About Webonary

Dictionary & Lexicography Services

In 2012, International Language Program Services of SIL International decided to make publishing dictionaries online as part of its overall strategy for developing dictionaries. In order to provide this service to language programs around the world, the Dictionary & Lexicography Services unit was launched with Verna Stutzman as Coordinator.

In 2011, in a collaborative effort, The Cherokee Nation Foundation partnered with SIL International to develop the Cherokee Electronic Dictionary, which the Cherokee said is “critical to the continuing revitalization of the Cherokee language.” This became the pilot project for Webonary, and it proved to be a success.

In 2013, Dictionary & Lexicography Services took over the development of Webonary, and Webonary became the platform to accomplish SIL’s goal of encouraging language programs to publish dictionaries online.

Features and Distinctions

The Webonary platform gives language groups the ability to publish bilingual or multilingual dictionaries on the web with a minimum of technical help.
  • Licensing

    Individuals desiring to publish dictionaries on Webonary.org are asked to agree to the Terms of Service.
    Webonary Software is available to all. Since it is built with WordPress, the code is open-source and licensed through General Public License (GPL).
  • Dictionary Software Comparison

    Webonary is certainly not the only software that produces dictionaries. Here is a comparison to some others.Comparison to Lexique Pro
    ● Webonary can handle sizeable dictionaries, will allow you to update your dictionary as time goes on, has a better search engine, and has more opportunities for customization and support. Webonary depends on FLEx for layout, requiring you first to import your data in FieldWorks. Lexique Pro is a fine piece of software, one that some have used to import their dictionaries online. If you have your data in Lexique Pro already, that might be your best choice, especially if you have only a few words in your dictionary.● The approach Webonary uses allows fast searching for a word. Webonary searches the entire database for a word, whether it occurs as a headword or in the definition, and places the more relevant search results at the top of the list. Lexique Pro requires a computer to retrieve all the dictionary entries for a particular letter before it can display one entry, which can take a long time if the dictionary has a lot of entries.● Webonary easily imports new and changed dictionary entries from FieldWorks Language Explorer (FLEx). With LexiquePro, an update requires re-importing the complete database.● Since Webonary is based on WordPress code, support is not limited to a single software developer. Millions of people use WordPress worldwide.
    The approach Webonary uses gives the option for people in the language community to make comments about a particular entry. For example, someone might say that an entry is missing a sense. Someone authorized to make changes to the dictionary can determine if the comment is accurate, and if so, can make the appropriate change

    Comparison to Aboriginal Dictionaries
    Several Aboriginal lexicons have been put on the web. The data for these were collected with Toolbox, and Drupal was used for building the sites. While these sites act like a paper dictionary, they lack the search capability built into Webonary.

    Comparison to LEXUS
    We have not had an opportunity to review the software. However, looking at a presentation that Jacquelijn Ringersma gave, the chief feature of LEXUS is to create a new lexicon. Webonary requires the use of FLEx to create lexicons and export the data to Webonary.

    Comparison to the Project for Free Electronic Dictionaries at the University of Sydney.
    The project started in 2007 and was still in initial stages as late as February 2011. Their demo of the cell phone produced an error. It is not clear what to do with the rest of the site. But two things are of interest: 1) “A large part of the project lies in creating a software package that can be used to easily convert dictionary files, such as toolbox/shoebox databases, into the more flexible XML format…” 2) They are using a Creative Commons license. This is a project worth watching for producing cell phone dictionaries.

    Comparison to Yurok Language Project at the University of California, Berkeley
    The site looks very much like a WordPress site. However, the software used to build this site is unknown, and it is uncertain whether it is open or available for use.

  • Data Formats Supported

    The following data formats are supported in Webonary:
    FieldWorks Language Exploror (FLEx) has the ability to export a Configured Dictionary in XHTML format. This file can be imported by Webonary.
    You will need to convert your data to a format called “LIFT XML.” The format is supported by FLEx and Lexique Pro. Quoting our friends who produced WeSay: “If your dictionary is very simple, you may be able to convert [your Toolbox data] to LIFT using Lexique Pro. A bit more complicated, and you should use FLEx.
    Finally, the average 10-year-old linguist-produced Toolbox dictionary will probably need days of cleanup. We suggest using SOLID in the first stage of clean-up, and the FLEx SFM import as the second stage. Due to SFM’s inherent inadequacies with respect to representing hierarchical data, this cleanup is often a ‘computer consultant’ level job.
  • Published Dictionaries

  • Flexibility

    Import your data easily from FLEx. When you have updates to your entries, import those, too. You can keep your dictionary as current as you want. Webonary uses WordPress code for a foundation. WordPress is one of the best known and supported software in the world, used by more than 56% of the sites that use a content management system (CMS). It allows for endless variation and extension using themes, plugins, and widgets. Informational pages can easily be made. Comments providing user feedback on dictionary entries or pages can be turned on or off.
  • Search

    The most distinctive characteristic of Webonary is its search bar. Looking for a word? Type it in the search, like an ordinary search engine. The search returns results based on relevance. That is, if the word you are looking for is found in a headword, that will be more important than finding the word in a definition for another word.For example, a search on “spring” in English would return the headword “spring” toward the top of the search results. The definition for “lettuce” would also come up in the search results list, because it has the definition “A vegetable grown in spring,” but this dictionary entry would sink toward the bottom of the search results list. “Reversal indexes,” also called “gloss to vernacular,” can also be imported from FLEx into Webonary. Furthermore, the search can also be filtered for a specific language, if desired, or even by part of speech or semantic domain.


“The Webonary dictionary is, in my view, a substantially more usable lexical resource than what was previously available. In particular, the searchability and the audio files have made it much easier for Triquis to use the dictionary and find the words that they want.”
– George Aaron Broadwell, Dept. of Anthropology, UAlbany, Albany NY 12222

“I am very thankful for Webonary. I have used it for making beginning dictionaries available to language communities, as well as to the academic community which often searches for data in little described languages, such as the ones I work with. Because Webonary is easy to use, I can upload dictionaries soon after being drafted, with minimal effort. I can also make grammar books and phonology/orthography statements available through the same website on the ‘language’ tab.”
– Tim Stirtz, South Sudan Group

“With Webonary you can upload any modifications so that the online version can always be up-to-date and so everyone is up-to-date. Printed dictionaries are heavy and costly and it can often be difficult to find the word, whereas electronic dictionaries are so much easier to search.”
– Jenni Beadle, Togo-Benin branch

“We feel that providing lexicon/dictionary data on-line [using Webonary] will inspire people to see the legitimacy of a written form of their language and to take an interest in its development.”
– John Berthelette, Directeur des Programmes de Langue, SIL Togo-Bénin