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Dictionary Development Process

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Overview: Introduction

The development of a dictionary is a complicated and time-consuming task. The Dictionary Development Process was conceived as a tool to facilitate and speed the process. Recent advances in lexicography and semantic theory have suggested ways in which the process of collecting and describing words can be systematized and made easy. These advances include the theoretical concepts of semantic domains, lexical relations, conceptual schemas, conceptual metaphors, and prototype theory. DDP utilizes these theoretical insights in its methodology. The DDP method is organized around five stages in dictionary development.

Stage 1: Collect words.

Many language development projects include the production of a dictionary as one of their goals. However progress is often very slow. It has been estimated that such a dictionary grows at the rate of two and a half words per working day. At this rate a linguist will collect 650 words a year, and will take 20 years to collect 12,000 words. Many linguists never get beyond 5,000 words, a figure which represents the core vocabulary of a language. It takes concerted effort and a systematic approach to move beyond this. DDP provides just such a systematic approach. Using the DDP method many linguists are collecting 10,000 to 12,000 words in a two-week workshop. One team collected 23,000 words in two weeks. Approximately 200 language development projects have already used DDP to collect thousands of words in a surprisingly short time.

Stage 2: Fill in each field of the dictionary article.

A dictionary is more than just a collection of words. The words must be described. Collecting and typing this information can take years of painstaking work. Fortunately much of the work can be automated using a computer. Instead of describing one word at a time, the lexicographer can fill in one field (such as part of speech) at a time. Such an approach can radically shorten the time needed. DDP includes a step-by-step procedure and the computer tools needed to implement this strategy using The Field Linguist’s Toolbox. DDP has also been integrated into SIL FieldWorks, which greatly improves the ease and efficiency of developing a dictionary. FieldWorks has tools specifically designed to do each step in the process.

Stage 3: Define each word.

The most difficult and time consuming aspect of lexicography is semantic analysis and the writing of quality definitions. Work has begun to develop materials to facilitate this stage of dictionary development. The methodology looks promising, but the materials are not yet available.

Stage 4: Edit each entry for publication.

Most lexicography software is designed to manage and edit a dictionary database. FieldWorks has features and tools that facilitate this stage.

Stage 5: Prepare the front and back matter.

A dictionary is more than a list of words. A published dictionary has covers, a title page, copyright page, table of contents, introduction, grammar sketch, indexes, and appendixes. FieldWorks automatically generates a rough grammar sketch (which will need to be edited) and enables you to produce indexes. Templates are being prepared for each of these parts of a dictionary.

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