Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Prince of Linguists, Adam Kilgarriff

Adam, who built an increasingly distinguished career from the age of 27, with recognition at home and abroad based on his understanding of corpus and computational linguistics and lexicography and said with perfect self-effacement that he'd spent all of it "really thinking about the relationship between corpus and dictionary. So this puzzling out how they relate to each other is always near the middle of what I'm doing" http://ow.ly/NsfUX , has died at the age of 55.

What you possibly didn't know about Adam, that he :

* was born in Brighton, Sussex in 1960 and brought up along the coast in Hastings, the son of his German mother, Renate who had met his father, Raymond, when they both worked at London's 'Bernard Quaritch' Bookshop and in Hastings worked as a bookseller in 'Howes Bookshop' in a Victorian Gothic building in the back streets with its enormous stock arranged on one mile of shelving with an atmosphere compared to a college library and once said : "I am an unrepentant generalist. I like being confronted with miscellaneous collections and getting to grips with it all. Specialists tell me there is an awful lot of new material to be discovered even after a lifetime in one subject, but I just cannot be convinced about that. I enjoy the discoveries I make day by day as a generalist."
* having passed the 11+ exam, attended the traditional Hastings Grammar School for Boys in 1971, where he remembered 'all those gruesome assemblies where we stood up while masters came in, sat down, stood up, prayed, sat down, were talked at, stood up, sang, (or muttered, in my case), sat down, were lectured at, stood up, prayed, sat down, stood up, masters went out. Fifteen minutes a day, every school day for five years.'

* in the 1970s, was already showing an interest in the power of words and recalled : 'When I was thirteen, I went to a chess championship in Southend-on-Sea. It was grey and windswept and I was a little lonely and homesick and as far as I can remember I lost all my games. I remember just one spark of colour in this otherwise cheerless scene : my partner in one game, delighted with his ingenuity at a particular move, declared it 'subtle' with a capital B. Subtle has a subtle spelling : the b is silent, so it's all the more subtle if the b is a capital.'

* left school after his 'O' Levels at the age of 16 to study his 'A' Levels elsewhere and quickly matured as an adolescent, having been 'introduced to feminism early, by an older lover, in my late teens in the 1970s' which 'opened up a fascinating world of questions: how different would the world have looked had I been a woman?'

* signed up for a year's 'Voluntary Service Overseas' at the age of 18 in 1978 and spent it in Kenya, working for the 'Project Trust' teaching at a ‘Harambee’, in a self-help school on an island in Lake Victoria where, in 'a remote part of a third world country. It was a formative experience. I learnt some essential truths, like that we Brits are all pretty rich and lucky, and also that wealth is not much related to happiness.'

* returned to Britain and started his undergraduate studies at Cambridge University, in 1979, the second year of his father's Presidency of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and graduated three years later with a 'first class' BA degree in 'Philosophy and Engineering' and in 1983 got his first job working as a 'Housing Officer' for the 'London and Quadrant Housing Trust' and resumed his education the following year and enrolled at South West London College for a 'Diploma in Counselling Skills.'

* remembered 'a scarring weekend' with other students at the beginning of his counselling course where, 'after a few drinks we had had a rollocking argument about Jewishness with a strident Zionist, feminist woman. I went to bed feeling it had been a jolly good argument. But over the remainder of the weekend, and then the following term of the course, I had felt increasingly defensive, like everything I say might be taken against me, excluded. At the end of the year, the strident woman left the course and I was so relieved.  A year or two later some gossip got back to me.  The strident woman had said after that first evening “he represents patriarchy, we’ll get him”. I took away two lessons : be wary of putting your head above the parapet and maybe I’m not such a feminist in my style of argument after all.'

* in 1987, gave up his job with the housing association, switched direction and started his MSC in 'Intelligent Knowledge-Based Systems' at the University of Sussex, graduated the following year and picked up his Counselling Diploma before embarking on four years research at the University of Sussex for his DPhil in 'Computational Linguistics' entitled : 'Polysemy' which began by asking : 'What does it mean to say a word has several meanings ? On what grounds do lexicographers make their judgment about the number of meanings a word has ? How do the senses a dictionary lists relate to the full range of ways a word might get used ? How might Natural Language Processing Systems deal with multiple meanings ?'

* concluded his 1992 thesis with a quote from Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking Glass' and asked : 'Was Humpty Dumpty right ? Can a word mean whatever we choose it to mean ? ...possibly, in sufficient extra circumstances, almost any word can be used to mean almost anything', but 'while Humpty Dumpty may be right, this does not invalidate to lexicographer's attempt to specify the meaning of a word.'

* in 1992 at the age of 32, started work as a 'Computational Linguist' at Longman Dictionaries where he developed lexical databases and in 1995 worked on the 'Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English' where he was proud to have pointed out an omission https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2APIUxE_i6M&t=1h16m23s and advised on 'language engineering' and after three years moved to the 'Information Technology Research Institute', University of Brighton and over the next nine years, progressed from Research Fellow to Senior Research Fellow and finally Senior Lecturer.

* continued his work in the publishing world, working for Oxford University Press in 1998 as an advisor on 'language technology' and for Macmillan on 'corpus use in dictionary production' for the 'Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners' and in addition, gave advice on 'computational linguistics' and 'corpus processing' at Kings College London, the National Endowment for Science and the charity, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

* in 1997 published his influential "I don't believe in word senses", in which he began with : 'Within the lexicography and linguistics literature, they are known to be very slippery entities. The paper looks at problems with existing accounts of 'word sense' and describes the various kinds of way in which a word's sense can deviate from its core meaning' and proceeded to argue against discrete classification of 'word senses' and saw them rather as a continuous space of meanings largely defined by the 'contexts' in which a word appears : 'I examined the concept, 'word sense'. It was not found to be sufficiently well-defined to be a workable basic unit of meaning' and witnessed his paper rapidly become a 'state-of-the-art' argumentation on the topic.

* in 2002, in partnership with Sue Atkins and Michael Rundell, set up his first company, 'Lexicography MasterClass Ltd' to provide consultancy and training in lexicography and dictionary production and later said : 'If you have a lexical computing problem, call me in! I’ve always found, to my surprise and delight, the more interesting the work, the more people pay me for it. Such are the delights of being very specialised' and in 2003, attended workshops and delivered keynote speeches and lectures at Tilburg University, The Netherlands and in Mexico City, Tokyo and Beijing and in the same year set up 'Lexical Computing Ltd' to provide corpus software and services and consultancy.

* made his greatest contribution to lexicography with the creation of 'Sketch Engine', which took its name from word sketches, one-page summaries of a word's grammatical and collocational behaviour and provided an immediate response tool for most queries for billion word corpora and subsequently saw it used for 'dictionary-making' at Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, HarperCollins and Le Robert and at the National Language Institutes of eight countries and for teaching and research in many universities.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3KyhPBeoLU&t=18m50s

* in 2006 added another string to his bow working as an 'Expert witness' in intellectual property cases relating to product names and trademarks and in the years up to 2013 travelled to and delivered his expertise to audiences in Bologna University, Athens, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Regensburg in Germany, Szeged in Hungary, Taipei in Taiwan, Malta, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Murcia in Spain, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Pavia and Bolzano in Italy, China, Brno in the Czech Republic and Bali.
* at the age of 48 in 2008, with his 11 year old daughter, made a return trip to Kenya for a 'moving reunion' with his old friend, Raphael, who he had not seen for 30 years, found that lack of rain had led to crop failure and threat of starvation and followed Raphael's suggestion and provided £2,400 in funding so that he 'could hire a truck, drive to the Tanzanian border, not so far away and basic foods were available at a more manageable price in Tanzania, fill up the truck and drive back to Kenya to distribute the food to needy families' and in addition, continued to support 'schooling for HIV orphans, organised by Raphael via a local NGO that he set up'.
* in 2009 asked the question : 'Are you a digital native?  I suspect most readers of this piece, like me, are digital immigrants. The terms were coined by Marc Prensky, whom I had the good fortune to hear at the English Language Teaching conference, in April. Most people closer to my children’s ages than mine are digital natives – in rich countries and poor. They have grown up playing with computers, Xboxes, Nintendo DS’s and cellphones...Already over half the world’s population are digital natives, and us digital immigrants (assuming you, dear reader, are closer to my age than my children’s) are doomed.  In twenty or thirty years, people who remember typewriters will only be found in old people’s homes' along with flip chart users : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3KyhPBeoLU&t=1m34s
* in 2010 posted 'Three English Singletons' with  'There are three words of English that are particularly vexing ..The first is co-operative. No other word in English has a hyphen that resolutely refuses to go away... Next is café. English doesn't do accents. It just doesn't...The third and least forgiveable is cannot. We don't stick words together..Were I a language evangelist, I would not object to "would of" or the greengrocers "carrot's", or even to the displacement of our delicate and beautiful system of tag questions by the universal innit. These words are but the variations on the theme of the melody of English. But when one, lone, single obstreperous word defies an otherwise universal rule, then out ! Out, co-operative ! Out, café ! And out, out, out cannot !'

* in 2012 greeted the announcement that 'Macmillan Education' would cease publishing print dictionaries and that Macmillan Dictionaries would henceforth live only online as a “a day of liberation from the straitjacket of print” and was pioneering in the use of the web for linguistic research and set up 'The Web as Corpus' as a Special Interest Group of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

* as his reputation spread, addressed research seminars at Google, Microsoft and FrameNet in Berkeley, USA and at the Universities of Stockholm, Düsseldorf, Munich, Geneva, Gothenburg, Uppsala, Saarbrücken, Stuttgart, Dublin, Columbia, Tampere in Finland, Helsinki, Complutense in Madrid and on the home front : the Universities of Essex, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Sheffield, Lancaster, Leeds, Surrey, Kings College London, Goldsmith, Cardiff, Wolverhampton, Aston, Brighton and Sussex and the British Library.
* in November 2014, was diagnosed with cancer and started a blog in January 2015 and planned to use it : 'to keep anyone who is interested up-to-date on my health (I have stage 4 bowel cancer) but also for thoughts on language, corpus linguistics and life and the world in general. The plan is to use these four categories' and went on to declare :  'Despite the cancer, I most certainly am enjoying life; I’m not used to life being slow and gentle, and having ample time to enjoy the view out of the window, the pictures round the house, BBC Radio 3 playing gems from the classical repertoire, for writing this blog. It’s all very nice!' and in March was humorous with 'The Grammar of Farting' https://blog.kilgarriff.co.uk/?p=73#more-73 and in May, honest with 'Cancer and depression' https://blog.kilgarriff.co.uk/?p=101

* in February considered the words of the nineteenth century hymn :
'We blossom and flourish
As leaves on a tree
And wither and perish
But naught changeth Thee.'
and asked 'What is it about this (half-)verse that so resonates? It won’t be the religion, I don’t do religion and it only comes in at the end. No, it must be the language. The words are all basic, old words of English. No prefixes, suffixes, long words, imports. The four verbs: blossom, flourish, wither, perish: four ancient words of English for four fundamental processes of life. The sentence structure: subject and intransitive verb, four times over: as basic as it gets, connected by and, the simplest conjunction. One simile, again, of unanswerable directness. The plain, pure rhythm; the plain, pure rhyme. Thank you, Walter Smith. For when I use language, this is a model for how I want to use it.'
* on his passing, was paid tribute by the American lexicographer, Orin Hargraves who said : "his contributions to lexicography, mainly in the form of Sketch Engine and its associated corpora, are immeasurable. Dictionaries now and far into the future are better for the work he has done."

* in January had written 'came across the whiteboard before Christmas at the hospital where they were taking a blood test to check I was OK for the next round of chemotherapy. Apart from the season’s greeting, all the messages are reminders to nurses taking blood tests of some of the less obvious procedures to be followed when doing some of the rarer tests. It caught my eye because of the sheer strangeness of finding the two radically different uses of languages next to each other, as if they had something to do with each other. Wittgenstein said language was a toolbox with lots of different kinds of tools for different purposes: the whiteboard is then like finding the Space Shuttle launcher next to a teabag squeezer: both tools, but they have little else in common.
It leaves me wanting to rejoice – isn’t language wonderful, that we can do all these different things with it !' .

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