Elicitation guide for collecting language information


General Information

What is the goal of collecting language information for FirstVoices?

Most people use FirstVoices in order to try to learn their language, either as a supplement to immersion-based learning methods like Mentor-Apprentice, or on its own. Teachers also like to use FirstVoices to develop lesson plans for their classes. With that in mind, we want to ensure that the information we collect is:

  • As accurate as possible.

  • As thorough as possible. This is especially important when it comes to collecting verbs (action words).

  • Useful for language learners. If you open up an English dictionary, you can find all sorts of words that aren’t used on a daily basis. It’s great to collect those things in the long term but your priority should be useful information. It’s good to remember to ask yourself: “Is this a useful thing to say?”

Important: Every language is unique!

While there are lots of things that are similar (universal) in all languages, there are also things that make every language unique. If you are using English to ask speakers how to say something, you will soon find an example where your speakers say, “We don’t say it that way in our language!” That is OK! You shouldn’t be concerned about translating things word for word from English. Focus on the concept and let speakers express it in the natural way in their language. For example, if you ask someone how to say “She’s carrying the box” it might not be easy to express that in the same way. Is she carrying it with both hands or on her back? What kind of box is she carrying? All of these ideas might have to be included. So remember: don’t translate! Just ask the speaker to express the meaning in the way that is most natural to them.

What if there is no word for that?

Sometimes you will come across a word that doesn’t exist – maybe for technology like a computer or cell phone. Ask yourself: “Is this a useful thing to say?” If the answer is yes, ask your speakers if they would have a way of expressing the concept in a sentence or ask if they would like to make up a word. All languages add new words all the time so do the same with your language! If your speaker is not comfortable making up new words, keep a list of them. Then later, you could set up a meeting with several speakers to decide on new words.

Where do I find out more?

If you have any questions as you do your work, please contact the FirstVoices coordinator. We’re happy to help!


Collecting language information

There are several different ways you can go about eliciting language information.

Word lists

One way to collect language information is by using word lists. Start by using the lists in Appendix A and B. (We will be adding to these over time.) Next, is there a print dictionary available for your language? You can go through the words in the dictionary to add them to FirstVoices. (If you do this, it is a good idea to first check with the authors if possible. Be sure to acknowledge use of the dictionary on your FirstVoices site.) If your language doesn’t already have a print dictionary, is there a neighbouring related language you could use? If you don’t know if there is a dictionary for your language, please get in touch with us and we can let you know.

IMPORTANT: When you use word lists, you are asking for one word at a time. Record the word on its own, but also ask the speaker to provide a full sentence with the word in it. This makes it much more useful for language learners and for understanding the proper context in which to use a word. Note: sometimes in Indigenous languages, a word is the same thing as a full sentence, so that’s ok too.

Stories and conversations

Going through word lists can be easy but it can also get boring pretty fast. You also have to worry about the translation issue mentioned above. Another way to elicit language information is through the use of stories and conversations. Ask your speakers to tell you a story. Traditional stories are great but we tell “stories” in everyday life too. For some example, ask your speaker to tell you about:

  • a trip they took last summer

  • a funny story from their childhood

  • what they plan to do at Christmas time

  • how to cook their favourite recipe

A similar method is to get two or more speakers together and ask them to have a conversation about a topic. We have story and conversation ideas in Appendix C.

Once you have collected a story or conversation, you can upload it to the story section of FirstVoices. Stories are great for learning, especially for intermediate and advanced learners. When you have transcribed the story/conversation, you can re-elicit and record each individual word from the story and enter those in FirstVoices as well.

IMPORTANT: Eliciting information in this way allows for natural expression of the language. We strongly recommend this method for collecting language information.


Another way to collect language information is by brainstorming around a theme or topic. Take fishing for an example. How many action words can you think of that describe everything you do when you go fishing? What about the names of fishing equipment and kinds of fish? It is easy to generate word lists by focusing on a topic and these can be very useful for teachers who want to develop a lesson around a topic. Combine brainstorming with the story method; have the speaker tell a story about fishing to get you started.


Kinds of language information

Every language is made up of certain types of words. In order to be accurate about the language information you enter into FirstVoices, you need to have a basic understanding of some linguistic terms. The main word classes are nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, prepositions or postpositions (adpositions), and determiners (which are mainly called particles in FirstVoices).

Each word will have to be tagged with a word class (part of speech). There are basic categories and advanced categories which are the subtypes of the basic categories. You will need to choose an advanced category which best describes the word you are entering. Here are the word classes used in FirstVoices with an explanation of each.


These words are people, places, things and ideas.

Example: woman, Vancouver, chair, love


Pronouns are words used in place of a noun, usually referring to people. For example, David is a noun. David is sleeping. But you could also say He is sleeping. The word “he” is a pronoun because it is used in the place of the noun “David”.

The advanced categories of pronouns are:

  • pronoun_personal. Most pronouns are personal pronouns. They refer to a person. Examples: I, you, she/he/it, we, you (guys), they, me, you, her/him/it, us, you (guys), them, my, your, her/his/its, our, your, their.

  • pronoun_reflexive. Reflexive means doing something to one’s self, so any pronoun with “self” in it is a reflexive pronoun. Examples: myself, yourself, herself/himself/itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.

  • pronoun_reciprocal. Reciprocal means doing something to each other. Examples:
    Florence and Mildred were talking to each other.
    The children kicked the ball to one another

  • pronoun_demonstrative. These pronouns point to different things. Examples: this, that, these, those

  • pronoun_relative. A relative pronoun refers to another noun or pronoun and connects a phrase (clause) to a sentence. Examples: who, whom, which, that, whoever, whomever, whichever.
    John, who is learning his language, wants to be a teacher.
    The word who refers to the noun John and connects the phrase “who is learning his language” to the rest of the sentence.


Verbs are the action words of the sentence. The action might be physical or mental. Example: run, jump, cook, eat, think, love

In order to understand the advanced categories of verbs, we need to understand a little bit about nouns and verbs and their jobs in sentences. While verbs describe the main action of the sentence, nouns can do a couple different things: they can be a subject or an object. Example:









the dog.










The dog






Subjects are the nouns that are doing the action in the sentence.

Objects are the nouns that are undergoing or receiving the action in the sentence.

This is important to know because verbs may change depending on whether the noun that goes with the verb is the subject or object. A verb like feed is a transitive verb because it is required to have an object. You can’t just say *Jane fed. You have to say who or what Jane fed. You need an object. Other examples are: kiss, kick, fix, watch, give, touch, hold.

On the other hand, some verbs don’t need an object. These are called intransitive verbs. Some examples are: laugh, cry, sneeze, walk, run, grow, rain.

Cecilia laughed. The leaves fell off the trees. The man died.

To make things more complicated, some verbs can be both transitive or intransitive. To eat is an example.

  • The baby ate the salmon. (transitive with object the salmon)

  • The baby ate. (intransitive with no object)

The advanced choices of verbs are:

  • event_activity_verb_like_word_transitive: This is for transitive verbs that require an object.

  • event_activity_verb_like_word_intransitive: This is for intransitive verbs that do not require an object.

  • event_activity_verb_like_word_reflexive: Reflexive verbs describe actions you do to yourself like shaving or washing.

  • event_activity_verb_like_word_reciprocal: Reciprocal verbs describe actions you do to each other like kissing.

  • event_activity_verb_like_word: This is a general label if none of the other categories fit.

How do you know how to label verbs like eat when they can be transitive AND intransitive at the same time? That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask for a full sentence with each word so you will be able to categorize each word appropriately according to the context.

Adjectives and Adverbs

These are describing words.

Adjectives describe nouns. Example: bright, hot, cold, skinny, tall, red, blue

Adverbs describe verbs. Example: quickly, slowly, carefully, never, alway

Prepositions and Postpositions (Adpositions)

These words usually describe a location or time and they go together with a noun. (They might also be part of the verb.) Pre-positions come before or precede the noun and post-positions come after the noun. If you are not sure if your language has prepositions or postpositions, please ask us.

Example: in, under, on top of, up, down, with, for, to, during

Prepositions are categorized with the basic category preposition and postpositions are categorized as particles with the advanced category particle_postposition. We will be changing this in the future so that they are labeled in the same way.


Conjunctions are words that join two sentences, phrases or clauses together.

Examples: and, but, or

I cooked the soup and washed the dishes.


Interjections are exclamations.

Examples: oh, ah, ow, wow, dear me, yikes

Swear words are generally categorized as interjections.


Particle refers to a leftover category of words. First, try to see if a word fits in one of the categories above. If not, you might be dealing with a particle. Particles can be words on their own or they can be part of a verb (or other word class) like a prefix, suffix or infix. The advanced categories of particles are:

  • particle_postposition: See “prepositions and postpositions” above.

  • particle_quantifier: A quantifier tells how much you have of something; it describes a quantity. Some examples:

    • much all/any/some many

    • a little/little/very little enough a few/few

    • a bit (of) more/most a number of

    • a great deal of less/least several

    • a large amount of no/none/not any a large number of

    • a large quantity of a lot of/lots of a great number of

  • particle_article_determiner: These words go with nouns. Example: a, an, the. You can also include numbers in this category.

  • particle_tense_aspect: Languages have different ways of explaining when something happened. This is called tense. There are three tenses:

Present tense: the action is happening now. I dance.

Past tense: the action already happened. I danced (yesterday).

Future tense: the action will happen in the future. I will dance (tomorrow).

In English, we could call the -ed on the verb danced above a past tense particle. It’s the part of the word that tells us the dancing happened sometime in the past. Some languages even have several different ways of expressing past tense and future tense. For example, if something happened yesterday, you might say it a different way than if you were talking about something that happened long, long ago.

Tense is not the only way to talk about when an action happened. Besides past, present and future, we can talk about doing things often or occasionally or again and again. These specific ways of talking about when an action happened are all types of aspect. The way English expresses aspect is with separate words like adverbs. However, other languages may change the verb in some way to express aspect rather than using extra words like adverbs

So, any words or parts of words that seem to be indicating how (aspect) or when (tense) an action is done can be labelled with particle_tense_aspect

  • particle_modal. We can talk about actions that have happened already or are happening now or even in the future but we also talk about actions that might or might not happen and other similar situations. In grammar books, this is called either mood, mode or modality. English tends to use separate words to convey these ideas, usually by using “auxiliary” or “helper” verbs but languages may also change the verb in some way. Examples: may, might, could, should, would, must, want, hope

  • particle_adjective and particle_adverb. If adjectives or adverbs (discussed above) are not separate words, they might be part of the verb. You could label them with these categories.

Suffix and prefix

Words are not the smallest part of language! Words can be made up of smaller meaningful parts. These little word parts are called morphemes. The morpheme that gives the main meaning of the word is called a root. Morphemes that are attached before the root are called prefixes and morphemes that are attached after the root are called suffixes. Sometimes, morphemes go right inside a root and these are called infixes. Linguistic grammars usually use hyphens to show the morphemes inside of words.


prefix- root -suffix


kind -ness

un- kind

un- kind -ly

work -er -s

re- organize -ation

It can be helpful to understand how your language puts words together. Languages tend to use some of both, but for example, Wakashan languages mostly use suffixes, whereas Dene languages tend to use prefixes. If you are not sure about your language, ask us.

Question word

Question words are used for asking questions. Examples: who, what, when, where, why, how.


Verbs: Getting all of the information that you need

Verbs (action words) are the most important part of most languages and this is especially true when it comes to Indigenous languages spoken in B.C. Whenever you elicit any verb, you should try to get as many forms of the verb as you can.

If a speaker says something and you ask what it means, chances are she or he will say something like “eating, that means eating”. But actually there is a lot more information in the word. Who is eating? When are they eating? There are lots of different ways of saying the same verb. The set of different ways is called a paradigm. It is really important that you try to collect a full paradigm for each verb. This is what we mean:

Present tense paradigm for “to dance”



1st person singular

I am dancing

2nd person singular

You are dancing

3rd person singular

She/he/it is dancing

1st person plural

We are dancing

1st person dual

We (just two of us) are dancing

1st person inclusive

We (me and you) are dancing

1st person exclusive

We (me and someone else or others but not you) are dancing

2nd person plural

You guys are dancing

2nd person dual

You guys (just two of you) are dancing

3rd person plural

They are dancing


If you are not sure whether your language has these forms, ask us. If your language doesn’t have them, cross these rows out.

Make sure that you and the speaker you are working with clearly understand what you are eliciting or else you can get into a “who’s on first, what’s on second” situation! For example, if you ask a speaker how to say that you want the form for “you are dancing” they might think you are asking them to say “I am dancing”.

So, at the very least, it would be awesome to elicit at least 6 forms for every verb, the present tense paradigm. It would be even better if you could get the paradigms for past tense and future tense. These are below.

Past tense paradigm of “to dance”



1st person singular

I danced

2nd person singular

You danced

3rd person singular

She/he/it danced

1st person plural

We danced

1st person dual

We (just two of us) danced

1st person inclusive

We (me and you) danced

1st person exclusive

We (me and someone else or others but not you) danced

2nd person plural

You guys danced

2nd person dual

You guys (just two of you) danced

3rd person plural

They danced

Future tense paradigm of “to dance”



1st person singular

I will dance

2nd person singular

You will dance

3rd person singular

She/he/it will dance

1st person plural

We will dance

1st person dual

We (just two of us) will dance

1st person inclusive

We (me and you) will dance

1st person exclusive

We (me and someone else or others but not you) will dance

2nd person plural

You guys will dance

2nd person dual

You guys (just two of you) will dance

3rd person plural

They will dance

There are many more kinds of paradigms you could work on collecting, especially paradigms having to do with aspect (see above), but this is a good start for now.


Meaning categories (semantic tags)

In addition to the grammatical categories discussed in section 4, it is also useful to tag words in FirstVoices with categories that describe the meaning that a word has. For example, if you enter the word for dog, you will want to tag it with the categories “Animal” and “Mammal”. Below are examples of potential categories. Language Administrators can add custom categories to your FirstVoices language site. More information on how to do that can be found here: Add and edit custom categories


Sub Category


Sub Category
























Bodily Afflictions/Health


Body Parts




Speech And Language




















Gathering And Making

Human Relations



Kinship Terms

Human Things/Activities















Making Cultural Objects














Natural Resources


Place Names
















Food Plants








Medicine Plants










Spiritual Beliefs

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Version: October 2018