Dictionary projects make progress

Thomas Yemboné, one of the translators of the Bissa Barka New Testament, explains an important detail of the RWC method to the group of mother-tongue speakers who have gathered to collect words for the first dictionary of their language.

(November 2015) Dictionaries provide a long list of benefits: a resource for students who want to know the meaning of an unfamiliar word, a reference for writers, a guide to standard spelling and a reference for the community’s traditional knowledge of local plants and animals. A dictionary can bolster a community’s pride in its language and compiling the words and definitions provides a tangible goal for mother-tongue speakers to work toward together. SIL’s Dictionary and Lexicography Services team is dedicated to supporting language communities around the world as they develop dictionaries for their languages.

So far this year, nine language communities in seven countries have held special workshops to begin the process of building their dictionaries.

  • Bissa Barka (Burkina Faso)
  • Cøllø/Shilluk (South Sudan)
  • Kabwa (Tanzania)
  • Kemedzung, Chung and Sari (Cameroon)
  • Komo (Ethiopia)
  • Natügu (Solomon Islands)
  • Rapoisi (Papua New Guinea)

At the Bissa Barka workshop in Burkina Faso (top) and the Cøllø/Shilluk workshop in South Sudan (right), participants engage in discussion to collect vocabulary for their dictionaries. Left: A woman reads from the recently translated Cøllø/Shilluk New Testament.

In a Rapid Word Collection (RWC) workshop, participants use a series of questionnaires related to specific categories (for example, household equipment, types of animals or kinship) to prompt the group to think of related vocabulary in their language. In the lively discussion that ensues, participants are able to make note of many words in a short amount of time.

Right: Cøllø/Shilluk workshop participant Luciano Paul, a professor at Upper Nile University, shares his thoughts on the RWC method and the value of having a dictionary.



In Nepal, RWC workshops that were planned for this year have been postponed due to devastating earthquakes which struck the country in the spring. However, several communities have been able to move toward publishing dictionaries which were already in process. The Athpariya, Yakkha, Lowa, Chepang and Syuba-speaking communities will all soon have online and/or printed dictionaries available.

The Dictionary and Lexicography Services team is multiplying its efforts by responding to requests for mentoring new facilitators and training in various locations. In August, Dictionary and Lexicography Services Coordinator Verna Stutzman led a training event for Dr. Brenda Boerger and interns about to embark on fieldwork in the Solomon Islands and for another group of SIL staff who work in Vanuatu.

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