Lexicom 2011: St Petersburg State University, Russia

A personal view – Laura Karpinska

This year the annual Lexicom workshop was held from June 14th to 18th in St Petersburg – a city of great cultural and architectural heritage, numerous rivers, canals and bridges, completely unpredictable weather and the beautiful but somewhat mysterious belye nochi(white nights).

Lexicom 2011 was hosted by the Faculty of Philology of St Petersburg State University. The venue was a historic building on the banks of the Neva, in walking distance from the Hermitage and Petropavlovsk Fortress. The building was full of narrow corridors and winding staircases which caused some navigation problems – a guide was necessary to find the dungeon-like luncheon room where we had our coffee breaks. But from a remote corner of the cosy courtyard the great Scherba was benevolently observing the endeavours of the commencing lexicographers.

The tutors of Lexicom2011 were Adam Kilgarriff, Simon Krek and Liz Walter – outstanding professionals in the field of lexicography and lexical computing who were always ready to share their knowledge and experience with the participants during the classes as well as over lunch and coffee breaks. The contribution of Jan Pomikálek and Anna Rylova should also be noted. The latter not only gave a lecture on using dictionary writing systems, but also, helped by a local team of assistants, took care of all organizational issues.

This Lexicom workshop gathered participants from nearly all over the world – Bulgaria, Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia.

Being from Latvia myself, I’m happy to add that this time Lexicom hosted participants from all the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Thus, over lunch, sitting at the ‘Baltic table’ (as Adam Kilgarriff dubbed it) we had a chance to discuss various exciting linguistic and also some non-linguistic issues, for instance, the similarities of the Latvian and Lithuanian language. However, much more important is the fact that Lexicom gave us an opportunity to gather loads of cutting edge information in the field of lexicography and lexical computing so relevant for further advancement of lexicographic practice in our countries.

The programme of this workshop was similar to the ones of the previous years – initially it provided some basic theoretical background on various relevant issues related to lexicography and lexical computing, for instance, corpus linguistics and corpus lexicography, corpus processing, bilingual lexicography, ontologies and terminology, word senses, etc. However, the workshop was obviously more practice-oriented. Already on the very first day the participants were given a chance to participate in practical work sessions which included building of your own corpus and writing a dictionary entry for a learner’s dictionary, applying the initially slightly enigmatic, but later already indispensable Sketch Engine – a web-based program providing various useful language-analysis functions.

In the afternooon of the second day the participants had to decide whether they want to focus on lexicographic or natural language processing issues for the rest of the week, and the group divided in two threads which still met for some common lectures, for instance, on the DANTE database, the selection of dictionary examples or creating the headword list, but the practical tasks were focused either on lexicography or NLP issues.

As the participant of the lexicography thread I have evidence only for the activities of this group. Speaking about the practical tasks, it has to be stressed that for participants with limited experience in practical corpus lexicography these hands-on tasks proved to be real ‘eye-openers’ of tremendous complexity, difficulty and time-consumption of some seemingly simple tasks performed by corpus lexicographers. But even though after a lengthy struggle with loads of corpus evidence you were often perplexed and had more questions than clear answers and solutions – these tasks were still extremely useful since they gave a real hands-on experience of making truly contemporary dictionaries and, since the tasks were performed in small groups, also revealed the importance of teamwork in a lexicographic project.

The cultural program was great – it included a guided boat tour along the rivers and canals of the beautiful St Petersburg and Sting’s concert in the spacious Palace Square, but it was also supplied by the breath of history on every step, as well as numerous museums and art galleries, the Hermitage being the most precious pearl among them.

Lexicom participants could enjoy all this as far as time permitted since the program was very intensive and classes normally lasted till 5.30 in the evening. The white nights made it possible to explore the city till late at night, you only had to make sure you were on the ‘right’ side of the Neva when the bridges were opened during the night…

The Gala dinner was organized in a trendy restaurant ‘Kitsch’ which offered excellent food, live music and dancing, but the climax of the whole evening was doubtlessly the beautiful song performed by one of our tutors, Simon Krek. Thank you, Simon, it was unforgettable!

So, never believe if you are told that lexicographers are just ‘harmless drudges’ – they are also great singers and dancers, at least the ones you can meet at Lexicom!

This Lexicom is over but lexicography is still in the air – its participants return to their lexicographic projects, a couple of months later some of them meet at the eLEX conference in Bled, someone completes a lexicography-related PhD thesis.

Meanwhile a new Lexicom is being planned since there are more future lexicographers who need this great lexicographic experience.