourne, Dr Nick Thieberger. “Australia and its immediate neighbours are home to a third of the world’s languages, most of which may never be recorded and many of which could include completely novel structures or ways of viewing the world.”

In the words of the judges: “PARADISEC is an outstanding application of information and communication technology tools in the humanities and social sciences domain that harnesses the work of scholars to store and preserve endangered language and music materials from the Asia-Pacific region and creates an online resource to make these available.”

The VeRSI Award was open to any Australian eResearch activity where one of the principal investigators was a Victorian. The prize—a Dell PowerEdge 2950 rack mountable server worth more than $26,000—was presented by Phil Davis, Dell Vice President of Enterprise Products for Asia Pacific and Japan and the Executive Director of VeRSI, Ann Borda at the eResearch Australasia conference in Melbourne.