Dictionary workshop is final step in language development training

(May 2014) At an April workshop in North Bengal, India, interns representing six language communities gained proficiency in skills needed to develop dictionaries for their languages. This data entry workshop was the final training event in a year-long training program for language development specialists. On 17 May a graduation ceremony marked the interns’ completion of the program.

In a February workshop, interns learned how to employ the Rapid Word Collection (RWC) methodology, a word-gathering process organized around the concept of semantic domains. In the month between workshops, interns used these skills to conduct small-scale word-gathering events in their communities. Focusing on a limited number of domains, their goal was to collect five hundred words, each with a gloss (closest equivalent word) in Hindi or Bangla.

Interns came to the April workshop ready to enter their collected words into a dictionary development program called WeSay. Designed to be user-friendly for anyone with basic computer skills, WeSay facilitates dictionary development by teams of mother-tongue speakers. While the program doesn’t require advanced technical skill or linguistic knowledge, WeSay can also interface with FLEx, a more technical program that provides additional options for data analysis. After entering words into WeSay, the draft of the dictionary can be printed or shared online, where it can continue to be developed and refined.

One complication encountered by participants was the fact that among the six languages represented, three different scripts (Devanagari, Bengali and Roman) are used. During the workshop, interns used a program called Keyman which provides virtual keyboards for non-Roman scripts.

In spite of some technical challenges with software and equipment, by the end of the workshop the interns had accomplished the workshop’s goal, having entered the majority of their collected words. Each intern was able to return home with the first draft of the dictionary printed in two formats and uploaded to Webonary.org. The drafts will be checked in village groups, and more words will be collected in the next stage of community engagement. The online dictionaries will continue to be updated and expanded in the coming months until the community is ready to print a final version of the dictionary

A dictionary is a valuable tool for language development. Not only does the availability of this kind of reference support literacy efforts and serve as a resource for education, a dictionary can also bolster a community’s pride in their language and cultural identity. SIL’s Dictionary and Lexicography Services team provides training for communities around the world who wish to begin the process of developing a dictionary for their language.

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