Dictionary Development Process

SIL believes strongly in enabling local language communities to strengthen their identity and heritage while empowering learning and growth. A bilingual (or multilingual) dictionary featuring the local language does this in a way that few other things can. SIL supports the position that the language community owns the language development project, the role of the SIL linguist being that of consultant, trainer, technical advisor, facilitator, and sometimes protector of the data.

Before a dictionary project is begun, research into user needs should be initiated. Actual type and size of the published dictionary should be based on user needs, with significant input from the mother-tongue community.

Intellectual property ownership should be clear to all who work on developing the lexical database and on producing dictionary publications from it. All significant contributors to the lexical database should sign an intellectual property agreement. No copyrighted art, photo, video, sound file, or quoted material should be included in the lexical database or dictionaries produced from it, without the written permission of the copyright owner.

The Dictionary Development Process (DDP) is intended as a blueprint that someone with limited experience in lexicography can utilize to successfully publish a dictionary. At the heart of the process is a catalog of semantic domains that can be used to collect words, classify the dictionary entries, and facilitate semantic research. This list is available in a number of languages, including Amharic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Nepali, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swahili.

The blueprint consists of six basic steps, and there are recommended tools and techniques for each of those steps. The steps are:

  1. Collecting and glossing words
  2. Expanding each entry
  3. Standardizing entries across the database
  4. Producing front and back matter
  5. Publishing
  6. Archiving

SIL has tools which have been designed to support all stages of the dictionary development process. The following are currently recommended and supported by SIL’s Language Software Development team:

FLEx is SIL’s most highly recommended tool for developing a dictionary. It is a stand-alone computer program intended to serve the lexicographer’s needs from word collection through to final publication of the dictionary. The program’s name is an acronym for FieldWorks Language Explorer.

WeSay is a computer program with a simplified user interface (UI) designed for inexperienced computer users. It allows the user to perform a limited number of basic lexicographic functions in support of a dictionary database managed by a more experienced user in FLEx.

LanguageForge is a web-based dictionary-development tool that shares the same data format with FieldWorks, so it can be used on any device that runs a browser.

Users—whether in the same physical location or not—can collaborate on a single database using a feature known as Send/Receive, which allows multiple users to make edits to a common database in a way that the other users of that same database can access them. This can be done in any of the above tools via a local network with a server, a USB flash drive, or the internet.