Scrabble® in Dakelh

Scrabble® is an excellant game both for beginners in the language and for experts. It is good for language learners, as it teaches vocabulary and spelling. Although players with an extensive knowledge of the language have an advantage, it can be played even by people with only a limited knowledge of the language. In a language learning situation, players can be allowed to use a dictionary (which is not allowed under normal Scrabble® rules).

The Scrabble® board is a grid on which the players place wooden tiles. The tiles have letters printed on them. The first player uses his or her tiles to spell out a word at the centre of the board. After this, each player tries to add words, either horizontally or vertically, but always in such a way that the new word connects up to a word already on the board. In effect, the players create a cross-word as they play.

Certain squares on the board are marked as increasing the score. For example, a tile placed on a square marked ``double letter score'' is scored at twice the value marked on the square. Players therefore try to use the rarer, higher-valued letters, and to put their tiles on extra-value squares. Here is the layout of a Scrabble® board. The color code is:

redtriple word score
purpletriple letter score
coraldouble word score
bluedouble letter score


Here is an example of a partially completed game.

     U  O      
     K  O      

At any given time, each player has seven tiles. Whenever he uses some, he can take new ones from the central stock, where they are placed face-down, so that players select new tiles at random. The number of tiles with a certain letter on them is proportional to the frequency of that letter. Different letters have different values; the rarer the letter, the higher its value since it is harder to find a place for it. For example, the letter e is very common in English, so there are ten e tiles each worth one point. On the other hand, the letter z is rare in English, so there is only one z tile and it is worth ten points.

Problems arise using an English Scrabble® set for other languages. First, provision must be made for letters not found in English. Second, if the frequency of letters is very different from in English, the number of tiles with a certain letter and the value given to that letter will not be appropriate. The best approach, therefore, is to calculate the lexical frequency of the letters in the language and then create a new set of tiles marked with the letters used in your language, with the number of tiles with each letter and the value assigned to each letter determined by the frequency of that letter in your language. One way to create a new tile set is to use the English tiles that come with the game and cover them up with sticky-backed paper on which the appropriate letters and values have been printed. Another approach is to create an entirely new set of tiles and burn or print the letters and their values onto them.

Here are the numbers of tiles and values for Dakelh.


This tile list is based on the assumption that rare borrowed sounds such as r and f are not to be included. The inclusion of these rare sounds skews the frequency distribution in undesirable ways. No distinction is made between the "fronted" (lamino-dental) consonants and the "unfronted" (apico-alveolar) consonants, partly because of the undesirable increase in the number of distinct letters, partly because so few people make this distinction anymore.


Yinka Déné Language Institute © 2006