Mesoamerican Languages Documentation Project (MALDP)
El Proyecto para la Documentación de las Lenguas de Mesoamérica (PDLMA)

Terrence Kaufman, John Justeson and Roberto Zavala Maldonado, directors

This page was last revised on May 9, 2000. Click here to return to the PDLMA home page.

Using the online dictionaries

The dictionaries differ among each other in some respects, but the basic retrieval strategies are the same. The user enters constraints on the word(s) s/he wishes to retrieve. (2) A list is provided, 20 at a time, of all lexical items in the dictionary that satisfy all these constraints. (3) The user selects an item from the list, and the available data on that item is displayed as a dictionary entry.

The search page is divided into frames, each displaying its own type of information. The content of a frame remains when you issue commands from it and go on to work with the results of your commands in other frames, so you can readily work back and forth between frames.

[1] Enter constraints. On the left side of the access screen there appears a scrollable list of all of the data types that can be used to search the dictionary. Each data type is labelled: "lexical entry", "grammatical class", "Spanish gloss(es)", "English gloss(es)", etc. Below the label is white query box in which the user can enter a constraint on that data type.

To enter a query, click on the white screen corresponding to the desired data type. The most typical query is a search for a word of a given meaning. For example, one way to enter a query to find a word meaning `right' is to click on the "English gloss(es)" box, and then type right in the box. To submit the query, click on the "Submit" button, which appears above and below the list of searchable data types.

The query as just described is designed to retrieve all lexical entries that have the string right in the English gloss field of the database, whether or not more characters precede or follow it. For example, it will also retrieve a word meaning `bright' or `rightly'.

The search can be constrained more by entering the word boundary (or "pound") symbol, #, at the beginning and end: #bright#. This will retrieve only those lexical entries that include the word bright in their English gloss field (possibly in a phrase, such as a bright light.

The search can be constrained in the opposite way by insisting that further characters precede and/or follow the search string. This is done by placing two periods adjacent to the side(s) of the search string required to have non-blank characters adjacent. For example, entering would help to retrieve lexical entries that correspond to a morphologically defined subset of English adjectives, while avoiding entries whose meaning is defined using the verb able.

Just what counts as a "word" varies among the fields. In most cases, a word is a string delimited by blanks or punctuation. In grammatical fields, punctuation includes only colons, hyphens, and parentheses. Nonetheless, it is possible to search for strings including punctuation, word-delimiting or not, in any field.

It is possible to enter constraints on multiple fields. For example, entering dry in the English gloss(es) query box and #vt in the grammatical class query box will retrieve lexical entries whose structure includes a transitive verb and whose meaning includes `dry' -- closing in on transitive verbs meaning `to dry (something)'.

It is not possible to construct queries that involve logical and, or, and not. However, flexibility is increased by provision for certain cover symbols for classes of phonemes or grammatical types in the Mesoamerican language data. Cover symbols are all single capital letters; most of them are mnemonics for their categories. (In contrast, ordinary symbols used for the native phonemes and grammatical tags are all lower case.) The list of cover symbols available for a given language are provided in the frame that spans the top of the page from which the dictionary for that language is accessed; scroll down to review these symbols.

Cover symbols are provided to facilitate some searches. However, they should be used sparingly: they substantially slow a search. Search time is directly proportional to both the number of cover symbols used and to the number of ordinary symbols each cover symbol replaces. It is not recommended to use more than one cover symbol, across all query boxes put together.

[2] Selecting an entry to display. After submitting your query, the frame at the upper right of the page will be filled with a table of lexical items in the dictionary that are consistent with the constraints you have entered. For each item, the table displays the lexical item, its grammatical class, its Spanish gloss(es), and its English gloss(es).

If no more than 20 lexical items conform to your constraints, all of these items are listed; otherwise, only 20 matching items are displayed at a time. If more than 20 entries match your constraints, the total number that match is displayed at the bottom of the list. You may either select one of the lexical items for viewing in printed dictionary format, or you may choose to view the next 20 matching items. (Use the "Back" key on your browser to see earlier groups of 20.)

The table of matching lexical items will remain in the upper right frame until you issue another search, or until you go to view the next group of 20.

[3] Displaying the lexical entry. The lexical entry is printed in "dictionary format" in the bottom right frame of the query page. By default, all available data types are printed. This is indicated by a check in the small box to the right of the query box for each data type, in the leftmost frame. Users can choose to display only a subset of the data types that may appear in an entry by placing a check alongside the query box for only those data types wanted for the output. The checkbox is a toggle: if it is checked, clicking on it will remove the check; if it is not checked, clicking on it will place a check within it.

If the box is checked, data of that type will be displayed for the lexical entries; if it is not checked, data of that type will not be displayed. Lexical entries can still be searched for according to data types that the user elects not to display.

Dictionaries currently available for online access

Online access currently requires that your browser support frames, which provide the most convenient means of accessing the data. Non-frames versions will be available shortly. You may search the following dictionary databases:
  • Oluta
  • San Miguel Chimalapa Soke

    These databases were posted in February of 1998.