Alumnus Peter Sokolowski to Talk with Students on Dictionary as Data

Alumnus Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, will visit campus on Tuesday, Feb. 18 to present a talk, “The Dictionary as Data,” at 5:30 p.m. in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall.

Sokolowski will examine not only the transition of dictionaries from print to digital, but also what has been learned about English from having more than a billion words looked up per year on the website of dictionary-producer Merriam-Webster.

By watching trends of lookups on this heavily consulted online dictionary, lexicographers track which entries are being consulted at any given moment. Some words are frequent sources of curiosity, while others show spikes of interest triggered by news from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and sports. The web traffic of word lookups tells a story about the changing business of dictionaries and what is expected of a dictionary in the 21st century.

Sokolowski was recently mentioned on Time magazine’s list of 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013 for his unique understanding of why certain words are trending at any given moment.  He joined Merriam-Webster in 1994 as the first French-language editor in the company’s history. While at UMass Amherst, Sokolowski taught French while earning a master’s in French literature. An active lecturer in the world of English as a Second Language and the Test of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Soklowski has also led workshops on American English for the U.S. State Department worldwide.

This event is co-sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. The program is free and refreshments will be provided.