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The Linguist's Shoebox

Integrated data management and analysis for the field linguist


Researchers should explore lexical relations before selecting example sentences.

A well-chosen example sentence can highlight some of the characteristics of a lexeme that might still be unclear from the definition. It should include at least one of the salient characteristics of the word—in many cases, it should even allow one to deduce the meaning of the word. Researchers are encouraged to explore most of the lexical relations for a lexeme before eliciting or selecting example sentences. They can then concentrate on choosing sentences that are dynamic, memorable, or even dramatic, as well as illustrative.
Among the recommended "associational categories" which can be included as context for the lexeme in an illustrative sentence is a characteristic subject, object, or instrument of an action. For example, from Buru: The enhero maen [spear shaft] broke when the wounded pig dragged it through the underbrush.
Note: A sentence that makes perfectly good sense in context might seem incoherent or ungrammatical to native speakers when removed from context. Therefore, it is important to edit and check sentences that have been extracted from natural text with the assistance of a skilled native speaker before using them in isolation in a dictionary.
For more information, read section 6.2 in Making Dictionaries and chapter 9 in Bilingual dictionaries for indigenous languages (Bartholomew and Schoenhals, 1983).

Index of tips: example sentences; exploratory data analysis; lexicography
List of tips