Australia’s Indigenous population is rich in linguistic diversity, with over 300 languages spoken across different communities.
Some of the languages can be as distinct as Japanese is to German.
But many are at risk of becoming extinct because they are not widely accessible and have little presence in the digital space.
Professor Janet Wiles is a researcher with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, known as CoEDL, which has been working to transcribe and preserve endangered languages.
She says one of the biggest barriers to documenting languages is transcription.
“How transcription is done at the moment is linguists select small parts of the audio that might be unique words, unique situations or interesting parts of grammar, and they listen to the audio and they transcribe it,” she told SBS News.
The CoEDL has been researching 130 languages spoken across Australia and neighbouring countries like Indonesia.
Their work involves going into communities and documenting huge amounts of audio. So far, they have recorded almost 50,000 hours.
Transcribing the audio using traditional methods is estimated to take two million hours, making it a painstaking and near impossible task.
Knowing time is against them, Professor Wiles and her colleague Ben Foley turned to artificial intelligence.
Read more: SBS News