This week I revisited Herstmonceux Castle, a beautiful medieval English castle in Sussex, in order to participate, though only as a listener, in eLex 2015, the fourth biannual international conference on electronic lexicography that took place there this year. It was also the venue of Lexicom 2014, an annual international workshop electronic lexicography I participated in (and enormously enjoyed).
When the venue of eLex 2015 was officially announced during Lexicom 2014, I immediately decided to revisit the castle. My initial plan was to give a talk at the conference, but since I'm still rather new to lexicography in general and electronic lexicography in particular, I couldn't come up with any clever proposal. So I gave up the very idea of participating in the conference itself and planned to attend the 100th World Congress of Esperanto in Lille, France instead this July. For a couple of professional considerations I reverted my plan two months ago and decided to take part in eLex 2015 even as a mere listener, hoping that my trip will be approved by the university.
This last decision has turned out to be a very clever one. In spite of my initial fear of feeling lonely as I'm still nobody in the field, I gradually got acquainted with other participants, including some of the leading figures in the field. I was especially honored and glad to have met and spoken to Patrick Hanks (England) and Yukio Tono (Japan), two of the most important lexicographers in the world. Meeting one of my two ex-teachers at Lexicom 2014, Michael Rundell, as well as five other participants in the workshop dispelled my initial fear. The presence of Ilan Kernerman, my Israeli colleague and a widely known lexicographer in the international community of lexicographers, including eLex, also helped me feel comfortable.
Not only have I learned a lot of new things about recent advances in electronic lexicography but also have I been inspired by witnessing how advanced and established (electronic) lexicography is in many European countries, especially in comparison with Israel, where practical lexicography still remains by and large in a displorable condition, and theoretical lexicography barely exists. Especially surprising was to see first-hand the flourishing of electronic lexicography in Eastern European countries, including Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Estonia. Israel is light years behind them.
No less eye-opening was the use of English as an academic lingua franca. All the non-Anglophone participants, including those from Easten Europe, spoke English alomost as native speakers not only in their lectures but also in small talks. I've never experienced before how firmly English has already been established as the academic lingua franca not only in writing but also in speech. This new experience has also reminded me of the intellectual frustration I had felt with Esperanto. First of all, many self-purported Esperantists don't know the language well enough for academic purposes. There aren't too many linguists who also know Esperanto at this high level, and such scholars in Jewish studies are few and far between.
I've also realized one important aspect is totally missing in the academic culture in Israel and probably in the Jewish world at large. It's the custom of drinking together in the evening with other conference participants in order to socialize. During this conference I also visited the pub in the castle every evening to enjoy not only my favorite English cider but also to shmooze with other participants who happened to be there. Many European scholars seemed to share this custom. I learded no less there than in the conference itself.
I can summarize eLex 2015 as one of the most fruitful and unforgettable conferences I've ever attended in my entire academic life. I'm already planning to attend eLex 2017, hopefully as an active participant. Though its venue hasn't been decided yet, it's most likely that it'll be in Europe as the majority of the participants this time and in the previous three conferences were Europeans. Before this I'll also hopefully participate in Euralex 2016 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Precisely in the digital age it's becoming more and more important to meet fellow researchers face-to-face in both conference halls and corridors as well as pubs and exchange ideas directly.