Lexicom 2014 and eLex 2015 at Herstmonceux Castle / Cambridge

I participated in Lexicom 2014, an annual international workshop on corpus and electronic lexicography that took place between August 11 and 15 at Herstmonceux Castle, a picturesque medieval castle near Brighton. It was one of the two most exciting and enriching learning experiences I've ever experienced in my entire life (the other being the experience of learning the Talmud at an ultraorthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem during my sabbatical last year).

The workshop far exceeded my expectations. Everything was amazing - course materials themselves, two teachers, two assistants, other like-minded participants from various countries in the world (it was strange that no one participated from the UK, and many of the participants, including myself, live in countries other than the ones they were born), and of course "extracurricular activities" some of us, including our two teachers, had every evening at the bar inside the castle, from which I learned no less than from the official part of the workshop.

The course materials can be divided into three main categories: corpus lexicography taught by Adam Kilgarriff, practical electronic lexicography taught by Michael Rundell, and theoretical electronic lexicography taught by both of them. I especially enjoyed and benefited from the sessions on the use of Sketch Engine for building corpora and searching built-in and custom-made corpora taught by its developer himself (Adam) and sessions on practical tasks of writing a dictionary by the editor himself of Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners and Macmillan Collocations Dictionary (Michael). Having made a personal acquaintance with these amazing linguists is a priceless asset for me. I recommend this workshop to everyone who wants to learn recent advances in corpus and electronic lexicography from the best imaginable pair of world-renowned experts.

I'm even planning to revisit the castle next August, but for a different purpose. The next biannual conference on electronic lexicography, eLex 2015, will be held there. I still have to think about a topic for my lecture proposal. Even if I may not be able to find any, I'll probably participate in the conference as a listener.

After this unforgettable international gathering I visited a good old friend of mine living in Cambridge who I first got acquainted with 22 years ago when I was a student in Jerusalem, and spent three days there. I was impressed with the cultural richness and maturity I couldn't fail to notice there, and felt sorry that I never thought of studying in the UK (or the US), too. My present academic life must have become quite a different one.

This travelogue-shmavelogue of mine wouldn't be complete without my telling about one important thing I lost and three things I fell in love with (again) in the UK there. I proved my extraordinary absent-mindedness by losing my one and only credit card during the workshop. Luckily, I had enough cash to survive, and this was the second time to lose my credit card, so I remembered all the necessary procedures to withdraw cash through the Western Union in the UK.

Many people, both in and outside the UK, seem to be making fun of British foods. But having eaten the best fish and chips I had ever eaten at some local pub in Cambridge, I fell in love again in this popular British food. I miss it so much that I've found two restaurants in Jerusalem that serve fish and chips and am planning to visit there this week. British cider was also such a culinary pleasure that I drank it every day during my short stay in the UK. Of all the brands I tried there I liked Bulmers Original. I'm not sure if I can find it or any British cider here in Israel. I'm even thinking of importing it personally.

And one more thing that has made my present visit to the UK this time a very pleasant one, in addition the workshop, my friend in Cambridge, fish and chips and British cider, is the British sense of humor, which I'm inclined to interpret as a sign of cultural maturity. I encountered it among several ordinary people I met there.

PS: The above mentioned friend of mine in Cambridge can offer her therapy sessions not only to those living in the city but also to those outside it through Skype in Russian, English and Hebrew. If you are interested, please take a look at Soultap Therapy, her website.


Imagined life of a lexicographer

I'm really excited that I'll finally be able to participate next week in Lexicom, an annual workshop on electronic and corpus lexicography to be held this year at Herstmonceax Castle near Brighton in England. Though one may be able to learn theoretical lexicography from books, practical lexicography, or how to make a dictionary, seems to be learnable efficiently only from those who already have a first-hand experience in this art. This is probably the only workshop on electronic and corpus lexicography, both theoretical and practical, that has been taking place annually for years, and its two teachers are among the most eminent and admired experts in the field.

The main reason why I long wanted and have decided to participate in this unique annual workshop is that I myself want to compile a couple of bilingual dictionaries electronically that involve Modern Hebrew either as their source or target language and are based on or driven by corpus evidence.

I've already started to imagine how my life will look like if I start working on any of these planned dictionaries in an intensive manner as the main task of my routine. Ironically, I'll probably find myself speaking less and less with living people, though the purpose of a synchronic dictionary is to describe their living language; instead, I'll spend more time checking corpus evidence in a written form.

Practical lexicography is probably one of the few areas in which linguists can make a practical contribution to the society. What has attracted me to it is not so much this reason as my feeling that my characters seem to be suitable to endure Sisyphean work called dictionary making.

This workshop next week will tell me if my feeling is justified. I also hope I'll be able to share my experience there with what few regular patient readers of this blog-shmog after I return to Israel in about ten days. Having read impressions of the workshop by past participants, I'm already quite sure that my experience will also be an unforgettable one.


Profound influence of the study of the Talmud on the way of thinking and arguing

One of the two pinnacles of my weekly activities is my weekly study of the Talmud in the traditional Ashkenazic manner, that is, with a study partner. Outsiders who are not familiar with this method of learning and see two of us arguing might think erroneously that we are angry with each other, as we scream and interrupt each other when we argue. I'd even call the study of the Talmud in this traditional manner mental martial art.

Though I started this only about two years ago, I already see how profoundly it already influences the way I think and argue. Though the color of my "belt" is not black yet, I'm surprised to see how easy and boring to argue with someone, whether Jewish or not, who has no background in the study of the Talmud. Since the experience of learning the Talmud is so intence, I can't help noticing immediately any logical flaw in anything written, including messages posted to mailing lists I subscribe to. I try not to "abuse" this byproduct of my study of the Talmud, but someone writes something utterly stupid in public, I can't resist the temptation of counterarguing it.

And every time I reread afterwards how I reasoned my counterargument, I'm surprised to see how Talmudic my reasoning is (and has become). I'm afraid that I've made a bad reputation for myself in many circles this way, and some people seem to be even afraid of arguing with me in public. Actually, one person even "confessed", though in private, that he feared of arguing with me in public. What a compliment! ;-)

I may be wrong, but I can't help thinking that the Ashkenazic ingenuity has much to do with the study of the Talmud and its profound influence on the way its learners think and argue. Of course, only a small part of the Ashkenazim studies this amazing book, but this learning experience and its influence seem to have been distilled even into the way common people who have otherwise nothing to do with the Talmud think and argue.