Monday, January 12, 2009

Making Dictionaries Friendly

Dictionaries are those thick books filled with lots of abbreviations, right? One way to make a dictionary less scary is to organize words by topic: animals, plants, trees, colors, numbers, family, clans, the house, the classroom, jobs, etc. When you organize words that way, it's easier for people to learn words, easier for speakers to see what's missing, and easier for teachers to develop vocabulary lessons.

A topical dictionary can be made by a language committee or just one speaker. The speakers should agree on a topic to discuss, and then a moderator should write the words on a blackboard where everyone can see. Someone else should be secretary and write or type everything up. The secretary can also make photocopies of the day's work to review and discuss further at the next meeting. We've also found it helpful to make sound recordings of one speaker reading the day's words immediately after each session.

One trap to avoid is fights over differences in the way people say things. We try to document those differences instead of fighting about them: when there are two ways to say a word, we record everyone's initials with their preferred form, and then list the one with the most votes first:

   yanasa (AB, CD, DE), yasana (EF)   buffalo

Another way to make dictionaries friendlier is to add dots between syllables (the way they do in songs):

   ya•na•sa   buffalo

Sometimes it's hard to know what the English name is for a plant, tree, or bird. Field guides sometimes help, especially if they're very local. It's usually better, though, to bring someone in who knows the English and scientific names.

When you have several thousand words or so, it's nice to distribute what you have to others in the community. That gives them a chance to make corrections or add different pronunciations.

Topical dictionaries are usually smaller than alphabetical dictionaries, but they can be quite large. Jim Kari's Dena'ina Topical Dictionary is 397 pages!

You can easily turn a topical dictionary into a children's dictionary or beginning reader by adding pictures and leaving out the hard words. For a bigger challenge, you can find out how to combine written words with sound recordings to make a talking dictionary.


  1. ترتيبها و تنظيمها على اكمل وجه لتوفير
    شركة متخصصة في كافة اعمال التنظيف المتنوعة , و الاهتمام بادق التفاصيل بتنظيف المنازل و شركة تنظيف منازل بالاحساء تعلن عن استعدادها التام وجهوزيتها العالية على استقبال طلبات التنظيف الخاصة بكم ضمن المنطقة الشرقية في مدينة شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض

    شركة مكافحة حشرات بسيهات
    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بسيهات

  2. تهتم شركة تنظيف فلل بالدمام على أن يحصل العميل على جميع الخدمات و المزايا التي يريد الحصول عليها مثل تنظيف الفيلا بشكل مميز