Insights into dictionary publication at Collins

In addition to its inclusion of researchers from multiple universities, MEITS has a number of external partners, which provide welcome perspectives on our work from a position outside academia. One such partner is HarperCollins Publishers, which is associated particularly with strand 2 of MEITS in that issues around language standardisation are especially relevant to the production of dictionaries: Collins is one of the UK’s best-known and longest-established dictionary publishers. As well as being able to provide insights on the challenges of creating dictionaries for numerous languages, particularly those where multiple norms or standards coexist, HarperCollins has also provided internship positions to MEITS researchers with the aim of offering experience of the dictionary creation process, focusing on issues around norms and variation. As well as strand 2, this is very relevant to my own PhD research as part of strand 3, which takes lexical variation as a principal theme.

I was therefore keen to take up the opportunity to benefit from one of these internships, and was fortunate to do so this summer, spending four weeks in Glasgow working as part of the Collins dictionary team. As well as collaborating with staff on a chapter to appear in The Cambridge handbook of language standardisation (eds. Wendy Ayres-Bennett and John Bellamy), I was able to gain experience in industry related to the production of consumer-facing products, working as part of a small editorial team whose members share a diverse array of duties. This included the use of enterprise-level software, notably Sketch Engine and the Dictionary Production System, products that allow Collins staff to monitor language use in corpora and prepare entries for presentation in online and printed dictionaries, developing my skills in using tools for corpus linguistics. Further exploration of online dictionary provision and how this differs from the traditional functionality of a dictionary was particularly interesting, as it showed how dictionary publishers in the digital age are able to harness new technologies in ways that minimise some of the limitations of standard dictionaries, and can become increasingly well-equipped to deal with languages that have multiple global norms and standards.

Over the four weeks, my tasks included checking online tools and dictionary entries, searching for attestations of specific vocabulary items in corpora, and compiling lists of potential new vocabulary for various purposes. It was particularly beneficial to see how dictionaries attempt to be descriptive and inclusive, and how this links to market concerns in ways that are not typically explored by university research, providing a more nuanced perspective on dictionary attitudes towards variation and standardisation.

—Merryn Davies-Deacon, PhD student, strand 3

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