Madhya-Purbiya Tharu speakers begin the first dictionary for their language

<i>Having a dictionary in our own language will make us more responsible to engage in the betterment of our community. It will unite the Tharus who live in different districts in Nepal.</i><p><p>-RWC workshop participant

(November 2014) Members of Nepal’s Madhya-Purbiya Tharu community recently participated in a Rapid Word Collection workshop—the first step in developing a dictionary for their language. Co-sponsored by the Mother Tongue Centre Nepal (MTCN) and SIL Nepal, the workshop was held in Kathmandu 9-17 September.

The forty-three Madhya-Purbiya Tharu participants followed the Rapid Word Collection (RWC) process to gather the words that would form the foundation of their dictionary. Rapid Word Collection is organized around the concept of semantic domains: groups of mother-tongue speakers focus on a particular topic or aspect of life experience, making note of all the vocabulary that comes to mind. Each word is then assigned a gloss in the national language and the data is entered into a FLEx database.

Although the workshop is complete, development of the dictionary continues—parts of speech will be added, definitions will be developed and refined. Getting feedback from the community will be an important part of the process. Printed copies of the draft version of the dictionary will be circulated in districts where Madhya-Purbiya Tharu is spoken. The online version of the dictionary also invites users to add comments. Based on that input, the editing committee will make final decisions. The final version of the dictionary will be published online and in print.

As participants worked through the questionnaires for different semantic domains and talked about how important concepts are expressed, many gained new linguistic insights about their language. A draft version of the Madhya-Purbiya Tharu dictionary has been posted on SIL’s Verna Stutzman commented, "Collecting almost 23,000 words from 1,766 semantic domains was an amazing feat and the success can be attributed to the enthusiasm of the Madhya-Tharu participants and the tireless efforts of Mari-Sisko Khadgi and the MTCN personnel for pulling it all together."


Above: Groups of mother-tongue speakers engaged in lively discussions about words and concepts to add to the dictionary; SIL Nepal's Mari-Sisko Khadgi introduces RWC concepts; staff from SIL Nepal and MTCN assisted with data entry.

Developing a dictionary was one of several language development goals decided upon by community leaders in a December 2013 stakeholders’ meeting. Creating a standard writing system was another important goal that the community has been working towards—the writing system developed at a spring 2014 workshop is now being tested and refined. Many people in the Madhya-Purbiya Tharu community have gained a new sense of the importance of their language and culture and a renewed vision for maintaining that heritage and passing it on to future generations. This common purpose is uniting many in the community.

At least six other communities in the region have requested their own RWC workshop. Locally-based personnel from SIL Nepal and Mother Tongue Centre Nepal have been trained to facilitate future RWC workshops in other language communities in Nepal.

Participant comments:

Collecting words using the RWC strategy has helped us to preserve these words which were on the verge of extinction.
–Gita Panjiyar

This will be our community’s first dictionary. I’m feeling very happy and emotional at the same time. It will help our Tharu school children, our communities and the researchers.
–Rajeshwori Chaudhary

Having a dictionary in our own language will make us more responsible to engage in the betterment of our community. It will unite the Tharus who live in different districts in Nepal.
–Prem Lal Gachhadar Chaudary

This RWC workshop helped to collect a huge number of Tharu words. This will help our children and community to know more about our Tharu language.
–Ram P. Chaudhary

This RWC workshop will be the cornerstone for the development of the Tharu community in the future.
–Dhirendra Kumar Bishwas

Though we are one ethnic Tharu community, we had not collected and stored our language, which nearly resulted in its extinction. We are deeply thankful to SIL for bringing together ethnic Tharus from twelve districts of Nepal and helping us collect and sort the words of the Tharu language.




Madhya-Purbiya Tharu is spoken in twelve districts along the southern border of Nepal. SIL Nepal’s language assessment team conducted a language survey Feb-April 2013.

To find out about arranging a Rapid Word Collection workshop for your community, contact SIL's Dictionary & Lexicography Services team.


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