SIL comparative wordlist for African languages

Author : Keith Snider & James Roberts

Publication date : 2006

Questionnaire URL :

Bibliographical references :

  • Snider, Keith and Roberts, James (2004) SIL Comparative African Word List (SILCAWL). The Journal of West African Languages 31.2, 73-122.
  • Snider, Keith and Roberts, James. 2006. SIL Comparative African wordlist (SILCAWL). SIL International,


"Collectively, linguistic research in Africa has produced a wealth of lexical data, and while these data often serve useful purposes in their individual projects, their use to comparative linguistics is minimal, given their lack of a standard format. The SIL Comparative African Wordlist (1700 words) is therefore an attempt to offer a format for these data that is more amenable to comparative analysis." (Sniders & Roberts, 2006: 4)

Protocol summary

"The items in this wordlist appear with both English and French glosses and are arranged semantically under twelve main headings which, in turn, are subdivided into second and third degree headings. In general, the words in the list are structured and ordered so that we move from items relating to human domains to items relating to non-human domains, and from more concrete items to more abstract items. The twelve main headings appear below.
1. Man’s physical being
2. Man’s nonphysical being
3. Persons
4. Personal interaction
5. Human civilisation
6. Animals
7. Plants
8. Environment
9. Events and actions
10. Quality
11. Quantity
12. Grammatical items" (Sniders & Roberts, 2006: 5)

Development context

"There are two main reasons for the development of this wordlist. First, many of the existing African wordlists simply do not contain enough lexical items to allow one to do serious comparative analysis. Second, many existing African wordlists are specific to a particular language family, and thus, a pan-African list offers the potential of serious comparative research. [...]

We originally developed this wordlist in order to encourage the standardization and dissemination of data collected through the auspices of SIL, and we present it now insofar as it would be useful to any linguist interested in comparative work in the languages of Africa.
An additional wordlist is posted, and gives further details and resources of the project, including spreadsheet templates, database templates and instructions for collection and submission of collected wordlists. It is found at" (Sniders & Roberts, 2006: 4-5)

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