DSNA 23: Fitness of Our Dictionaries and Lexicography to 21st-Century Realities

Held virtually on June 4, 2021
10:00 am – 3:30pm North American Eastern Time
(GMT 15:00 – 20:30)


Introduction: Michael Adams (former President, DSNA)

Keynote:  Dictionaries as Authorities: Can They Be and Should They?

Kory Stamper and Bryan Garner
Moderator: Lane Greene (The Economist)


1. How global and national events affect modern lexicography
Moderator: Ben Zimmer (Wall Street Journal)
Online dictionaries are able to adapt speedily to rapid changes in vocabulary and usage. As an example, Covid-19 and the pandemic have spawned a range of new words and new applications for existing words, such as contact tracing, community spread, flatten the curve, PPE, social distancing, and Covid-19 itself. Who monitors these and similar developments for dictionaries? Who writes or revises the definitions? How do lexicographers keep up with global and national changes in vocabulary and word meanings? How does the proliferation of new vocabulary affect established lexicographical approaches?

  • Stefan Fatsis: “34 Days: Inside Merriam-Webster’s Emergency Coronavirus Update”
  • Wendalyn Nichols and Lewis C. Lawyer: “Identifying Emergent Meanings via the Word of the Year Process: A Case Study”
  • Rachel Stone: “Two-Tongued Lexical Trends: Updating Inclusive Language in a Bilingual Dictionary”

2. Dictionaries in the public eye
Moderator: Anne Curzan (University of Michigan)
Dictionaries continue to carry significant authority in the professional and personal lives of people in all walks of life and all stations. Courts in the US and Britain increasingly cite dictionaries as evidence for the meaning of even everyday words. Lexicographers and dictionary publishers now use social media in savvy ways to engage more users. Reporters are fascinated with new words and how they get into dictionaries, and they pay a good deal of attention to contests about words (e.g., WOTY, spelling bees, political gaffes). Teachers and students increasingly turn to online resources for authoritative word explanations and definitions – sometimes online dictionaries from established publishers and sometimes not. How do common understandings – or misunderstandings – of dictionaries and their authority manifest in how users approach these issues? What trends can we find in the attention to dictionaries in the public forum? How should dictionaries adapt to each of these audiences and common uses of dictionaries – or should they?

  • Joseph Kimble: “The (Big) Trouble with How Courts Use Dictionaries”
  • Lindsay Rose Russell: “Dictionary Boycotts and the Power of Popular (Re)Definition”
  • Katherine Martin: “Reading the Decontextualized Dictionary”

3. The Future of dictionaries and lexicography
Moderator: Sarah Ogilvie (Oxford University)
While a dictionary’s word list (entry list) and definitions have traditionally been the work of humans – lexicographers – they are now increasingly generated semi-automatically from large text datasets (corpora). New working models are emerging in which digital humanities, corpus linguistics, linked data, NLP, and machine learning are applied to the selection of illustrative quotations, disambiguation of word senses, choice of labels, and writing of definitions themselves. How efficient and accurate are these computational methods when compared to those of humans? Will human lexicographers always be needed? Will some computer programs be able to generate definitions on the fly and provide the information users expect? And will the notion of “the dictionary” need redefining as a result?

  • Orin Hargraves: “Lexicography in a Post-Dictionary World”
  • Timothee Mickus, Denis Paperno, and Mathieu Constant: “What Neural Networks Need to Produce Definitions”
  • Jonathon Owen: “‘Toward’ and ‘Towards’: A Case Study on the Feedback Loop between Published Writing and Dictionaries”

A Life in Lexicography: Elizabeth Knowles (President, DSNA)

Provision will be made for break-out rooms and a social hour following the formal conference.

Upcoming Lexicography Conferences

ESSE 2020. An online seminar session on “Dictionaries: Ideologies and Norm” will be held at the European Society for the Study of English, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2021, esse2020lyon@gmail.com

EURALEX XIX. Virtual Congress, 7-11 Sept. 2021.  https://euralex2020.gr/

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, Nov. 18-19, 2021, London, UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-november-2021-in-london

Once and Future English Conference, March 10-12, 2022, University of Notre Dame London Global Gateway in Trafalgar Square, onceandfutureenglish@nd.edu

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, May 24-25, 2022, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-may-2022-in-london

ASIALEX 2022, 17-19 June 2022, “Asian Lexicography in the Digital Age: Challenges and Solutions.” School of Foreign Studies, Guangxi University for Nationalities. https://www.asialex.org, asialex.org/#news/21

ICHLL. 12th International Conference on Historical Lexicography and Lexicology, June 22-24, 2022 at the Université de Bretagne Sud, Lorient, France. https://ichll2022.sciencesconf.org/

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, Nov. 18-19, 2022, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-november-2022-in-london

ICALP. International Conference on Applied Linguistics and Psycholinguistics, May 24-25, 2023, London UK https://waset.org/applied-linguistics-and-psycholinguistics-conference-in-may-2023-in-london

ASIALEX 2023, June 16-18, 2023 “Lexicography and Artificial Intelligence.” Yonsei University, Seoul. https://www.asialex.org, asialex.org/#news/20