At the moment I have my fictional language written down in a notebook, but as the vocabulary increases its becoming harder and harder to find words.

I am adding new words all the time, so writing them in alphabetical order doesn't last long.

How can I keep a track of this language and still be able to find the words I need?

Edit: I have seen this question has been marked as a possible duplicate, but it is different as I am also open to paper-and-pencil methods.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Are there any good programs out there to help when constructing languages?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 2:51
  • Frankly, I really can't see doing this 'by hand'; I think that things will get out of hand much too quickly - as you've seemingly discovered. If you insist on a 'by hand' method, the best I can suggest is a box of index cards, one word (or word stem) per card. But even that gets a bit tough to manage after not really very many words. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 19:31

6 Answers 6


One way, while working on paper is to divide things into multiple sheets, making sure to have plenty of extra space at the bottom of dictionary sheets, or alternatively grouping things via e.g. semantic field to not run into the alphabetisation issue to quite the same extent (though this can have the issue that the semantic field of some items might not be easily determineable).

You can also use a computer program to manage your vocabulary, which offers the benefits of easy searchability and ordering. A simple spreadsheet program of your choosing is enough to work in a lot of cases, and otherwise there is the possibility of using actual vocabulary management programs. There are several free ones availible, both conlang-specific ones such as Polyglot (which also has a bunch of other functionality for organising a bunch of other conlanging-related stuff) or one developed for natlangs but still useful for conlangs, such as SIL FieldWorks (which is quite powerful but has a bit of a learning curve).


To add to Gufferdk's answer, Mark Rosenfelder in The Language Construction Kit (online version) mentions the use of index cards (as professional dictionary makers used to do in the past) as well as a technique with two-columned pages:

You can keep a dictionary in alphabetical order by maintaining two columns and just writing in one. New words get placed in the second column. When it starts to get unreadable, it’s time to make a new edition. Index cards work too, with less rewriting.

If you don't mind sharing your lexicon with the entire world, there are also free online services such as ConWorkShop or Anthologica where you can manage your own dictionaries.

  • In my experience (which admittedly is somewhat old, so things might have changed), CWS' dictionary management tools had a bit of an issue where they to a significant extent encouraged (not explicitly, but in the way they were designed) making what is commonly known as relexes, and not particularly well-suited for those situations where one word, either conlang or metalanguage(English), corresponded partially with a whole host of words or phrases in the other.
    – Gufferdk
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 17:27

One of the easiest ways is a simple document in your favorite word processor:

hawarççomtar, [hawarçç- +omtar] n.C. dancer
hawarrôs, [*wel-] n.N. the will, desire; attachment
hawartomar, [wartam < *wert-] n.N. spiritual awakening, spiritual awareness
hawatam, [*wed-] D vb. sing
hawatar, [*wed-] n.N. poison, medicine; saga
hawatôs, [hawatam] n.N. song
hawecam, [*aug-] D vb. add; grow (mid)
hawehham, [*aukwh-] A vb. cook something (w. acc.); cook for someone (w. dat.)

Whatever etymological or grammatical information you feel like adding can be easily inserted. It's easy to insert new words or simply add them to the end of the list and have the software sort the whole thing alphabetically.

One great advantage of doing it this way is that it's a trivial matter of formatting for print should you ever desire to have a printed copy of your dictionary or grammar book.

  • If you're going to do it with a computer, it'd be better to use one of the tools designed for the purpose. If, for whatever reason, you're going to insist on doing it with an office suite, I'd use the spreadsheet program, not the word processor, as most spreadsheets these days have at least rudimentary database management capabilities, such as sorting and filtering. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 19:33
  • De gustibus. I prefer using the word processor for the simple fact that I don't have to deal with a spreadsheet. I happen to like looking at a page, be it dictionary or grammar or texts, that looks like a book: all nicely formatted and print ready. I've never needed any sorting and filtering any fancier than a simple word search, so don't need the functionality that the spreadsheet offers. And the spreadsheet lacks the style, layout and formatting capabilities that I need.
    – elemtilas
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 1:03

With pen and paper: Use index cards

You need two sets of index cards, one ordered alphabetically in the conlang, the other ordered alphabetically in your native language.

You can use index cards of different colour to retrieve, e.g., roots or basic words.

The index cards take up some space, but 10k of them are still managable.


I use multiple sources for Lortho. For the most part, my notes are all kept on Google Docs and its lexicon is stored in Google Spreadsheets. For the display portion of the language I use three different websites: Linguifex, FrathWiki, and ConWorkShop. In addition, I created a challenge on Twitter and Instagram called Lextreme2018 which keeps track of all my new lexemes for the year and the progress of Lortho's script. As I add a new word with the challenge, I also make it a point to add the new word in both the Google Spreadsheet as well as on ConWorkShop. That way I have my dictionary stored in two separate places should one decide to go belly-up.


I would suggest recording them in an Access Database or something of the like. You can make a table for each part of speech.

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