Decide what you want in the dictionary (D)

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Before you start a new dictionary, you should plan some things. You should decide what you want in it. Ask yourself these questions:

Read below for more details about these questions.

Start simple

Be careful what you plan in your dictionary. SooSL makes it easy to add a lot of information about each sign. It may seem easy to add new information. However, if you add lots of information to all the signs in a big dictionary, it can be a lot of work. 

The more signs there are, the more work you will have. Maybe it takes just five minutes to add a note to a sign. But be careful! If you want 2000 signs with notes, that's over a month of work full time. Adding a good example sentence can take 30-60 minutes per sign. For 2000 signs, that's 1000-2000 hours of work.

It is better to start with a small, simple dictionary and share it with people soon. You can add more signs later. You can add more information about each sign later. If you try to start with a large dictionary with lots of details about each sign, you may work for years before people can use any of it. You may never finish. 

It is better to start small and simple. Publish your dictionary soon, and let people use it. Get suggestions from them. Then you can make it bigger and better.

Who will use the dictionary?

Suppose you want deaf people to learn a written language. If so, be sure to index the signs by parameters. You want people to be able to look up a sign even if they don't know the written word. Maybe you should also include extra videos that explain how to use the written words. 

Suppose you want hearing parents to learn to sign with their deaf children. If so, include signs that parents often use with children. Be sure to give more than one written word for a sign. That way, parents can find signs more easily. Maybe you should include written notes that explain how a sign is used, especially if it is different from the written word.

Suppose your users are people in just one group or organization. Include all the special signs they use.

Do you need to prove to people that the sign language is a real language, so the government will recognize it? If so, you should include multiple written words for signs that mean many things. You should also include multiple signs for the same written word. You can use example sentences to show how the grammar is different.

Is the dictionary just for people in one country, or do you want foreigners to use it too?

In other words, think about your users as you read the next sections. What do your users need?

What type of dictionary do your users need?

A dictionary can be for general use by most people or it can have a special purpose.

What kind of dictionary do your users need?

How many signs do you want in the dictionary?

Dictionaries can be small or large. 

Think about how many signs your users need. Start small, publish your dictionary, get feedback on it, then you can expand it later.

What written languages do your users read?

SooSL uses written languages for the meanings of signs, for translations of example sentences, and for notes.

What dialects of the sign language do your users need to see?

Signs vary in a language. Different people use different signs. These different ways of signing are called dialects.

Do you want to use all the different signs people use in a country? Or just one standard sign for a given meaning? Or just the signs used in one place?

If you want to respect all the signs people use, it is good to include signs from different dialects. However, some people want to promote just one standard way of signing. 

If you include signs from many dialects, you need to pick one as the primary dialect. In SooSL, we call it the focal dialect. Usually, this is the dialect that most people understand, even if they don't sign that way themselves. It may be the dialect in the capital city. It may be the dialect of a specific deaf school.

If you include signs from other dialects, you need to decide if you want to include as many signs as possible, or just a few important ones.

What other information about signs do your users need?

Will people need to look up signs by handshape, location or other parameters? If so, plan to index the signs.

Do signs have different meanings? If so, plan to include multiple senses.

Does the written language have different ways to say the same meaning? If so, plan to include multiple glosses for each sense.

Do people need examples of how to use a sign? If so, plan to include example sentences.

Do people need to learn the grammar of the sign language? If so, plan to include grammar categories and example sentences. You may also want to write a grammar for people to use with the dictionary.

Are some signs hard to explain with just glosses? If so, plan to include notes or extra videos and images; example sentences can also help.

For more information

If you want to learn more about how to make a good dictionary, see the suggestions in the help topic about lexicography.

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