Community collaborates on the first dictionary for Suang Lotud

Members of the Suang Lotud community used the Rapid Word Collection process to begin developing the first dictionary in their language. Over 5,000 words had been collected and more than 1,500 completed entries had been uploaded to the project's online database by the end of the workshop.

(November 2013) At the conclusion of a recent workshop in Sabah, Malaysia, mother tongue speakers of the Suang Lotud language had already collected over 5,000 words, the first step in creating a tri-lingual Lotud-Malay-English dictionary. Through a methodology called Rapid Word Collection (RWC), the workshop has provided a foundation for the ongoing process of dictionary building by community members.

Rapid Word Collection is a carefully structured process developed by a team of SIL linguists and researchers for the purpose of speeding up dictionary development. During each workshop, participants (mother tongue speakers of the language) are assigned specific roles: coordinator, logistics manager, team leaders, typists, glossers and spelling experts. RWC consultants are there to provide support as needed. Consultants-in-training also participate and gain experience for a future leadership role. For data collection, participants use FLEx, an SIL-designed software package which guides users through the process of data entry and formatting the completed dictionary for online publication on

Central to the RWC process is the concept of semantic domains: words related to a certain aspect of life or experience, such as Work & Occupation or Social Behavior. In order to gather words for their dictionary, RWC workshop participants proceed through a series of questions designed to bring to mind vocabulary on that theme. During the Suang Lotud workshop, Dictionary & Lexicography Services Coordinator Verna Stutzman observed that rather than struggling to think of words, participants enthusiastically suggested many items for each section of the checklist. The Suang Lotud workshop was the first to test out a new best practices model for RWC, a project led by SIL’s Kevin Warfel.

participants gather words  participants gather words  participants gather words

Participants from the Suang Lotud community had two goals for their workshop: to collect 5,000-6,000 words and to finish the event with a good quality lexical database. This database will serve as the foundation for their dictionary, an ongoing project that will continue for the next several years. During the 18-29 September workshop, three days were designated for training, five for word collection and three for refining the data, with one day reserved for rest and informal activities. By the final day of the workshop, both goals had been met. Participants had collected 5,063 words covering 380 semantic domains and 1,511 of those words were assigned a gloss (closest equivalent word) in English and Malay, entered into the project’s database and published online.

Having gained the necessary training, the Suang Lotud dictionary team will continue to add to and refine the data. Every weekend, one or two word collection groups will meet to collect words from additional semantic domains, which will then be added to the database. Each team member will continue to have a specific role in the process. Subsequent workshops will allow for checking in with consultants and moving forward with bringing the full dictionary to publication. The next workshop is planned for December, during Malaysia’s school holidays.

Rita Lasimbang, a local linguist who received training through SIL, helped the group to gain valuable linguistic insights. Workshop leaders observed that many participants gained a new sense of their language and culture’s value, as well as a renewed vision for language development. During the workshop, participants developed a unified vision for the project and worked together to achieve the common goal of developing the Lotud dictionary. Participants and those involved with logistics demonstrated both ingenuity and a high level of commitment to the project, key factors in making the workshop possible on a limited budget. Community leaders expressed their approval by joining in the workshop themselves.

The Suang Lotud workshop was sponsored by Pertubuhan Pelestarian Bahasa Lotud Sabah (also known as Pelestarian), an organization of Lotud people dedicated to preserving and maintaining their community’s culture and language. Pelesterian view the Lotud dictionary as an important means of preserving the language for their children. It is also hoped that publication of the dictionary will contribute to efforts to bring Lotud into local classrooms as a language of instruction.

At least six other communities in Malaysia have expressed a desire for a workshop. Several local consultants-in-training who participated in the Suang Lotud workshop will apply the skills they have gained to supporting additional communities in the process of developing a dictionary for their language.

Suang Lotud RWC workshop - group photo


Participant feedback:

“From what I personally noticed and experienced, the RWC workshop has generated a cordial, participative and cooperative working relationship among the participants. The participants have gained a lot of experience—enough that some of them are working through the rest of the uncompleted semantic domains. We hope to complete this exercise within the next two months. The workshop has absolutely cleared the way for completion of our envisaged Lotud Dictionary.”
-Monggoh Orow, Pelestarian Chairman

“To me personally this workshop was an answered prayer, a dream come true. Three years ago, when we started this project, we collected more than five thousand words and most of them are filed away. I was also hoping that more words would be collected.  I prayed for good database software and a place where all the collected words could be kept safely. With RWC, not only do we have the best software, but the files are kept secure in a remote database. All praise, honor and glory to the Author of the universe.”
-Sylvia Surutan Poit, Workshop Coordinator

“To me this is a wake-up call to the Lotud community to preserve their mother tongue for the next generation."
-David Orok, Logistics Manager

“I find that RWC is a systematic and carefully structured workshop, held by experienced SIL trainers/facilitators who are really committed to support the Suang Lotud community members (mother tongue speakers of the language) as we collect words from our language. Personnel training ensured understanding of each person’s own responsibilities in the process of RWC. This enabled us to achieve the aim of our workshop. In the past, we researchers might make note of a few new words each day while engaged in conversation or language development activities. But the whole RWC process, from training of the participants to transmission of the data, requires only two weeks to collect five thousand words or more. But the work didn't stop there. Now, with confidence, we can run our own structured workshop continuously with our community. The beauty of the program is that our community can continue adding to the dictionary and work toward publishing it in a format that will meet our needs. By having an online dictionary, I can start my writing in Suang Lotud anywhere I go, without the heavy burden of a heavy dictionary.”
-Jean Martin, Record Keeper

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