Kirrkirr: software for the exploration of indigenous language dictionaries


What's new? | Project description | Screen shots | Downloads and shipping versions | Using dictionaries with Kirrkirr | Publications, etc. | Other links

What's new?

Jan 2014
There are a couple of mentions of Kirrkirr in Samantha Disbray's chapter: Samantha Disbray. 2014. Evaluating Bilingual Education in Warlpiri schools in Rob Pensilfini, Myfany Turpin, and Diana Guillemin (eds), Language Description Informed by Theory, John Benjamins, pp.25–46.
Jul 2013
Mary Laughren mentions Kirrkirr in her paper From Linguistic Research Findings to Useful Products for Australian Aboriginal Communities in eTropic 12(1) Special issue on Transoceanik: Academic Research & Public Domains.
Aidan Wilson discusses various uses of Kirrkirr and mobile phone dictionary programs in his paper Electronic dictionaries for language reclamation in John Hobson, Kevin Lowe, Susan Poetsch and Michael Walsh (eds.), Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s Indigenous languages, Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2010.

Dawn Bates and Deryle Lonsdale made use of Kirrkirr for Lushootseed: Dawn Bates and Deryle Lonsdale. 2010. Recovering and updating legacy dictionary data. In Papers for the 44th Annual International Conference on Salish and Neighboring Languages, Missoula, MT. (Eds. Joel Dunham and John Lyon), University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics Vol 27, pp. 1-12.

Oct 2008
Kirrkirr 4.0.3 is available for all platforms packaged as a simple zip file. (This is not an installer; simply unpack the Zip file, navigate to the "Kirrkirr 4.0.3" folder, and double click on the click.jar file (or the Kapp.bat file on Windows). Before doing this, you will also need to install Java, if you don't already have it.
Press: Kirrkirr is mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald, and Kirrkirr makes a brief cameo appearance towards the end of an SBS World News segment. See here and here for more info on Kaurna Kirrkirr and a new mobile phone dictionary program.

James McElvenny published a review of Kirrirr in LLanguage Documentation and Conservation, 2(1): 160–165.

Jul 2007
We released Kirrkirr 4.0.3 for Mac OS X.
Jul 2007
Did your copy of Kirrkirr just die? (Or it won't run when you install it?) Are you using a Mac on which you've installed Elan? If so, see here.
Jun 2006
We demonstrated Kirrkirr at E-MELD 2006, showing Kirrkirr working with FIELD format dictionaries and the new wizard for importing dictionaries into Kirrkirr (coming to this site later this year).
Jul 2005
Kirrkirr 4.0.2 is available for free download. This version mainly fixes a few bugs in version 4.0, but adds one great new capability: being able to change dictionaries while Kirrkirr is running.
Apr 2004
If you or your library have an International Journal of Lexicography subscription, then you should be able to read our recent article on indigenous dictionary usability (with some discussion of Kirrkirr), How useful and usable are dictionaries for speakers of Australian Indigenous languages?.
Jan 2004
Kirrkirr 4.0 is available for free download. It comes with a couple of tiny sample dictionaries, and you can add your own dictionaries.
Dec 2003
We've put up on the web site instructions and requirements for making a dictionary usable inside Kirrkirr, and information on the additional files that are needed to make things work.

Project description

Kirrkirr is a research project exploring the use of computer software for automatic transformation of lexical databases ("dictionaries"), aiming at providing innovative information visualization, particularly targeted at indigenous languages. As a first example, it can generate networks of words, such as in the little picture above, automatically from dictionary data. Kirrkirr aims at a perceived gap in work being done elsewhere: while there is a lot of work on designing dictionary databases, and providing software for building and maintaining these databases, there is a dearth of work that exploits these databases to provide useful and fun tools for nontechnical end users.

Some more specific subgoals have been:

The central idea motivating our research is that given any sort of well-structured lexical database, software should be able to automatically provide all sorts of value-added functionality. In recent years, there has been an enormous amount of work on different proposals for structuring and storing lexical databases, but almost no work on providing electronic dictionary interfaces which make use of this structure to provide human access and usability through information transformation and visualization. Kirrkirr explores ways of solving this unaddressed need.

What Kirrkirr isn't. Looking at things from the reverse direction, Kirrkirr isn't a tool for building or maintaining dictionaries. Kirrkirr requires a well-structured dictionary to already exist, and doesn't help you with the mechanics of building one. However, it can be a very useful adjunct tool during the dictionary construction process, since the alternative visualizations that it provides can make it very easy to see errors, inconsistencies, and areas of incompleteness in a dictionary. For example, a common way to build up dictionaries is by semantic domains, and Kirrkirr lets you visualize the dictionary via semantic domains.


Kirrkirr is designed so that it can work with almost any dictionary in XML format (XML is a new-ish, but already widespread standard for representing textual and other data, especially on the WWW). Most of our initial experience and papers concern applying the dictionary to Warlpiri, an Indigenous Australian language, but Kirrkirr now runs with dictionaries for a variety of languages, including Lushootseed, Nahuatl, an Indigenous language of Mexico; Warumungu Warnman, Ngardi, Gurindji, Umpithamu; Bardi, Waanyi, Kaurna, Dharug, Wagiman; Biao Min; and even English. Kirrkirr achieves this flexibility through use of a dictionary specification file (also in XML, mainly using XPath) which maps dictionary constructs to Kirrkirr constructs. Such a file does have to be written for each dictionary schema. Formatted entries are rendered using parameterized XSLT files, which can be customized for each dictionary schema. Other dictionary access is by XPath expressions accompanied by regular expression matching. The program is written in Java. Where possible we run it using current Java versions, but it is compatible with JDK1.1.8+Swing1.1 (!). (For years this was necessary so that we could run it on MacOS 8.1+ or 9 still present on old computers in Outback schools – but no more, in the 2010s!) For example, this picture shows Kirrkirr 4.0.2 running (slowly!) on a Power Macintosh 7500/100 under MacOS 8.6 in July 2005.*


Following initial discussions between Jane Simpson and Nitin Indurkhya, Kirrkirr was initially designed and built by Kevin Jansz, Christopher Manning, and Nitin Indurkhya, during 1998–1999. Jane Simpson, Miriam Corris, Susan Poetsch, Ben Hutchinson, and others contributed design ideas and work in user testing and dictionary usability, 1999–2004. Further development and programming was done by students at Stanford and Nanyang Technological University from 2000–2002 by Vijay Chemburkar, Jessica Halida Harjono, Andrew Lim Hong Lee, Kevin Lim, Madhuvanti Pawar, Andrei Pop, Jim Wee Sng, Conrad Wai, with especially big contributions by Kristen Parton. Since 2003, maintenance and occasional further development has been done by Christopher Manning.


This project and the examples on these web pages use data from various indigenous languages. The Warlpiri dictionary data is from the Warlpiri dictionary project kindly supplied to us by Mary Laughren. This data was collected by Ken Hale, Robert Hoogenraad, Mary Laughren, David Nash, Jane Simpson, and others from many Warlpiri, and is used with permission. The Nahuatl dictionary data comes from a dictionary constructed by Jonathan Amith, and is used with permission. The data on this site is for demonstration purposes only. This data remains the property of its traditional owners. Please do not reproduce or further distribute it without permission.

Screen shots

The program provides a left hand side word list (which can show either L1 or L2 words), top menus, icons, and searchbox, and then a main panel area, which can be split in two, which shows one or two of the seven main panes of Kirrkirr. Some pictures of these panes appear below (click on the pictures to see a full size view). Many of these pictures are from old versions of Kirrkirr and haven't been updated recently; the Nahuatl pictures immediately below and under Advanced Search show recent views.

Clicking on a word in the word list makes the word (or its L1 translations) appear in the Network pane, surrounded by its related words.

Clicking on the right mouse button will give you a few options such as:

  • see definition: open up a small window with the full dictionary entry in it and your notes
  • pin down: stop the word from moving around
In the middle of the window is a search box where you can type in a word. The word list scrolls as you type, but you can also hit enter or click Filter to get it to highlight or to only show the words that match in the list.

Kirrkirr uses Unicode internally, and can also work with dictionaries using other character sets.

Clicking your left mouse button on a word will "sprout" its related words around it. (The words will move around until they're almost evenly laid out - that is, if you don't scramble or shake them) 

Clicking on the Options|Edit menu will bring up the options window, one panel of which lets you edit the behaviour of the "floating" words.

The multi-media pane will let you listen to the pronunciation of the current word (highlighted in the list on the left) or perhaps play a sound of what the word is about, or show you pictures. [Historical look: in 2000, this panel look like this.]
The Formatted window gives a traditional dictionary view of an entry, except with the advantage of web-like hyperlinks to cross-reference Warlpiri words. These links are colour-coded to match the links in the graphical network window. When clicked, the program will jump to the entry for the hyperlinked word.
This lets you make notes about the current dictionary word. These notes can be opened in their own window (like post-it notes) by using the "see definition" option when you right click on a word. Notes can be saved on a per-user basis, so as to allow users to annotate their own copy of the dictionary.
To look up a word in a paper dictionary, you either need to know the correct spelling, or to scan around looking for it. Most e-dictionaries make the latter more difficult. In Kirrkirr, you do not need to know the exact spelling of a word to look it up. Words can be found using spelling that "sounds-like" the word. Choose the "fuzzy spelling" option in the Advanced Search part of Kirrkirr to have it find words that approximately match your query. Fuzzy spelling is also used behind the scenes for the front pane search box. More experienced computer users can search by regular expressions to find things in the headwords, English glosses, or anywhere in a dictionary entry.
The semantic domain explorer window lets you explore L1 words organized via their semantic domains.
There is also an older tree-structured view of words by semantic domains.
The crossword is one of several word games that can be played based on dictionary data. It is generated automatically from the dictionary (a new game each time!) taking account of the level of difficulty of words.
The dictionaries we are using (like many indigenous language dictionaries) are available only as x-English dictionaries, but Kirrkirr automatically produces a reversal to an English-x dictionary which gives reasonably effective access to the dictionary data in the other direction -- rather better than the traditional finderlist solution. (The second language doesn't have to be English, one can also do Spanish-Nahuatl, or whatever.)

Downloads and shipping versions

Kirrkirr 4.0.3 is the current version of Kirrkirr. It is a maintenance release available for all platforms. It's basically the same as Kirrkirr 4.0.2 but has a few fixes and works around a couple of specific problems. For (Mac) OS X, it requires OS X 10.4 or above with Java 5 or later installed, and works with any version of OS X including Mavericks and beyond (for Mac OS X 10.4, Java 5 was released via a system update in Apr 2005; for Mavericks, you may need to get Java). It is the most Mac UI compatible Kirrkirr ever, but it was released mainly to avoid problems that ELAN version 2.5+ were causing for Kirrkirr users. For Windows or Linux, we provide a simple zip file, since the (old) ZeroG InstallAnywhere installer that we previously used no longer works with recent operating system releases. You need to get Java, unpack the zip file, navigate to the "Kirrkirr 4.0.3" folder, and then double click click.jar (or Kapp.bat on Windows). Knowledgeable users can use this zip file on any operating system with Java available.

Kirrkirr 4.0.3 for Mac OS X [6.6MB]
Kirrkirr 4.0.3 zip file for other platforms (no JVM) [6.6MB]

This version can be used with most XML dictionaries, when properly configured (see the instructions). The version downloadable from the web comes only with a few tiny sample and tutorial dictionaries. It starts up with a 32 word extract from the Warlpiri Dictionary. We send versions of Kirrkirr with complete dictionaries on CD to appropriate people (indigenous intellectual property concerns limit the free downloading of this dictionary data). If you have a folder of dictionary content, you can drop it into the "Kirrkirr 4.0.3" folder, and it will then be available to choose as a dictionary under the Preferences/Options tab for Configure. This version of Kirrkirr runs only as an application.

Kirrkirr 4.0.2 Use of this version is no longer recommended for any operating system. The Windows and Linux installers do not work with recent distributions.

Windows (with JDK1.4 VM) [20MB] Windows (no JVM) [5MB]
Linux (with JDK1.4 VM) [38MB] Linux (no JVM) [5MB]
Mac OS 8/9 (with MRJ 2.2.5) [11.5MB] Mac OS 8/9 (no JVM) [7.5MB]
  Mac OS X (no JVM) [4.5MB]

Kirrkirr 3.0.1 was previously the most widely used version of Kirrkirr. This version provided a stable Warlpiri dictionary version of Kirrkirr. This version ran only as an application. It is now obsolete.

Kirrkirr 1.1 and Kirrkirr 2 ran both as applications and over the web. For various reasons, Kirrkirr 1.1 has aged more gracefully, and still runs fine in the average web browser, whereas Kirrkirr 2 doesn't, so we've kept a version of Kirrkirr 1.1 here as both an historical relic, and as an easy way to take a quick look at something running. It runs with a tiny sample Warlpiri dictionary.

The Kirrkirr 1.1 demo

Comments and bug reports

All comments and suggestions are welcome. Email

Bug reports are appreciated, but bugs are much more likely to be fixed if we can understand what caused them. If there is a repeatable sequence of actions that causes it to freeze, sending a way to reproduce the problem usually allows it to be fixed.

Using dictionaries with Kirrkirr

Kirrkirr can be used with virtually any XML dictionary, once appropriate configuration, dictionary specification and entry rendering files are available. Some pages describing what you need to do are available.

Project publications, talks, and reports

Journal articles:

Refereed conference papers:

Chapters in books:

Workshop papers:

Theses/Final year project reports:


Other links

Valid HTML 4.01!
Christopher Manning -- <> -- Last modified: Tue Aug 14, 2018