From a Legacy Dictionary to New Lexica: An Alternative Time-Machine to Discover Neologisms

The History of Greek Lexicography has many examples of exceptional and quite “crazy” pioneer researchers, amateur lexicographers, linguist authors who travel all the country to collect data for their lexica and dictionaries. Nikos Kazantzakis travelled most areas of Greece to collect “beautiful” words for his works, especially for his epic saga, Odyssey – as a sequel of the Homer’s Odyssey. He describes the following story.

Kazantzakis was taking pictures of rare flowers and trees in the countryside of Crete. On the outskirts of a village he was stunned by a beautiful flower. He asked the children that were playing nearby what the name of the flower was. They did not know the name; however, they informed him that only one, a very old lady of the village, would know the name of the flower. Kazantzakis went to the house of that lady to ask her about that name. Unfortunately, the neighbors informed him that she had just passed away. Kazantzakis became sad and he then said: “Our language lost a glorious member, since a word just died with that lady…”.

Old dictionaries and lexica are not only a graveyard of dead or unused words, but an important resource and tool of every linguist, especially for lexicographers, lexicologists and historical linguistics. There are various old lexica and dictionaries of Greek language and the few efforts for digitalization were poor, insufficient and incomplete.

A massive 15-volumes dictionary of Medieval and Modern Greek

The Lexicon of D. Dimitrakos (Το Μέγα Λεξικόν της Ελληνικής Γλώσσας) was published in 1954 and it was the first attempt to collect all the lemmas of Greek Language from the texts of Homer to the most modern and synchronic texts (first half of the 20th century). It is the basic source and the bible of the Greek Lexicography, and it is introduced by the quotes of Adamantios Corais (“the first book of every nation should be about the language whose lexicon includes all the ideas and concepts of its language…”). Although the author was supporter of Demotic Greek, this lexicon was written in Katharevousa (Greek). Its structure is quite simple, since it contains the lemma, the language period, all the possible definitions, and in some cases some examples from famous texts.

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Picture: Sample from the forth volume of the Lexicon of Dimitrakos (main lemma, work [δουλεύω]).
I believe that there is no need reason to explain the importance of digitalization of this lexicon. This lexicon has been already scanned in a djvu format, but it hasn’t been OCRed due to the problems with the polytonic fonts and settings. It contains almost the word-history of Greek Language from the first texts until now. It provides an alternative time-travel to any period of the Greek Language and it gives a vivid picture of all the changes through the time. It comes as no surprise that it was nominated and awarded by the Academy of Athens for its contribution. Definitely, it is member of the Holy Trinity of Greek Lexica along with the Liddell-Scott Lexicon and the Historical Lexicon of Modern Greek of the Academy of Athens.

This lexicon can be a good base to compare with all the new lexica of Modern Greek at its microstructure, macrostructure and the selection of the lemmas. Since this Lexicon includes words of Ancient, Medieval and Modern Greek until 1950, it provides us also a perfect pooling area to discover the latest neologisms. There are plans to fully digitize and OCR the lexicon, since the current digitized version has many problems (blur images, uneven pages, stretched lines, etc.) and the cost of doublekeying is quite deterrent for funding in Greece. With a digitized form of this lexicon we can compare it with the newest lexica of Modern Greek (Lexicon of Modern Greek by G. Babiniotis – 4th edition, Lexicon of Koine Greek by M. Triantafyllides, and Functional Lexicon of Greek Language by the Academy of Athens). We want to encode a major part of the lexicon in a (possibly customized) TEI schema and to exploit its potential. Its format should be in xml format on a web-based interface. Additionally, we can extract all the new lemmas that are not included in the Lexicon of Dimitrakos and present them as a corpus. Similar digitalization projects of other languages give us a great stimulus to confront this legacy with respect, awareness and sufficiency.


Published by

Athanasios Karasimos

Graduated from Department of Greek Philology (University of Patras) | MSc Speech and Language Processing (University of Edinburgh) | PhD in Computational Linguistics (University of Patras) | Digital Humanist Researcher Alternative: Games Addict | Fantasy Writer | Movieholic | Escape room "artist"

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