This paper presents the results of our investigations of the use and usability of dictionaries of Australian Indigenous languages for speakers and language learners. We report results from task-based and qualitative observational studies with seventy-nine people from three Indigenous language groups, and sixteen of non-Indigenous background, working with nine different dictionaries, including elementary and comprehensive dictionaries, and paper and computer dictionaries. We examine competing pressures placed on the lexicographer by demands for completeness of coverage and ease of access, by the need to accommodate low levels of literacy in English and the vernacular, by the range in users' knowledge of the vernacular, and by the shortage of resources. Our conclusions echo informal remarks to this effect by other linguists working with Indigenous populations. This paper adds the results of a number of previous studies, some results from comparing paper and computer dictionary usability, and practical suggestions for improving the situation.

‘The perfect dictionary is one in which you can find the thing you are looking for preferably in the very first place you look.’ (Haas 1962: 48)

You do not currently have access to this article.