Curating lexical databases for minority languages

Aumann, Greg
Bird, Steven
Aumann, Greg
Bird, Steven
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One of the biggest challenges in compiling a dictionary of a minority language is managing the large quantity of lexical data. Decisions about the format and content of the dictionary or the orthography typically evolve over the years that such projects usually take. This results in inconsistencies between older and newer entries. Revising the data for publication as a dictionary introduces further inconsistencies as does having multiple contributors and/or editors. Proofreading a lexical database takes a great deal of time and the richer its structure the more this is the case. The tools described in this presentation significantly reduce this effort. Tools developed for checking the consistency of the lexical database in the Iu Mien—Chinese—English dictionary project have proven extremely helpful. Two basic approaches are used: 1) use of a program written to check for likely errors that scans the lexical database and produces an error report that is used by a lexicographer to make appropriate corrections. 2) outputting the lexical data in alternate forms that make it easier for the lexicographer to spot problem areas. These alternative forms include the reverse indexes and views structured according to semantic domains. The Iu Mien—Chinese—English dictionary project, like many minority language dictionary projects, uses SIL's Toolbox software. It is very flexible software but its capabilities to enforce consistency are quite limited. Some parts of the approach described here are specific to MDF (Multi-Dictionary Formatter) lexical databases in Toolbox but will be equally useful for other MDF databases. Other parts are specific to each of the three languages involved but will be useful for non-Toolbox lexical databases. Every dictionary is unique and this applies not only to content of the entries but also the decisions about how entries should be arranged to suit the languages involved. Other decisions about the structure are likely to be made differently even in other dictionaries of the same languages. It is the way that each dictionary combines themes that are found in many dictionaries that makes them unique, e.g. to be root based or not, to have include subentries. Therefore our approach is to use a toolkit based approach to curating lexical databases. This allows checking techniques to be mixed and matched to suit the unique aspects of a lexical project. The checking software is written in Python and relies on the toolbox module in NLTK (The Natural Language Toolkit
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