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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » November 28, 2013
Linguistics
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Correct Polish at a Click
November 28, 2013   
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Wielki słownik języka polskiego (The Great Dictionary of the Polish Language) is the newest brainchild of linguists from the Polish Academy of Sciences. Available in digital form at www.wsjp.pl, the dictionary offers easy-to-understand explanations of 15,000 words most commonly used by Polish speakers.

The dictionary is intended for both foreigners learning Polish and native speakers who want to quickly find the meaning of a difficult word—to explain it to a child, for example.

According to the dictionary’s editor, Prof. Piotr Żmigrodzki, who is director of the Institute of the Polish Language at the Polish Academy of Sciences, the dictionary is an unusual project among those financed by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education—because it concerns the humanities, not applied scientific research.

The Institute of the Polish Language secured nearly zl.3 million in co-financing for the dictionary because of the practical aspect of the project. It was approved by the Ministry of Science, and later the National Center for Research and Development handled the financial side of the undertaking. The project was completed in December last year.

The launch of the dictionary is only the first stage of work by the team behind the project, who are continuing work on improving and expanding their digital database.

The dictionary can be applied in a variety of ways by those teaching and learning Polish, says Żmigrodzki. “Users are getting in touch with us, contributing their comments that help improve the dictionary,” he adds.

To stay in touch with readers, the editors have created a Facebook profile and “those who ‘like’ us receive information about new and interesting entries,” Żmigrodzki says.

Among the dictionary’s fans are many foreigners who are learning Polish. “We know that a lot of people from abroad use the dictionary,” says Żmigrodzki. “We have users from 80 countries worldwide, from Eastern and Western Europe to the United States to New Zealand.”

The dictionary took five years to develop and involved a total of 60 researchers, most of them lexicographers and linguists from all over Poland as well as computer scientists, who designed the IT tools. A graphic artist has designed the website at which the dictionary is available. At the moment, a team of more than 30 editors are working to upgrade the dictionary.

According to Żmigrodzki, this is the first dictionary of contemporary Polish that is only available in electronic form. It was devised as a relational database in which the author of an entry enters information using a computer. The third element of the IT structure is a screen that appears before the reader.

So far most dictionaries are available in book form, even though they are produced using a computer. But a dictionary in paper form has its limitations. An electronic version offers additional functionalities. For example, it is possible to search for certain items according to selected criteria.

“Our dictionary allows users to search entries in alphabetical order by parts of speech, origin or topic,” says Żmigrodzki. “You can look up banking, medical, or political vocabulary and so on. You can display literary terms or specialist jargon. There are many possibilities.”

Most of the dictionary’s functionalities are available to any user who enters the website. There are also much more extensive queries, such as searching terms by syntax—this is of interest to professionals. The authors of the dictionary provide such features for free, but “not everything and not for everyone,” as Żmigrodzki puts it.

“We want to know who is using the results of our work and why,” says Żmigrodzki. “In terms of research objectives , the matter is clear—we will be making all the functionalities available for free. However, we are aware that, on the basis of our dictionary, it is possible to create another dictionary, for example. Therefore we have to have control over the commercial applications.”

Żmigrodzki adds, “From the beginning we realized that the 15,000 words is not much, even if these are the most frequently used words in Polish. Therefore, we were prepared to work to develop the dictionary once the project is completed.”

Over the next five years, the editors of the dictionary plan to increase the number of entries to 50,000 and expand them in line with suggestions from readers, such as providing etymology—users will be given information about the origin of words.

To avoid mistakes and inaccuracies, the dictionary was created from scratch rather than compiled from previous publications. The editors decided that by borrowing entries and explanations from previous lexicons they could be perpetuating various lexicographic errors.
Karolina Olszewska
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