Two communities in Ethiopia begin dictionary development

I am very happy to participate in this workshop to gather words for entering into a dictionary [of our language]. A language that has a dictionary will not die.

—Gwama RWC workshop participant

(March 2015) Two communities in Ethiopia recently began the process of dictionary development. Mother-tongue speakers of Gwama and Koorete partnered with SIL’s Dictionary & Lexicography Services team and SIL Ethiopia to organize Rapid Word Collection (RWC) workshops.

The Koorete (Amaaro) community’s workshop was organized by the Amaaro Woreda Office of Culture and was held in the town of Kelle, the regional administrative center. Koorete-speaking participants reached their goal of completing the questionnaires for eight of the nine large families of semantic domains (topics and themes that prompt participants to make note of related vocabulary). The groups were able to collect and gloss nearly 12,000 words during the two-week word collection phase. Although electricity disruptions caused some difficulty, participants were able to enter 60% of their collected words into their database during the workshop. Many of the remaining words were entered the following week. Since the workshop concluded, the group has been pursuing a goal of publishing a 650-word agricultural dictionary. They hope to learn through the process of this small-scale project and later publish a full dictionary.

Above: Koorete RWC workshop participants discuss and record words related to different topics (semantic domains).

The Gwama workshop was hosted by the regional bureau of education in the town of Asosa. In spite of several challenges (including a relatively new writing system), Gwama-speaking participants collected over 6,500 words. SIL’s Kevin Warfel commented on the value of the RWC process: “No other word-collection method currently in existence could have yielded the same result in the same amount of time.” The Gwama team aims to publish a Gwama-Amharic dictionary, as well as a dictionary intended for use by teachers and students in a regional multilingual education (MLE) project.

Gwama-speaking participants expressed that they were encouraged to be taking steps to preserve their language. For some, the workshop provided a new affirmation that their mother tongue is as rich in its expressive capabilities as any other language.

It is very good that the Gwama language will have a dictionary. All the people will get to know the language. Our children will be able to learn it and we should unite [to develop the dictionary].

I am very happy to participate in this workshop to gather words for entering into a dictionary. A language that has a dictionary will not die. It is right for us to enter new words into the dictionary and for our people to see them. This idea was hard to believe at first. I want to work on entering the remaining words with the help of SIL.

It was good for Gwama [to have this workshop]. I hope that our language will be strong in the future.

This training was good for creating a dictionary in our mother tongue. It is good that we study and continue to develop our dictionary.

I have a better understanding because of the training. The dictionary will make it possible to pass on our mother tongue to the next generation. It is good to have a written language with a dictionary and books for students and teachers.

Both the Koorete and Gwama dictionary teams are refining their data and will soon have a working draft on The Komo community, which resides near the Gwama community, has requested an RWC workshop of their own for later this year.

The Dictionary and Lexicography Services team is actively building capacity through training additional workshop leaders. RWC specialists who participated as trainees in these and other recent workshops have now qualified to lead workshops in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nepal. Several more trainees are gaining skills in a workshop currently underway in Burkina Faso. In May, Dictionary and Lexicography Services Coordinator Verna Stutzman will train new consultants in another RWC workshop in Cameroon. These newly trained facilitators will then lead RWC workshops in a six-language cluster in Cameroon during the next two years.

Photos by Kevin Warfel and Lydia Hoeft

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