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
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
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.
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.
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.