The Académie Sample Database

  1. 1. Russon Wooldridge

    Trinity College - University of Toronto

  2. 2. Isabelle Leroy-Turcan

    Université de Lyon III

Work text
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The Académie Sample Database
1. Description of the research project
The Académie Sample Database (ASD) forms
part of the international Dictionnaire de l’Académie française Computerization Project, which has
as its object the creation of a database of the eight
complete editions of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie (1694–1935). The three main components of
the ASD are the Dictionary Base, the Text Base
and the Critical Base, the last comprising expert
notes written by members of the project team and
theoretical texts written by contemporaries of the
various editions of the dictionary; others include
a bibliographical base, an image base and a metalinguistic keyword base (Wooldridge 1994;
Wooldridge & Leroy-Turcan 1995; Leroy-Turcan
1996a and 1996b). In the present paper we wish to
concentrate on the Dictionary Base and the Text
Base of the Sample Database.
The Dictionary Base (DB) and the Text Base (TB)
are complementary, the one representing a description of the language (langue), the other the
discursive usage on which the description is based
(discours). The ASD is modelled on the Renaissance dictionary/source-text bases RenDico and
RenTexte comprising the dictionaries of Estienne
and Nicot and the texts of some of their 16th-century French sources (Wooldridge 1995). In the
case of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie, the sources are in principle the Academicians themselves:
the Dictionnaire proudly declares that it has no
need to use quotations since the best writers of
French are those engaged in the writing of the
The purpose of creating the three sample databases
is, on the one hand, to test the model before
committing ourselves to a fixed methodology for
the global project, and, on the other, to provide
usable data for the study of dictionary methodology and the history of the language – the Dictionnaire de l’Académie is unique in that it gives eight
synchronic descriptions of the language, encompassing 240 years, and constitutes the linguistic
norm of French.
The ASD-DB contains a selection of articles, the
same for each edition, representing approximately
1% of the whole dictionary. The selection criteria
are that the sampling contain both semantic and
function words, that it be representative of the
alphabetical divisions of the text (beginningmiddle-end), that it include sequential entries
(blocks), that it contain words of cultural significance, and that it cater to some extent to the
particular interests of the database authors (academic researchers and students). The chosen entries,
all entered and on-line (see section 3), are the
following: acanthe, âme, cloche to clochette,
douaire to douzil, gagner, gras, gros, loin to loisir,
loup to louvre, que, queue, tige to tintouin, vent,
vin, voler.
The ASD-TB comprises short texts or extracts
from the writings of a number of major and minor
writers of French prose and poetry, all of them
members of the Academy. The choice of texts is
based on several criteria: diachronic coverage
(comparable volume for each edition of the dictionary); historical representativity of usage (based
on the role that various Academicians played in
the preparation of each edition of the dictionary);
the occurrence of a majority of the words included
in the Sample Dictionary Base; availability.
Among the better-known names of the several
dozen it is hoped to include are: Balzac (Guez de),
Bossuet, Buffon, Chateaubriand, Condorcet, Corneille, Cuvier, France, Hugo, La Fontaine, Lamartine, Marivaux, Mauriac, Mérimée, Montesquieu,
Musset, Perrault, Racine, Renan, Romains, Sainte-Beuve, Tocqueville, Valéry, Voltaire.
2. Database structure and search
The dictionary is tagged for headword, co-headword, headword variant, main part of speech,
paragraphing, typography, edition, page and column. The unpredictability and ambiguity of microstructure fields has led us to prefer the use of a
list of lemmatized metalinguistic keywords – e.g.
masculin for references to masculine gender, signifie for definition copulas, familier for colloquial usage labels – to a systematic, and subjective, tagging of information fields that would distort
the text, particularly in the early editions. A complement to metalinguistic keywords is provided by
typographical discrimination: definitions are always in roman, examples in italic. Links are made
for each headword to occurrences in the text base,
and other links are made for headwords or subentries to the critical base and to images (e.g. the
history of the word feuille d’acanthe or graphical
representations of the acanthus leaf in architecture).
Dictionary data retrieval can be either full-text
searching, with optional filtering by tagged fields
(edition, headword, typography, etc.), or entry
look-up – the indexed word list contains word
occurrences in the first part and headwords in the
second (thus tokens doux 722, douce 353, douces
59, headword @doux 8).
The texts are tagged for structural division – title,
section, paragraph etc. –, book division – page –,
and typography. Data retrieval is classical full-text
search with optional tag-field filtering.
Concurrent searching of dictionary and texts is
achieved simply by combining both types in one
global database. The global base constitutes the
default corpus; the user can create sub-corpora by
restricting particular searches: for example, to dictionaries only, to texts only, to 18th-century dictionary editions and texts, to dictionary edition A
and texts M and N, etc.
3. The ASD on-line
The ASD is currently using the World Wide Web
as a design tool. For the moment, searching is
simulated by links from selected items to occurrences; these latter are preformatted in KWIC,
extended context and distribution displays. It is
planned to use a version of PAT as a search engine
for the on-line version, and to distribute the finished ASD both on-line and on CD-ROM. The
WWW version – currently including all of the
selected dictionary entries and lists of metalinguistic keywords linked to preformatted displays of occurrences – can be accessed at
4. The complementarity of the Dictionary
Base and the Text Base
The principal significance of the combined dictionary-text database is the comparison it allows
between codified usage (the dictionary) and natural usage (the texts). Since the Dictionnaire de
l’Académie is both normative and conservative,
one can expect to find in text bases such as Frantext and ARTFL many examples of usage either
condemned or ignored by the Dictionnaire. One
can also expect that for a number of lexical items
the Academicians themselves, like all speakers,
who have the two basic registers of formal and
informal use, will say one thing in the dictionary
and do another in their writings.
For example, the adjective timoré “timorous” is
treated in the dictionary from 1694 to 1878 as
applying almost exclusively to the fear of offending God. From 1694 to 1762 the two collocates
given by the examples are âme “soul” and conscience, both feminine. The edition of 1762 adds
the remark that the word is used almost exclusively in the feminine form. From 1798 to 1878, the
masculine collocate il “he”; is added. The text
bases offer examples of usage that conform to the
pronouncements of the dictionary, and others that
do not. Bossuet (1685) gives conscience timorée;
Montesquieu (1755) uses the masculine timoré to
qualify the pronoun vous “you”; Voltaire (1776),
writing about the Bible, gives two occurrences of
âme(s) timorée(s). In all of the preceding cases
timoré is used in reference to the fear of God. In
an earlier text (1755), Voltaire gives an example
in which, as will become increasingly the case,
timoré is used simply in reference to a person’s
character or behaviour: main timorée “hand”. Similarly, Sainte-Beuve (1834) quelque chose de
timoré “something”; Chateaubriand (1848) corruption timorée.
In the 6th edition (1835), the Dictionnaire states
that tillac “upper deck”; is almost always used in
referring to merchant vessels. Chateaubriand uses
the word 11 times in his Memoirs (1848) in reference to merchant ships, passengers ships and naval
The word timbre acquires new senses with each
edition. The meaning “postage stamp” is expressed by timbre-poste in the 7th (1878), with the 8th
(1935) adding the elliptical timbre. Obviously the
dictionary is recording established usage that can
be observed in earlier texts. The earliest attestation
of timbre-poste in the 1,880 texts of the ARTFL
database is 1863 (Goncourt brothers); Hugo uses
it several times in the volume of his correspondence published in 1866. In the same volume he uses
the elliptical form timbre once (69 years before the
Académie); by the following volume (1873), the
shortened form has become more frequent than the
full one.
The computerization of early dictionaries is quite
recent (Wooldridge 1985). Pruvost (1995: 17) notes the landmark significance of the 1993 Toronto
Colloquium on Early Dictionary Databases (Lancashire & Wooldridge 1994). Lancashire (1992)
is preparing an English Renaissance Knowledge
Base with similar aims to those of the Académie
project. The philological care taken in representing faithfully the original texts allied to the
technological sophistication that is now the norm
in Humanities computing make it possible to create research resources that give scholars full access to early texts without having to depend entirely, as in the past, on repeated partial linear
readings or on the filtered and diachronically mar265
ked interpretations of historical dictionaries (such
as the OED or the TLF).
The paper will comprise an illustrated description
of the structure and data of the combined ASD
dictionary-text database.
I. Lancashire (1992). “Bilingual Dictionaries in an
English Renaissance Knowledge Base”, CCH
Working Papers, 2: 69-88.
I. Lancashire & T.R. Wooldridge (1994). Early
Dictionary Databases. CCH Working Papers
4. [The papers of this volume are being reissued in electronic form in the CH Working Papers. See, for example, I. Leroy-Turcan on the
computerization of Ménage’s etymological
dictionary, CHWP, B.10, at]
I. Leroy-Turcan (1996a). “Conflits de générations
et usages littéraires concurrents dans la première édition du Dictionnaire de l’Académie
française (Paris, Coignard, 1694)”, lecture given at University of Toronto, February.
I. Leroy-Turcan (1996b). “Modalités de mise en
oevre de l’informatisation de la première édition du Dictionnaire de l’Académie française
(1694)”; paper given at Les Journées “Dictionnaires électroniques du français des XVIe et
XVIIe siècles”, Clermont-Ferrand, June.
J. Pruvost (1995). “Un demi-siècle d’or pour les
dictionnaires de langue français”, Actes du
Colloque 1994 La Journée des dictionnaires
Université de Cergy-Pontoise, Centre de Recherche Texte/Histoire: 5-22.
T.R. Wooldridge (1985). Concordance du Thresor de la langue françoyse de Jean Nicot
(1606): matériaux lexicaux, lexicographiques
et méthodologiques. Toronto, Éditions Paratexte.
T.R. Wooldridge (1994). “Projet d’informatisation du Dictionnaire de l’Académie (1694-
1935)”, to appear in the Proceedings of the
Colloque du tricentenaire du Dictionnaire de
l’Académie française (Institut de France, Paris, November 1994).
T.R. Wooldridge (1995). “Bases dictionnairiques,
bases philologiques, bases de connaissances
culturelles”, to appear in the Proceedings of the
Colloque “Autour de l’informatisation du Trésor de la langue française” (Nancy, May 1995).
T.R. Wooldridge & I. Leroy-Turcan (1995). “Metalinguistic Keywords as a Structural Retrieval
Tool for Early Dictionaries”, JADT 1995

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Bergen

Bergen, Norway

June 25, 1996 - June 29, 1996

147 works by 190 authors indexed

Scott Weingart has print abstract book that needs to be scanned; certain abstracts also available on dh-abstracts github page. (

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (16), ALLC/EADH (23), ACH/ALLC (8)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC