Ron Moe of SIL International has developed a set of semantic domains and accompanying questions that enable the rapid elicitation of words. He has been promoting it for years as the Dictionary Development Process (DDP). Although teams that have tried it have not often effectively managed the resulting mass of data, it is unarguably the best and most efficient method of collecting words. Today, despite its potential, the word collection method is woefully underutilized in our organization. Our projects typically collect a lexical database with only a few thousand words despite many years of engagement. By contrast, experience with the rapid word collection method has shown that it is possible to collect over 15,000 words in just two weeks at an early point in a project, providing a rich lexical resource for both language development and Bible translation. The Rapid Word Collection Research Group was formed to find out why the method has not been adopted wholesale, to address any flaws in the method, and repackage and rebrand it in a way that is destined to succeed and to attract outside funders. We're calling it an extreme makeover for DDP.
For a week, our research group worked together to investigate the reports of word collection workshops that had taken place, noting what worked and what didn't work. We went over the existing DDP documentation that explains how to run a word collection workshop, and we distilled its message into a very clearly defined set of instructions based on what has shown itself to be the best practice. We even spent ten minutes arguing over whether or not the workshop leader should staple certain word collection pages together! Our goal was to ensure that not only were these words collected as efficiently as possible, but that they were also entered into the computer at the same time. Far too many workshops have ended in reams of paper with scribbles on them that are now collecting dust in some corner! The revised plan specifies a total number of 30 local participants, including people dedicated to glossing the words, and others dedicated to data entry. We believe that following the new parameters closely will bring a minimum result of 15,000 words---glossed, semantically tagged, and accessible on the Internet for further research. If those requirements required extra time or resources, we included them in the project plan and budget.
It soon became evident that we needed to round up the two weeks to a month by including a week of advance preparation and a following week to clean up the data. In addition, we discussed specific areas where we can further test and confirm this best practice method while documenting it on video. There is funding already available to run the first couple workshops, and we will be actively pursuing major funding via outside agencies who are interested in vernacular education, language documentation, or language development.
All the revised and expanded materials for Rapid Word Collection will soon be available on a multilingual website, including a downloadable form that will help any language project do the planning and budgeting to host such a workshop in their location. As funding becomes available, we hope to be able to provide the means for word collection to any language group who would benefit from it. Stay tuned for the website announcement which will be sometime in the last quarter of 2011!