Dr. Jonathan West

Age: 64

Area of research: from General to Historical Linguistics

Name of my University / Research Institute: Private scholar

Research period at the TU Darmstadt: March to May 2019

Dr. Jonathan West. Photo: Claus Völker

My field of research is fascinating. The best way to explain it to non-specialists is…

I am working on the long-term archival of my collection of machine-readable Early Modern German texts (presently ca. 27 million running word forms) in conjunction with Professor Dr. Thomas Stäcker, Director of the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek. The Early Modern period runs from ca. 1350 to ca. 1750, and these texts provide a wealth of linguistic and cultural data for research and study in a range of disciplines. At present, most of this data is available as digital photographs, but this project will allow full text searches as well.

What research questions are you currently working on?

The development of a flat, theory-neutral tagset to overcome the difficulties presented both by the non-standard nature of historical primary sources, the differing editorial principles in use in historical editions, and the competing models of language which underlie common tagsets. Automation of this process will allow analysis of very large datasets (at least compared to those currently in use) to be carried out at lexeme and grammatical form level rather than simply at the level of word-forms. The database will be expandable as new electronic resources become available.

My most important success in research to date is…

Showing how early school dictionaries contributed to the development of the German lexicon, primarily through the extension of German word-formation patterns. For example, in Dasypodius’ Dictionarium (editions from 1535 to 1709), new German words coined on the basis of their Latin equivalents were used to explain concepts for generations of schoolchildren. And so it turns out that Dasypodius, who remains largely unknown to most Germans, was more influential in the development of the German vocabulary than other better-known figures such as Martin Luther.

Dr. Jonathan West with his host Professor Dr. Thomas Stäcker (left). Photo: Claus Völker
Dr. Jonathan West with his host Professor Dr. Thomas Stäcker (left). Photo: Claus Völker

Will the results of your research have a concrete impact on our everyday lives either now or at some later date?

All being well, my research will alter the way users of libraries interact with Early Modern German texts and editions of them. Instead of having to trawl through piles of books and manuscripts, the data will be available at the click of a mouse. For example, it will be possible to generate dictionary entries automatically, and these will become more accurate and informative as the size of the database increases. As well as being able to freely download and modify the tagged texts, scholars will also be able to tailor the dataset to their own requirements.

Questionnaire for the host

Guest of: Prof. Dr. Thomas Stäcker

Department: Directorare, Universität- und Landesbibliothek

What would you say you appreciate most about your guest or what made the most favourable impression on you…

Jonathan West is an excellent scholar. He is very interested in digital infrastructure and willing to share his research with the scholarly community by making it freely accessible via the internet. In the library he sees his natural ally and is very open to collaborate with its IT and DH experts.

You, your team and the TU Darmstadt benefit from …

comprehensive linguistic expertise and his impressive text corpus that he is willing to share.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Stäcker. Photo: Claus Völker
Prof. Dr. Thomas Stäcker. Photo: Claus Völker