UCL Centre for Digital Humanities


All the world exists to end up in a dictionary

14 December 2010, 1:05 pm–1:50 pm

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Foster Court, G31

In this Painless Introduction, Julianne Nyhan will talk about dictionaries. Since the earliest proto-dictionaries, from perhaps 2340 BC, lexicographical works of all kinds have recorded, preserved and made accessible successive snapshots of linguistic and cultural world knowledge. Yet, when the size and scale of the Web is considered, one might wonder whether dictionaries have had their day?

It is incredibly easy to use the web as a corpus, for example, and with the help of a few boolean operators one can extract from it information that many digital dictionaries do not currently offer, such as collocates or information about the frequency of a given word. The sparse treatment that Dictionaries have received in many recent Digital Humanities collections and series is notable too.

This presentation will give an insight into the wonderful world of historical dictionaries, with particular focus on bilingual Irish-English dictionaries. Reflecting on some case studies from the areas of History and Cultural Heritage it will argue that dictionaries, far from moribund, have quietly become crucial resources for machines as well as mankind.

In a play on Stephan Mallarme's statement "Tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre", it will be argued that "All the world exists to end up in a dictionary". For those planning to embark on their own scholarly retrodigitisation projects some of the key contributions that Digital Humanities has made to digital meta-lexicography will be reflected upon. The many contributions that remain to be made will be reflected upon too.

Julianne Nyhan is Teaching Fellow at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. She is also Book Reviews Editor of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews and was elected to the Council of the Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI) in December 2009. Julianne is a formal participant of the 'Strategic IT Recommendations' Working Group of the COST project InterEdition.