Re-linking a Dictionary Universe or the Meta- dictionary Ten Years Later

  1. 1. Christian-Emil Ore

    University of Oslo

  2. 2. Espen S. Ore

    University of Oslo

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More than ten years ago what was called a meta-
dictionary was proposed as a central part of
the framework for a dictionary laboratory at the
University of Oslo (Ore 2001). The framework
has since functioned as a pivot in the combined
lexical database, text corpus and manuscript
editing system for
Norsk Ordbok
Norsk Ordbok
is published in
twelve volumes (to be completed in 2014) and
provides a scholarly and exhaustive account of
the vocabulary of Norwegian dialects and the
written language Nynorsk, one of the two official
written forms of Norwegian.
The architecture of the dictionary framework
described in this paper was based upon both
explicit and implicit assumptions - and some
of the latter were not only not consciously
considered in the construction phase, they have
also led to features or lacks of features in the
system where we now see the need for change.
In this paper we look at problems related to links
between the meta-dictionary and the sources
and show how some of the problems are solved.
1. The meta-dictionary?
In the 1990s a huge amount of lexicographical
source material (dictionaries, slip archives and
texts) was made electronically available by a
national digitization project. By then
had produced three volumes out of
twelve. Being a project started in 1930 the future
of the project was highly uncertain. Thus the
original motivation behind the meta-dictionary
was to create a common web based interface
to the background material by inter-linking the
material to a common headword list as a meager
substitute for the edited dictionary. A similar
approach has later been taken by the Dictionary
of Old Norse Prose in Denmark (ONP).
Fortunately, the
Norsk Ordbok
project was
refunded and revitalized in 2001. It was decided
that the new project should be completely
digital. As a result a new version of the meta-
dictionary was designed.
An entry in the meta-dictionary can be seen
as a folder containing (pointers to) possibly
commented samples of word usage and word
descriptions taken from the linked databases
etc. Each entry is labeled by normalized
headword(s), word class information and
the actual orthographical standard used.
The working lexicographers view the meta-
dictionary as an easy access to systematized
source material. The chief editors use it as tool
for headword selection and in dimensioning the
printed dictionary. The database used in the
Cobuild project for lemma selection from the
corpus, is an early example of such a database
(Sinclair 1987).
Norsk Ordbok
is a historically oriented
dictionary covering the period 1600 to the
present. The time span and the focus on dialects
make the background material heterogeneous.
The oldest sources are glossaries compiled in
the 17
centuries, mainly the results of
work done by vicars collecting information
about their parishioners' language on request
from the government in Copenhagen. For the
description of the word inventory of the current
dialects surveys and especially local dictionaries
form valuable sources. The meta-dictionary
constitutes a bidirectional network. Thus the
historical or dialectal dictionary linked to the
system can be used as an entry point to the entire
set of information.
2. Building a dictionary net
The traditional systematic overviews of the use
of words in context have been alphabetically
ordered paper slips with each word in a small
context and the source information. The slip
collections have gradually been replaced by
text corpora. In the
Norsk Ordbok
project the
slip collections are digitized and linked to the
meta-dictionary, and a new annotating tool
for singular language observations has been
developed. A standard TEI-encoded text corpus
spanning the period 1850 to present is gradually

constructed. The results from corpus queries can
be stored and linked to the meta-dictionary.
The old and the local dictionaries and glossaries
constitute an important source for historical and
dialectal word usage respectively. Traditionally
such dictionaries and glossaries have been
transcribed to paper slips and stored in the slip
collection. In the new system the dictionaries
could have been included in the corpus.
This may be done with the newer dialect
dictionaries. The old dictionaries are written
in Danish or Latin and would have introduced
a lot of linguistic noise in the corpus. As
these dictionaries are important documents in
themselves it was decided to treat them as
individual works documenting the language
view of their time.
The modern dialect dictionaries are given
an XML-encoding according to TEI’s printed
dictionary format. The 17
dictionaries are represented by printed,
annotated text editions of the original
manuscripts. These editions have been
transcribed and given a TEI markup reflecting
their structure, generally not compatible with
TEI’s printed dictionary format. Due to their
systematic character, <div>-elements can be
used to organize the text into chunks describing
words and thematic sets of words. The
“headwords” are clearly identifiable and are
marked as <w>-elements. The loose structure
implies that there may be more than one
“headword” in each text chunk. The TEI-texts
are stored as blobs in a relational database.
The TEI-texts are chopped up according to
the entries (dictionaries) and the text chunks
(glossaries) and stored together with the
headwords (slightly normalized) in a separate
table structure.
In the early version of the system, the linking
between these sources and the meta-dictionary
were on the <entry> level for the local and on the
<div> level for the old dictionaries. There was no
information about the keyword in the selected
dictionary that was used to create a link. In
some cases when a <w>-element was removed
an invalid link from the meta-dictionary to the
external text sets was left. Today the link is
annotated with the actual headword and the
person responsible for the link.
The process is automatic with a manual check:
a daily job runs through registered dictionaries
and looks for keywords in a special metadata
field in the database. If the word is found but
there is no existing link between the meta-
dictionary and this text unit, a link is created,
and the record in the meta-dictionary is marked
as changed and will be forwarded to an editor for
approval. If the word is not found in the meta-
dictionary, a new entry is created and linked
with the text unit, and this will be sent to the
editor for approval (see also Fournier 2001 and
Gärner 2008 for interlinking of dictionaries).
3. The meta-dictionary and other
dictionary nets
What constitutes a word is an unresolved
linguistic question. A traditional monolingual
dictionary is a word form oriented index to
a set of concepts and meetings where each
entry is indexed by a headword and contains a
possible meaning hierarchy with samples. Word
forms denoting related concepts are connected
by cross references. The Wordnet approach is to
focus on the concepts and collect the word forms
denoting the same concepts in sets of synonyms
(synsets). The synsets can then be organized
according to a predefined ontology such as in
the Global Wordnet Grid (Vossen 2009). The
two ways of organizing word information is fully
compatible. A word net can be converted to
a traditional dictionary and a well organized
dictionary rich on semantic references can be
converted into a Wordnet.
The current meta-dictionary was pragmatically
designed 8 year ago. It has in itself become a
valuable lexicographical documentation system.
The source material spans both in time and
space. Due to the practical purpose, that is,
editing a traditional dictionary, the word forms
are linked mostly etymologically. Thus an entry
covers many concepts as does an entry in
a traditional dictionary. However, the meta-
dictionary also groups how different scholars
have described the meaning of a word from 1600
to the present. The resources comprise the old
digitized paper slip collections, the dictionaries
and glossaries and stored results from querying
the corpus. They all represent collections of
systematized language documentation in their
own right and premises. The entries in the
Norsk Ordbok
are in fact just yet another

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None