Workshops support dictionary development in Bangladesh

Above: Workshop participants from the Tripura community refine entries for a dictionary that compares vocabulary from fourteen dialects of the language.

There are many words I can't find;
I have lost them. My father and grandfather knew these words.
When we publish this dictionary then perhaps many of us will remember these words. Perhaps the things we have lost can be found again through this.

-John, Tripura community participant

(June 2013) Several of Bangladesh’s ethnolinguistic minority communities are working to gather words, refine data and publish the first dictionaries in their languages. During the month of May, mother-tongue speakers from three communities gathered at the SIL Bangladesh offices in Dhaka for workshops tailored to each team’s stage in the process of dictionary compilation.

The Mro and Khyang communities have finished word collection and have entered the data into WeSay (software for dictionary development by mother-tongue speakers), with support from SIL Bangladesh. They are now ready to begin editing the database.

Within the Tripura (or Kok Borok) community in Bangladesh, fourteen related dialects are spoken. Across the border in India, one of these dialects is an official language of Tripura State and is used widely in literature and education. Other varieties used in Bangladesh have not been used so extensively in written materials. Active community members and local organizations are working hard to change this by producing magazines, poetry and educational materials in their mother tongue. They are also keen to compile a multi-dialectal dictionary covering all the diversity of the Tripura language found in Bangladesh.

Members of the Tripura community have started word collection and are prepared to manage the complex process of collecting words in multiple dialects. In May, three Tripura speakers visited SIL Bangladesh's office in Dhaka to discuss the challenges of dealing with so many dialects and to learn to use WeSay to organize their data. They will also pass this training on to others in the community. SIL Bangladesh will continue to provide technical support as requested by leaders from the community.

Tripura workshop participants and SIL Bangladesh staff

Members of the Tripura dictionary development team work together with SIL staff in Dhaka.

Comments from Tripura participants:
"Because of different media channels we now speak more Bangla and English, so many of our original words are being lost. The older generation still uses the old words, so we can preserve these."

"If a community wants to move forward, many things need to be preserved. I think a dictionary is really essential."

"We have wanted to make a dictionary for a long time. We have made small word books and we have printed them. In this case, as we have received SIL's technical support and we have the opportunity to do this on a bigger scale, it's beneficial for us.

If we can publish our dictionary in print and digitally, when it goes online there will be more communication amongst us [Tripura people living in Bangladesh, India, America and the UK].

There are many words I can't find; I have lost them. My father and grandfather knew these words. When we publish this dictionary then perhaps many of us will remember these words. Perhaps the things we have lost can be found again through this. When we have a dictionary it will definitely be followed and used. Our children will definitely use all the publications in our own language, especially educational materials."

Comments from SIL Bangladesh staff:

"The relationship between the language committee and SIL Bangladesh makes me feel proud.The enthusiasm of the language communities for participating and contributing to dictionary development gears me up for my work."
-Ruth, program manager

"Usually there is a gap between different generations but the dictionary workshops are reducing the gap. It was good to see people calling their elders in search of the proper meaning and correct pronunciation of different words in their mother tongue. In future I would like to see all ethnolinguistic communities have a published dictionary."
-Alpona, language and education team leader

“During the workshop we talked about various cultural objects that are used by the Tripura community and tried to find ways of defining these in Bengali and English. During our discussions, one of the workshop participants showed me a Tripura music video on his mobile phone which featured a traditional woven bamboo rain hood. It was a great example of the way that modern technology can preserve and disseminate language and culture.”
-Fiona, literacy and education consultant

"I enjoy dictionary development because it gives me the opportunity to gain experience in building effective working relationships with different people from different cultures and I also enjoy facilitating the word collection because it provides the opportunity for brainstorming about different topics. I hope that we will be able to complete the dictionary work and that it will be a resource for local writers and children in mother tongue schools. Also I hope that we will be able to start dictionary work with other language groups."
-Leen, language and education officer

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