Dictionary Development Process
Overview: Word collection method
The first step in producing a dictionary is to collect the words of the language. The DDP method is based on ideas coming out of semantic theory. There is substantial evidence that we organize words in our minds in a giant network of relationships. Words tend to cluster in groups that we call semantic domains. So a semantic domain is a group of closely related words that are linked in a variety of ways. Linguists call the semantic relationships between words "lexical relations."
For many years lexicographers have suggested that semantic domains could be used to collect words. But the suggestion has been rarely used. What has been lacking is a list of semantic domains that is designed as a tool for collecting words. Lexicographers have also suggested that lexical relations can be used to collect words. Unfortunately the process of checking each word against a list of possible lexical relations is time-consuming.
People have the ability to rapidly recall the words that belong to a semantic domain. It appears that the mind can jump from word to word along the pathways of lexical relations. So if you ask someone to list the words that are related to the word "sun", they can quickly give you a number of words such as "moon, light, sunbeam, shine, sunrise, noon, sunset, sunstroke."
A practical method
The DDP method uses a list of 1,800 semantic domains to facilitate the process of collecting words. For each domain, a set of elicitation questions and sample words have been developed to prompt speakers of a language to think of the words that belong to the domain. For instance under the domain "Sun" is the question, "What words refer to the rising of the sun? rise, sunrise, dawn." The speakers are asked to review the questions and sample words, and then use the mental pathways to think of all the words in their language that belong to the domain. The questions are based on those lexical relations that are likely to link the words of a semantic domain to each other.
Many linguists have held a two-week workshop with 15–30 participants using the DDP method. The participants are trained in the method and then work through each domain, writing down the words of their language. The results are in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 words and idioms. For each word the participants are also asked to give a one-word gloss or simple definition in the national language. Since the words are collected by domain, the words are automatically classified by domain. So the workshop produces a large, glossed, classified word list. At this point it is closer to a thesaurus than a dictionary. But the word list can be quickly expanded into a simple dictionary.
SIL FieldWorks includes a tool specifically designed to type the words collected in a DDP workshop. This tool includes all the domains and elicitation questions, enabling you to select the domain that the words belong to. As you type the words, they are automatically assigned to the correct domain. The tool is as easy to use and as efficient as we could possibly make it.