Challenges of publishing in a less-used language
When few people have read much, and there's little centralized publishing, people in different regions use the language differently. There is often disagreement about just what a word means, or what is good grammar, or how to best express an idea.
If you're working in a major language, where usage is relatively uniform and well-established, at least within your country, this page probably isn't relevant to you. If you face some of the same issues that we do, then our experiences may be of interest.
I had some previous database programming experience, and used that to set up a language database, to help us get a better handle on usage. Most people starting a literacy project won't have that experience. But some of this could be done on a spreadsheet, by someone with less computer skills. Or you could find a young person who seems to have good instincts for numbers and analytical thinking, and use this as a chance for him or her to learn some database programming.
First, we created a dictionary on the database, getting Lao words from whatever sources we could, and entering them with any available notes about usage, and an English synonym or definition, if available. If the same word (that is, the same sequence of letters) had two different, unrelated meanings, they got separate entries.
Then we added other fields:
We have all of this set up in a database. It could be done in a spreadsheet as well, although in that form it would become a harder to use and to look up words. It would make a good project for someone learning database skills.
Later, I added another table to the database: Sentences showing actual usage. This has 3 key fields:
This has proven enormously valuable. We can search it for any word, or combination of words; we can search for English or Lao or any combination.
If we want to write about warthogs, we can quickly see what they've been called in the past, if that was in a bi-lingual book. If we only referred to them in Lao, and there's no English translation, it's harder, but we can look up past usage of any words we're considering. If we aren't sure whether the word for "hungry" is usually spelled with a long or a short vowel, we can easily count uses each way.
I think you'll need a true database, not a spreadsheet, to set up a fast, user-friendly interface for this. By now, if you've been helping a young person learn more basic database programming, perhaps they're ready for a new challenge such as this.