A personal view – Anna Rylova

This summer, the small Czech town of Brno brought together twenty-eight people from different countries for a unique master class given by three unique specialists. We were in for five days of intense and exciting tutoring in the fascinating science of lexicography.

Lexicom 2009, Brno image 1Day one. We settle in a cozy hotel, whose lobby will become a haunting ground for late-night chats about dictionaries, corpora, and other language matters any lexicographer can discuss for hours. In the morning, we set off to find our university and its IT department where the master class is to take place. A maze of corridors with long winding stairs and here we are in a small room, together with three lexicography giants—Sue Atkins, Michael Rundell, and Adam Kilgarriff. All three of them immediately win our hearts with their welcoming speeches, anecdotes, jokes and academic openness.

Lexicom 2009, Brno image 2And then we dive into the depths of corpus studies and practical lexicography, hanging onto every word uttered by our tutors. Each lexicographic topic is summarized in a brilliant presentation accompanied by captivating commentary.

Later that day, over a pint of beer with Adam and Michael, we digest the ideas presented to us in the first master class. We sit around two large wooden tables and tell one another about ourselves and our projects, sharing our thoughts and ideas. We continue with a stroll about the town and then decide to get a taste of the local cuisine. Our chats and discussions grow into a true communion of souls, we spend all days together, sitting late into the night in the open-air cafes and stunning the patrons with words rarely heard in a pub, such as “word sense disambiguation” and “corpus querying”. But they don’t sound strange to us. New ideas and topics pop up again and again, fuelled by excellent Czech beer.

Lexicom 2009, Brno image 3On the very first day of our studies, we take the lexicographic bull by the horns, each one of us having the chance to put the theory we have learned to practice. And on day three we split into two groups, one tackling the task of dictionary writing and the other immersing themselves into the subject of natural language processing. Our tutors tell us about how we can extract useful knowledge from large text corpora, identify and distinguish word senses, write definitions, and find appropriate translations. At the same time, the other group is sweating over corpus querying and prepares a corpus for the Sketch Engine. Each one of us is actively involved in the fascinating business of creating dictionaries—either writing dictionary entries in accordance with the selected lexicographic approach or formulating complex corpus queries. We learn how to write various types of dictionary entries and at the same pick up useful corpus skills.

Next time we meet in the lobby of our hotel, many of us a jotting something down as we walk. These are the new senses to be added into our dictionary, as tomorrow we will have to present our work to our tutors and peers for discussion. Meanwhile, the corpus team are excitedly discussing some corpus tagging issues.

Shop talk continues throughout lunch the next day: while the hospitable Czechs pour out more soup into our bowls, we are arguing over which sense should come first in the entry and which grammar notes will prove most useful to the reader.

Lexicom 2009, Brno image 4Suddenly we realize that the five days of the course have come to an end. The final class is dedicated to the future of lexicography. Each talk offers lots of food for thought. Sue, Michael, and Adam not only share with us their many years of experience in dictionary making, provide answers to our numerous questions, but also encourage independent lexicographic thinking, prompting us to analyze the data and find optimal solutions in the course of our practical work. In just five days, the students gained a whole new understanding of the dictionary compilation process. Now it’s time to say good-bye to our tutors, but the five days that we spent learning from them provides a huge impulse for our future work. We are certain that we will meet again and that the ideas that emerged during the seminars will be elaborated and discussed at future conferences, and will eventually be implemented in our  own dictionary projects.