Here's a question! :) How do you go about keeping track of all your languages' grammatical rules? Long Word files of tables and figures? Binders of notes?

I’m old fashioned, in that I want what I look at on the screen to approximate what I’d hold in my hand as a book. For that reason, all of my languages have a dedicated document file that contains the entire lexicon and the grammar. I use Pages for the Mac, since it’s the program I’ve used basically my whole life (Pages is the successor to AppleWorks which is the successor to ClarisWorks which is what I first started using back in junior high school). The documents are stored on iCloud with hard backups on my iMac, an external harddrive, and in a couple other places (Dropbox and web-based storage).

The documents themselves are structured as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Grammar (Phonology, Morphology, Historical, Other)
  3. Quick Reference Guide
  4. X to English Dictionary
  5. English to X Dictionary

What exactly will be in each one (as well as how they’re laid out) is language-dependent. For example, the dictionary for Castithan has a totally different structure from the dictionary for Irathient—and even though the format for the Irathient and Dothraki dictionaries is similar, Irathient has a lot of different information in each entry than a Dothraki entry does. The English to X section is purely for reference (it just has one word translations and a note to see the entry if the translation could be misleading).

Much of the important usage information is stored directly in the lexical entry. The grammar will lay out usual classes and how, e.g., cases usually line up with verbs, but where there are deviations, this information is stored in the lexicon. All of the tables go in the reference guide, which enjoys a lot of use when I’m translating.

Now having said all that, at the beginning, I usually start sketching with pen and paper. This is how I started out the very first time (writing in the margins of my class notes in college), and it’s how I prefer to work now at the outset. Once things settle down, I can move to the computer. If issues arise, though, I end up going back to pen and paper. In the past, I used random things (I used a Winnie the Pooh kids’ notebook for Dothraki, and the back of aDefiance show bible I got for Castithan, Irathient and Indojisnen), but when I was at TED this past February, I got this notebook thing that I’ve been using consistently.

It’s pretty cool. It’s got dots in it so it simplifies table making.

Now having said all that, a lot of conlangers use spreadsheets. There’s a lot that can be said about using a spreadsheet as your method of storage. It certainly facilitates using the language. I just prefer it to look exactly like a real reference grammar would. (Also, adding in-document links has revolutionized the way my dictionaries work. They’re now much more user friendly.)