Conlang Flash Card Heaven

I’ve recently discovered digital, time spaced, flashcards. I like Anki, but other similar ones exist. So now I have a lot of opinions about a conlanger’s flashcard strategy.  I think this is the number one nice thing that a conlanger can do for their fans.

If you are writing the language just for your self (i.e. you will be the first and last competent user of this language), you still will want flashcards. When I use Anki daily, I’m averaging 500-1000 memorized words per month. [Although I must admit, there is a initial slow period for a new language, for example tlhIngan is kicking my butt, despite using Anki] It’s the fastest way to become competent in your own language.

The faster you build competency in your own language, the faster you can write corpus. The faster the first fan can learn the word list, the faster you’ll find out real feedback on the technical qualities of the language and the faster the community will grow.

Publish your dictionary in a word;definition format.
This is the simplest format ever. You don’t need to be computer professional to support the following format:

cat;furry animal
dog;furry animal that chases cats

You can get complicated if you want, but the above is the absolute minimum. You can even use a symbol other than “;”. I recommend picking a weird symbol, like | or ~ if there is some problem with “;” for example if your definitions contain semicolons.

If you are a computer geek, be nice to the computer impaired and publish you dictionary in native flashcard formats, such as .anki files (although it seems not all anki clients can read all .anki files)

License your word list so it is redistributable
Creative commons is a suitable system, especially if you want to send a strong signal that this is free, and you can do anything with it you want. On the other hand, if think that your language is somehow more valuable if you retain commercial rights, you’ll probably need to write a custom license to let users know if they can do some typical things people do with languages, such as translate books and sell them for $10. [Imho, allowing such use is good even if you do plan to somehow retain certain commercial rights]

Be a good Lexicographer
Don’t preach in your definitions. Put that in your fake-anthropological report.
And there are many other things that go into being a good lexicographer. SIL has some excellent resources on lexicography–check out the supporting documentation around Shoebox and Lexqiue Pro.  Some of the things that make a good dictionary entry, make for a good flash card– except — good dictionaries can get exhaustive in the detail they include. That is really bad for a flash card. A good flashcard has just enough information and not too little.

If it had as a prompt, the word in the practical orthography + the IPA and as an answer, the card should have at most 2 homonyms (but only if they’re the same part of speech!), and the word class.

Also, it would be nice if the language inflects, for it to show an inflection typical of that part of speech, for example, if a verb, show in the infinitive, if a noun, show it in the plural or with the article [obviously, the suitable form will vary from language to language]

The point is that if you can learn POS as part of the word, then you don’t need to memorize two facts.

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One Response to Conlang Flash Card Heaven

  1. Jim Henry says:

    Is the semicolon-delimited format something that Anki is good at importing? Or a common format for different flashcard programs to exchange data with, like CSV for spreadsheets? Or just you made up as an example? What about the pipe-delimited and tilde-delimited formats you mention as alternatives? Does Anki or other flashcard programs support something more common like CSV or tab-delimited formats?

    My gzb lexicon tends to have lots of semicolons within its glosses, as well as tildes within both lexemes and glossess — a single tilde in a gloss corresponds to the stem an affix is applied to, and a triple tilde is the equivalent of an elipsis (…) in gzb orthography; it occurs in a lot of phrasal lexemes, representing a spot where some specific lexeme would be plugged in to a set phrase.