Tag Archives: lexicon

Research in progress: Making dictionaries serve translation

Here’s an abstract that has been approved for presentation at a Bible Translation conference:

Making dictionaries serve translation

John Roberts has lamented the tendency of Bible translators to ignore lexicography until after a New Testament has been completed and printed. The consequence is that while the translation process necessarily reveals much of the lexical richness of a language, few dictionaries are ever finished and little of the effort of creating such a dictionary ends up benefitting the translation itself. It does tend to be a peculiar minority of people who attack the task of lexicography with relish, but I want to outline the many ways that a working dictionary can and should support better writing. Recent developments have eroded many of the difficulties which have hindered the development and use of dictionaries. There is no need to typeset a full dictionary before it is used; software-based dictionaries can be useful even when incomplete. Rather than throwing knowledge away, every translator or pioneer writer should see the dictionary as a place to store the riches of their language and conserve the fruit of their wrestling with the language. Mother-tongue translators need dictionaries too. Where a diverse range of community members contribute their knowledge of the language to make a good, growing, living dictionary it can provide consultants, reviewers and translators alike with a wider evidence base for their decisions than mere individual opinion. I survey recent developments that make dictionary development more achievable than ever before, and propose procedures for Bible translators to use and maintain a dictionary with examples from projects that have done this.

I thought I’d share some of my rough research and open up some questions and loose ends here in public while I’m preparing the paper.

Current Status of work: Literature & research review

I’m investigating times in the distant past right up to recently where dictionaries have made a contribution to Bible translation, whether positive or negative.

Some interesting stories so far

From translation consultants and translators.

Why Dictionaries Matter in Bible Translation

Here’s a disclaimer:
I first came to Nigeria in 2001 on a short term trip to help people finish off a dictionary as part of a Bible translation project. I thought that might be the last of my dictionary-making, but even though it’s not really my job now I reluctantly find myself drawn back to it.

Bible translation projects require a good foundation of linguistics to work out a decent writing system and to help writers stay as faithful as possible to the natural grammar of the language whilst staying as faithful as possible to the meaning of the biblical text. Along the way some translators and advisors collect words into a dictionary. Most are never completed, never published. Some Bible translators eventually get round to working on a dictionary after the Bible has been published. Well surely that priority is right for a Bible translator, isn’t it? Yes and no, but mostly no, I reply. Continue reading Why Dictionaries Matter in Bible Translation

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. Continue reading WeSay: Dictionary-Making For New Linguists