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Minority Languages

WeSay: Dictionary-Making For New Linguists

There is a fantastic program called WeSay for facilitating dictionary development. It’s particularly aimed at helping people gather and describe words in their own language even without strong computer experience or traditional linguistic training. It doesn’t replace analysis tools like FieldWorks, but presents a complementary approach and is interoperable. Where Fieldworks lets you document a word at a time completely, or organise lists of all your entries in whatever way you like for analysis, WeSay concentrates on doing one kind of task at a time, whether gathering words, adding meanings, adding example sentences, etc. One particularly exciting feature is that as many computers as you want can work on the same database and merge changes together. This – combined with the fact it has the Semantic Domains/DDP4 list of questions built-in – makes WeSay the best way of facilitating Rapid Word Collection, by far.

The idea is that a more computer-savvy ‘advisor’ sets up a dictionary project in a Configuration Tool with all the right language settings and then transfers it (via USB drive) onto each computer that is going to be used. Then budding mother-tongue linguists open the main very straightforward program to do one task at a time to start building up the database: first gathering words and then documenting them. Every so often they click Send/Receive to exchange information with the USB flash drive, and pass it on to others. At any time every computer should have a fairly complete copy of what has been worked on and people can click one button to produce a draft dictionary. Whenever they see the advisor, the USB flash drive can be passed on and the advisor can bring the data into FieldWorks for other analysis and perhaps tidying up. Any relevant changes can be passed back by Send/Receive with FieldWorks.

We’ve started using WeSay in Nigeria, using the development version 1.1, soon to be finished into a stable version 1.2. We’ve discovered a few little quirks along the way which the developers at Palaso have very quickly fixed. In another post I’ll describe some special ‘hacks’ that you can do pushing WeSay beyond what the Configuration Tool lets you do. Some of our favourite aspects of WeSay include:

  • You can make a sound recording of a word right there within the dictionary at the touch of a button.
  • It puts the focus completely on the language rather than the complexities of software.
  • It uses standard LIFT file format and XML configuration files, which can be easily modified by hand if necessary.
  • Information can be shared with FieldWorks both ways (using LIFTbridge)
  • There is no save button; everything is automatically saved and a history kept using the Mercurial Distributed Version Control system.

Currently the most recent version is most complete on Windows, but Linux development is progressing well. Documentation is a little out of date, but it’s all being revised.

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