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…”. Continue reading From a Legacy Dictionary to New Lexica: An Alternative Time-Machine to Discover Neologisms

Digitised and Born-Digital in One Application: Dutch Historical Dictionaries Online

Dutch historical language has been described in four separate comprehensive dictionaries: the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT, Dictionary of the Dutch Language, 1500-1976) the Middelnederlandsch Woordenboek (MNW, Dictionary of Middle Dutch, ~1250 – 1550), the Vroegmiddelnederlands Woordenboek (VMNW, Dictionary of Early Middle Dutch, 1200-1300). and the Oudnederlands Woordenboek (‘ONW’, Dictionary of Old Dutch, ca. 500–1200). Both WNT and MNW were paper dictionaries, that were digitised by keying and made available on CD-ROM. ONW and VMNW were born digitial dictionaries. To have a comprehensive view of the Dutch language, it was decided to put the four dictionaries online in one portal. Making it possible for users to query one ore more dictionaries simultaneously was a logical step to take because these dictionaries complement each other. The challenge was not only to give the user optimal access to the dictionary information, but also to do so without compromising the uniqueness of each individual dictionary. Continue reading Digitised and Born-Digital in One Application: Dutch Historical Dictionaries Online

Digitising 150 Years of the Swiss German Dictionary

The scholars of the Swiss German Dictionary (Schweizerisches Idiotikon) have collected more than 15000 pages of highly concentrated information over the last 150 years. When we began retro-digitising the dictionary a few years ago, we were unsure if we were up to the task of dealing with such a massive amount of data. Of course, it was not a hardware problem – the 100 million characters will easily fit into any storage device sold nowadays. The real challenge is how to translate a 19th-century information structure into one which today’s computers can handle.

One of the major concerns of dictionary makers before the electronic age was how to save space. Dictionary makers achieved this by using abbreviations, using typography (styles and special characters) to mark different parts of an article and using context to convey information. This specifically means that certain elements can either be omitted depending on the context or bear a different meaning.  Continue reading Digitising 150 Years of the Swiss German Dictionary

A New Life for an Old Dictionary: Notes on Digitizing the Dictionary of Russia

I was a PhD student just finishing my thesis when my doctoral studies advisor, Professor Viktor Kabakchi, a grey-haired Russian scholar with many years of university teaching experience, invited me to take part in updating his brainchild  – The Dictionary of Russia. The first print edition of this dictionary about Russian cultural terms in English, which was published more than 10 years ago, required a thorough editorial revision. My excitement to meet new challenges as well as new perspectives in life knew no bounds.

However, at the time I didn’t have the slightest idea what to start with in order to digitize a print dictionary and produce its electronic version. To my great joy, the eLex 2013 Conference in Tallinn, organized by the Institute of Estonian Language and the Trojina Institute of Applied Slovene Studies shed some light on my understanding of what e-lexicography is. But that was only a mere introduction to the field.

Soon afterwards, I was lucky to start discussing the digitization of The Dictionary of Russia with K Dictionaries from Tel Aviv, who agreed to run the project and provide all the necessary technical support and guidance. I wrote this post to share with you some personal notes on a retro-digitization project taken by someone who is not a computer geek.  So please do not expect find too much ‘technical stuff’ in it, as my idea was to give an overview of the main milestones and show where we have come by now. Continue reading A New Life for an Old Dictionary: Notes on Digitizing the Dictionary of Russia

How Can I OCR My Dictionary?

One way to digitise a dictionary is using Optical Character Recognition or OCR. But is OCR feasible at all for my dictionary? And if so, which OCR program should I used, trainable or omnifont? And how about the workflow: should I train the OCR engine or not? And, finally, what should be the output format of my OCR? For those wanting to take the OCR adventure, here a very brief introduction.

To OCR or not to OCR

Some texts are totally  un-ocr-able:

Continue reading How Can I OCR My Dictionary?

Legacy Dictionaries Reloaded: Why Should We Bother? 

The closest I’ve ever come to glimpsing hell was several years ago, reading an article in the New York Times, entitled “Justices Turning More Frequently to Dictionary, and Not Just for Big Words.” The article cited the example of a certain Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who had apparently parsed the meaning of a federal law by consulting the usual legal precedents (X vs Y) —  and no less than five dictionaries. One of the words he looked up was “of”. He discovered, lo and behold, that its meaning had something to do with belonging or possession.

Dictionaries lie at the core of the human ability to conceptualize, systematize and convey meaning. But they are hardly positivistic, objective repositories of knowledge or truth about language, let alone life.

Continue reading Legacy Dictionaries Reloaded: Why Should We Bother? 

From Books to Bytes: Turning Paper Dictionaries into Digital Format

When working on the Deutsches Wörterbuch, Jacob Grimm felt depressed by his life as a lexicographer. In the preface to the first volume, published in 1854, Jacob wrote:

“As if for days fine and tight flakes were falling down from the sky and soon the whole area is covered with vast snow I am quasi snowed in under the mass of words pressing towards me from all corners and crevices. Sometimes I want to get up and get rid of everything.”

Dorothea Grimm, his brother’s wife, observed Jacob and Wilhelm anxiously. They have to be liberated, otherwise they will get mouldy, she thought, watching them work on the dictionary from the early morning until late at night.

Continue reading From Books to Bytes: Turning Paper Dictionaries into Digital Format