Open source online Maori dictionary launched

Software now being used for other dictionaries

An online Maori dictionary launched last week is already winning the interest of the Maori-speaking community.

Two days after its launch, the dictionary had had close to 20,000 searches. However, most of the searches came from various search engines, says Dave Moskovitz of Thinktank Consulting, who built the Matapuna Dictionary Writing System which was used to compile the dictionary. Around 1,000 hits, after two days, were direct searches on the site, he says.

The Matapuna Dictionary Writing System assists with many aspects of lexicography, such as team collaboration, routine error and consistency checking, corpus searching, publishing, and progress monitoring, in addition to the traditional headword and entry management, says Moskovitz.

The free and open software system is distributed under the GPL version 2 licence, and is registered with Sourceforge. It is built on the Linux platform, running Debian, and uses Postgres and the Catalyst web framework. The system can run on “ancient hardware” and cost of ownership is near nothing, says Moskovitz.

Matapuna, which was developed jointly by Moskovitz and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission, won the 2004 Computerworld Excellence Award for Use of IT in Government.

The entire dictionary is in Maori, and contains entries representing 95% of the most frequently used Maori words, says Moskovitz.

“The great benefit of open source software is that projects can share their development effort to produce best-of-breed systems that are highly flexible and have a very low cost of ownership,” says Moskovitz.

The software is being used by, for example, the University of Hawaii at Hilo for its bilingual Hawaiian-English dictionary. A Karen-English dictionary is also being compiled by communities of Karen refugees from Burma, in addition to a number of other languages under stress, says Moskovitz.

Victoria University in Wellington plans to use the same software to develop an online multimedia dictionary of New Zealand sign language, as well as a dictionary of Maori legal terminology, which involves scanning legal documents from the 19th century, he says. Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori is now benefiting from the development efforts of other dictionaries, he says.

Google in Maori too

A group of volunteers has worked together over the past year to translate the Google homepage and search interface into the Maori language. The results of that effort, Google in Maori, was launched last week.

“The Google in Maori project has been a labour of love and reflects the passion we have for providing digital platforms for Maori communities. We also wanted to encourage Maori to consider work within the IT sector, especially rangatahi [young people],” says Potaua Biasiny-Tule, managing director of

The team volunteered to translate the homepage as part of the “Google in Your Language programme”, an initiative started by Google in 2001 that allows anyone to sign up as a volunteer to translate Google products into languages they currently are not available in.

“At Google, our broader mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” says Ashley Gorringe, Google’s marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand.

The call for Maori translators to work on the project began in 2001 when Craig Neville Manning, expat New Zealander and Google’s head of engineering in New York, began coordinating with Dr Te Taka Keegan, says Biasiny-Tule.

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