Dictionary and orthography development in tandem

Good orthography development enables fluent reading and writing. Best practice orthography development is based on a lexicon of ideally 2,000 words, with multiple forms and glosses for each. Despite this fact, and despite research showing that language development endures best in the presence of a dictionary, many language projects finish orthography development without even a beginning dictionary.
Orthography development is also best practiced with wide community participation, as embodied in participatory research methodologies. While these encourage a broad engagement of the community of language speakers, they do not typically encourage good documentation (i.e., something akin to a shoebox of cards, rather than a lexical database).
I would like to see participatory methodologies in a lexical app (as a feature of DAB or elsewhere) which would resolve both of these issues, by developing orthography alongside a beginning dictionary --though such a tool could be continued to be used as a dictionary matures, to check and regularize spelling. This tool would need:

  1. to be sensitive to word/morpheme grammatical category (treating nouns and verbs separately).
  2. Filter roots by consonant and vowels (e.g., starting with V1=V2 and C1=C2), one after another, in a given order (checking one vowel/consonant at a time, simpler to more complex). Ultimately, such a tool should sort on at least one tone field, as well.
  3. Present the filtered data to a user for verification (all words in a list should have a common sound in a given position).
  4. Enable user to tell the app which words are “not like the others” --this is the core user task, and one that has been shown to work well with linguistically naive language community members.
  5. Flag those “different” entries for modification later, or else enable modification on the spot.
  6. On any change, present newly filtered data, until all data in the list is “the same”.
  7. data changes would need to be sharable with other users/copies of the database, either in real time or through distributed version controlling (ideal for low internet environments).

The end result would be a community approved orthography and beginning dictionary. A community behind a body of good data, which can be used as a base for further analysis and language development.

Kent Rasmussen, Ph. D.
SIL CMB linguistics consultant - Orthographies for Francophone Africa