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Document 1691

Interview with Professor Christian Kay, part 1 - on the Historical Thesaurus project

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Copyright holder(s): SCOTS Project

Audio transcription

M1224 So yeah what was it, what was it like to work on the Hi-Historical Thesaurus project, erm what was your experience on it?
F606 Well I was working on it for a long time. I mean I came here nineteen sixty-nine as a research assistant. So then I was working on it full time as a sort of nine to five job. And then gradually I became a lecturer and had less time but more responsibility, till I ended up really running it for the last, what, twenty years maybe. //So it was a very long project. [laugh]//
M1224 //Yeah.//
F606 Erm.
M1224 Eh so erm yeah the-there were, must have been a lot of changes along the way, like erm the, we thought erm we read erm that you erm changed the classification and the data collection maybe a couple of times.
F606 Yes erm I mean I don't think when it was started anybody realised how big it was going to be or how long it would take. //I mean they said, the first calculation was fifteen years and it took forty-five so [laugh] that was quite a difference.//
M1224 //Hm. Yeah.// //Yeah.//
F606 //Do you know Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases?// When we started erm that was what we used as a filing system. So you took the information out of the OED, wrote it on a slip of paper, and then you put a number in the corner which was something like 'three-six-five animals', which is the number in Roget's Thesaurus for animals and then it was filed. We used to have an archive where the speech studio is now. Erm but we grew out of that. Erm Roget's got one number for animals and in fact there are about sixteen thousand words in English, so it's not awfully helpful to put sixteen thousand words under one heading, so we gradually moved to something much more detailed. Erm and that went on developing really over quite a long period of time, cause we had, you know, postgraduates doing theses and the first one was a guy from Canada who classified religion. So that was a bit done but that affected other bits, cause there were, there was too much for him to do so we ended up, he did 'the church' and then somebody else did deities and things like that, which was another complete section. And then we had a problem, well, where do you stop with deities? And we ended up putting in all sorts of supernatural creatures as well.
M1224 So it sounds like detail was your main, kind of, focus?
F606 Yeah the structure of it emerged quite early, the big overall classes. That was in a- an exercise that Michael Samuels and I did. He was the founder of it. And we sort of set up twenty-six broad divisions and that survived, you know, right till the end, but the detail changed a lot.
M1224 Yeah.
F1223 How did you erm determine who was working on what? Cause I read you started with the letter L.
F606 Yes, erm I don't know why they gave me the letter L. [laugh] Erm er well probably it was the next letter because at that point there were a lot of the teaching staff were doing a letter each. So the story is that Professor Samuels came into a departmental meeting and said, you know, "this is what we are going to do". The professors had that kind of power in those days. And so he did the letter A, or at least the volume cause it was OED volumes, and then the next person down did D to E, so by the time they got to me it was L.
F1223 And did you like working on the letter L? //No? [laugh]//
F606 //No, er it's a very difficult letter. [laugh]// Cause it's got really nasty words like trying to sort out 'lay', the verb, and 'lie', the verb, over, you know, thirteen hundred years, that was very difficult. //In fact I got C after that, somebody dropped out, and that's a much nicer letter, should you ever have to do anything like this. [laugh]//
F1223 //[laugh]//
M1224 So should we avoid the wo-, the word 'set', for example? //[laugh] Yeah. Mm.//
F606 //Yes definitely. [laugh] Yeah I mean S is the biggest letter in the alphabet.// //It has some horrible words in it.//
M1224 //[cough]//
F606 Those in some ways are the most difficult. //I mean I did 'make'. I did L-M in fact and the rest of 'M' was quite nice but 'make', you know? [laugh]//
M1224 //[laugh]//
F1223 //[laugh]//
F606 You've got probably about a hundred different meanings in the OED. We tended to put them together, cause a hundred is really too many and in the OED quite a lot of it is based on grammar, you know, if you've got a different construction they'll separate it out, which is fine for their purposes but unnecessary for ours. Cause we had a rule, you can't have a word more than once in any semantic category. So if it's got nowhere to go you've got to start a new category, which may be a bit too detailed for what you want.
M1224 //Yeah.//
F1223 //Yeah.//
M1224 So, erm, in light of eh the eh the scale of the project and how many words you were dealing with, eh was it made easier by advances in technology, o-over the time?
F606 Yeah ehm in some ways but by the time we really got into computers we'd done most of the basic data collection. It wasn't, we did experiment as to whether you could sit with a whole lot of slips on a screen and kind of sort them out, but that didn't work. Erm, I don't know anybody that's managed to to do that. If you're-. If you've got your sixteen thousand slips for animals, you need a table like this and you need to put them in piles and then you need to bring them back and do it again. So the basic thing was it made it more secure. Erm, it was, we stored it. It made it easier to cooperate with people outside Glasgow cause we could just send data quite easily. And it helped a lot at the end cause, you know, with something that takes that long, the bit you do at the beginning needs to be updated when you get near the end. So we were adding stuff right up to the last minute and it was much easier to do that on a computer.
M1224 Mm.
F606 That's why dictionaries, if y- somebody starts a dictionary they usually start in the middle cause they know that everyone will look at the beginning and they want the be-beginning to be the best bit, not the the least bit. [laugh]
M1224 So would you have [cough] done much differently, looking back on... //I know it's a big, big question, but. [laugh]//
F606 //Erm. Yes it is.// Well you sometimes think, you know, if I hadn't been lumbered with that, what would I have done? But I did find it intrinsically very interesting.
M1224 Mm. //Mm mm.//
F606 //Obviously if you were starting something like that now you would do it differently, but you couldn't start it now because nobody would give you money for something that you couldn't say "in two years we'll be able to put this on the internet".// You know, research is much more controlled.
M1224 Yeah.
F606 And in the early days, you know, in theory, erm academics divide their time between teaching, research and administration, but the one that tends to get lost is the research.
M1224 Yeah.
F606 You know, if you say "I'm spending one third of my week and I will not do anything else, I will do my research", it's quite difficult to maintain that.
M1224 Yeah.
F606 So we did move much more to the work being done by people that were paid to do it rather than just academic time.
M1224 Mm.
F1223 How, how difficult was it to be working on a project where you couldn't be sure if you could finish it because of the funding?
F606 That was very demoralising at times, because we spent a lot of time sort of waiting for the next grant. Erm, I mean it was bad enough for me but it was even worse for the people that wouldn't have a job, you know? By that time I had a job that would continue. But, you know, you might be in a position where three people would just have had to go if this grant hadn't come through, so that's very diff- it's difficult to sustain any kind of long-term role for research assistants particularly. What we found very helpful was postgraduates because they're not looking at it as a career job. Erm, and there was often a very nice gap between somebody finishing their PhD and getting a job, and that was a very useful period for us cause they weren't distracted by anything else.
M1224 Yeah.
F606 So a lot of work was done that way, and the typing was all done either by people that were on job creation schemes - we did quite well out of that - or by students. Cause that was just straightforward data entry. //Yeah//
M1224 //There was a a government-funded project wasn't there in the eighties?//
F606 Em it was quite big in the nineteen eighties, cause there was very high un-unemployment, and i-, among graduates as well as others, so we got involved with various programmes which were essentially work experience, so they would pay, well not really a salary but a living amount to people and we would get them, initially for a year, and we trained them and then the work they did was the return we got for the the training. And the same thing, at that point there were a lot of people who'd been secretaries doing typing in shorthand and word-processing was very much coming into offices, so we did the same kind of thing. We trained people in word-processing and in return they word-processed our data. So we had a lot of people at one time, we had twenty, thirty people, not all there at once but it was quite a big thing to organise.
M1224 Mmhm.

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APA Style:

Interview with Professor Christian Kay, part 1 - on the Historical Thesaurus project. 2020. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved September 2020, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1691.

MLA Style:

"Interview with Professor Christian Kay, part 1 - on the Historical Thesaurus project." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2020. Web. September 2020. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1691.

Chicago Style

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Interview with Professor Christian Kay, part 1 - on the Historical Thesaurus project," accessed September 2020, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1691.

If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2020. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk.

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Information about Document 1691

Interview with Professor Christian Kay, part 1 - on the Historical Thesaurus project

Audio

Audio audience

Adults (18+)
General public
For gender Mixed
Audience size N/A

Audio awareness & spontaneity

Speaker awareness Aware
Degree of spontaneity Spontaneous
Special circumstances surrounding speech Interview took place as part of work-related learning project

Audio footage information

Original title Interview with Professor Christian Kay
Year of recording 2011
Recording person id 1223
Size (min) 10
Size (mb) 40

Audio setting

Education
Work
Geographic location of speech Glasgow

Audio relationship between recorder/interviewer and speakers

Professional relationship
Speakers knew each other N/A

Audio speaker relationships

Acquaintance

Audio transcription information

Transcriber id 718
Year of transcription 2011
Year material recorded 2011
Word count 1728

Audio type

Interview

Participant

Participant details

Participant id 606
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Academic
Place of birth Edinburgh
Region of birth Midlothian
Birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's place of birth Leith
Father's region of birth Midlothian
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's place of birth Edinburgh
Mother's region of birth Midlothian
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area midLoth
Mother's country of birth Scotland

Languages

Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All
Scots No Yes No Yes Work

Participant

Participant details

Participant id 1223
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1980
Educational attainment University
Age left school 19
Occupation student
Place of birth Goes
Country of birth The Netherlands
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation practice psychiatric nurse
Father's country of birth The Netherlands
Mother's occupation nurse
Mother's country of birth The Netherlands

Languages

Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
Dutch; Flemish Yes Yes Yes Yes
English Yes Yes Yes Yes

Participant

Participant details

Participant id 1224
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1980
Educational attainment University
Age left school 17
Occupation Student
Place of birth Bangour
Region of birth W Lothian
Birthplace CSD dialect area wLoth
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Mainframe programmer
Father's place of birth Lennoxtown
Father's region of birth Dunbarton
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Dnbt
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife
Mother's place of birth Dunfermline
Mother's region of birth Fife
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Fif
Mother's country of birth Scotland

Languages

Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
Dutch; Flemish Yes Yes Yes Yes learnt to beginner level
English Yes Yes Yes Yes native language
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes No No Yes learning basic Gaelic
Scots No No No Yes particularly Glasgow Scots

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