Language and Computation introductory course:
The mental lexicon, blueprint of the dictionaries of tomorrow: linguistic, computational and psychological aspects of a highly valuable resource

  • Michael Zock ()

Keywords: electronic dictionaries, mental lexicon, word access, organisation of the lexicon, index creation for navigational purposes


Whenever we read a book, write a letter or launch a query on google, we always use words, the shorthand labels of concepts. Words are building blocks which, if properly combined, allow us to express complex thoughts. No doubt, words are important. The question is how are they learned or stored, how are words represented, organized and accessed? The answer to these questions will be the topic of course.

After addressing some fundamental questions (what are words? Are they stored as holistc entities or in a modular form?, etc.), we will discuss various types of dictionaries (paper, electronic and mental), their making (by hand, semi automatically) and use (on-line, off-line). We will then introduce some of the techniques currently used in computational lexicography. Finally we will take a look at some of the findings in psychology and neurolinguistics and consider their possible relevance for dictionary builders (How should words be organized and indexed in order to allow for quick and intuitive access?).

With the advent of corpora and computational tools (computers and programs) many things have changed, so has our knowledge concerning the mental lexicon. Dictionaries are huge storehouses of words with various kinds of information associated with each of them. One might think, the larger the better. Yet, dictionaries, complete as they may be, are of limited use, if we cannot access the information they contain. Organization and indexing are critical factors for which lexicographers may get inspired by looking at the psychologists' work.

We will heavily draw on the following sources for this course (see also the reference section): Atkins & Rundell (2008) and Fontenelle (2008) for 'computational lexicography' and Aitchison (2003), Bonin (2007) for work on the 'mental lexicon'.