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A Kamusi fan posted a question on our Facebook page, asking for the Swahili word for "wheelbarrow". A question like that will usually trigger me to look up the word myself in Kamusi, to see whether we already have a good entry. The story of "wheelbarrow" shows why we really need your help to push our data toward excellence.

The first thing I found was that we already had an entry in Kamusi, but neither the English term nor the given Swahili translation, likwama, contained a definition. Ok, how do you best describe a wheelbarrow in English? I looked up some open source definitions, found one that almost worked from the GNU Webster's 1913 dictionary, and revised it to read more clearly. This was a satisfying few minutes of work to improve the English side of Kamusi, because now we have a good definition that will serve as a reference when people add the concept in any other language. (Read more and watch the video about how to write a great Kamusi definition.)

The next step was checking whether "likwama" was the best or only Swahili term for the concept. Looking up the term in the TUKI dictionary from the University of Dar es Salaam came up empty. Uh-oh. Looking up "wheelbarrow" on the English side of TUKI brought up toroli, which would be a borrowing from the English word "trolley". With two terms in contention, I scanned my contact list to see which native Swahili speakers were online. I found an image of a wheelbarrow online, and sent it to one person in Kenya and one in Tanzania. The Tanzanian wrote back that it was a picture of a toroli. The Kenyan replied that Kenyans say rukwama. Neither of them knew the term "likwama", though it is just a slight variant in spelling and pronunciation from "rukwama". TUKI translated "rukwama" as "push cart" or "hand cart", so that confirmed the general meaning.

The final step was to produce a definition for the concept in Swahili. I don't like publishing my own definitions in Swahili because it is not my mother tongue, so I can't convey the nuance of a native speaker. I wrote a draft and sent it to our member in Kenya. We chatted back and forth about the best terms for "load" and "handles", and how to convey the idea of the size of the load one pushes in a wheelbarrow. Eventually we settled on a definition, and I added it to "likwama", then added entries for "toroli" and "rukwama". As of this writing, I still don't have a definitive answer about whether we should keep "likwama", but we'll leave it in for the time being.

What does all this have to do with you? The short answer is, we can't possibly do this sort of work by ourselves for every word in every language - we need your input! Maybe you know good English, and can contribute English definitions when we are missing them. Maybe you speak great Swahili, and you can compose a definition or help us clean up the data in other ways. Maybe you know another language that we're getting started in Kamusi, and you can contribute the term and the definition in that language? In all cases, it's a few minutes of your time, which then becomes public knowledge that you share with people the world over.

In order for Kamusi to become a great resource, we need people like you to jump in and go through the sort of process that we undertook for "wheelbarrow". This can be a big task (for example, now we need to work on the alternate senses of "rukwama" that a source shows meaning "truck" or "van" in English), but you can start with small bites. Each improvement you submit makes Kamusi better for everybody.

If someone feels compelled to ask for a word on our Facebook page, either they're missing something, or we are. I'd like to move toward the day when we can be confident that our data is complete and accurate - and to do it, we need your help, word by word. (Read more about how to edit in Kamusi.)

Martin

/content/wheelbarrow-loads-how-dictionary-entry-gets-better

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