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:
- to be sensitive to word/morpheme grammatical category (treating nouns and verbs separately).
- 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.
- Present the filtered data to a user for verification (all words in a list should have a common sound in a given position).
- 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.
- Flag those “different” entries for modification later, or else enable modification on the spot.
- On any change, present newly filtered data, until all data in the list is “the same”.
- 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