Building a specialised dictionary: a call for assistance.

Geoffrey Clive Williams.

Université de Bretagne Sud. France.

The following text is a brief introduction to the dictionary and a plea for help addressed to members of the parasitic plant community. If you wish to look at the dictionary in its initial stages you can click on dictionary below. This is very much a dictionary in the making, shortened due to computing disasters that will be overcome in the following months. A short introduction to the mechanism will shortly be put on line. Thoughts and comments on the dictionary and project will be gratefully accepted

The Project

Writing a research paper can be a major challenge for the non-native speaker of English. As everyone knows, journals can reject a paper on grounds of bad English even if the article is scientifically valid. Having taught for 16 years in the Science department of the University of Nantes, I know the problem well, in that I have been confronted with the two major groups of language users: the students who have as much problem with the terminology and content as the syntax ands style of the text, and those in research who know the terminology but have problems with the surrounding wording. Students can be helped with reading texts, and critical reading should help with their future writing, the problem with those at doctoral level and beyond is more difficult. What solutions are there for the non-native researcher/writer?

The obvious solution is to use the services of a translator. There are two problems here. One is cost, a really competent translator has to earn a living which can make their services prohibitive for underfunded laboratory. The other is that however good the translator may be you cannot be certain that they really understand what you want to say. In addition, in farming out the job, you, the writer, will have learnt nothing, and will have to pay out again for the next publication.

The alternative is to take out your dictionaries and write it yourself, and then get it checked by a tame native-speaker if you have one at hand. Here the problem is that bilingual dictionaries and monolingual dictionaries only deal with general usage and are no help with style. The few specialised dictionaries that exist tend to be more lists of terms and do not take into account style or the multidisciplinary aspects of most research.

In 1996, I set out to try and build a specialised dictionary covering the area of parasite plant research, the task is not yet finished as many theoretical issues remain to be solved, and I again need your help.

Modern lexicographic research is based on corpora, carefully selected collections of texts in electronic format that represent a given field. In 1996 I was working on a master's project doing just this, which is why Patrick Thalouarn intervened on my behalf in Cordoba. I needed your texts, preferably without having to scan them. The texts collected are not treated individually, but are studied using computational routines so as to find regularities of usage and present them for analysis by a human lexicographer. My master's, which became a PhD, consisted of building a particular methodology for the categorisation of texts by theme and field and the extraction of potential headwords for a dictionary. The PhD over I am now working on the dictionary itself, but need to update my collection of texts, and go further.

After the Cordoba conference I did not get copyright permission to use all the texts, which means that some areas were under represented. So, as the 2001 meeting is in Nantes and I shall be present I would like to have your permission to include all your texts in a new database. If anyone wishes to give retroactive permission for earlier meetings I am still interested as I would like to follow terminological usage over time. In addition if you have texts that you have published elsewhere I would be interested as scanning is very fastidious and editors not always forthcoming with permissions. This time round I would like permission for my colleagues in a new research group to have access to the texts as if the dictionary is to represent usage then specialists from other fields of linguistics will have much to bring. When I say I wish to go forward it is because I wish to enlarge my project.

One of the features of conference papers is that the published proceedings differ from what is actually said. This is because spoken and written discourse strategies differ. I, along with teacher/researcher colleagues in the UK and Hungary would like to study these differences so as to help young researchers speak at conferences. The aim would be to record the proceedings in Nantes and compare the written and spoken, again using computers. This gain is a long term project as we are all heavily involved in teaching, and, like you, receive little funding for our research.

I would greatly appreciate you help in this project, all you need to do is to say yes. I must stress that the texts, written and spoken are studied as a corpus, we are not concerned with the styles of individuals. We are concerned with the strategies of the research community as a whole, and the terminological contribution of subject fields, rather than the stylistic preferences of one or another author. My aim is to assist present and future students, not to criticise. If you wish for more information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

My e-mail address is