Oxford Languages Summer Placement 2023
Ever wondered what it’s like to work for the world’s leading dictionary publisher? Every year Oxford Languages runs a summer placement to give two people a taste of the work we do. You’ll be able to find out how to apply on this page when applications open.
What does it involve?
Although we run this placement every year, each one is unique with varied and fascinating projects for you to work on. Some of the projects our previous interns have worked on included:
- Working on the Oxford Sentence Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English, adding new example sentences, improving existing content, and identifying potential new words and senses.
- Prioritizing new words and senses that have been suggested as additions to the Oxford Languages datasets.
- Identifying words or senses for consideration for the Oxford Languages datasets.
- Working on a task to identify English words to be added to bilingual dictionaries published by Oxford Languages.
- Checking the output of an automated process for marking the main current sense in Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entries.
This is just a snapshot of what you could be working on. If this excites you, read on to hear from our two interns, Yoshimi and Daniel, who joined our team last summer, as we found out what they learnt, what they enjoyed, how they think their placement experience will help them in the future, and what made them want to intern with us in the first place.
What made you want to intern at Oxford Languages?
Yoshimi: When I learned of the placement, I was completing my bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature, in which I was constantly looking up words in their historical contexts when reading dated texts. Throughout my studies I was fascinated by the immense amount of knowledge accessible through the OED, specifically how senses of words have evolved to the meanings we know today. In one of my modules, I had studied about early dictionaries and considered how leather-bound editions have developed into the online formats many people use today— including Oxford University Press’ OED and modern English dictionaries. It reminded me of how like languages, dictionaries seem to have a life of their own, constantly changing and expanding as time goes on. This fascination compelled me to intern here, as it sounded an immensely exciting opportunity to be involved in the curation of such a valuable resource for students and academics of language.
Daniel: Working consciously with OL’s flagship product (and unconsciously with many more of their services) I developed a curiosity during my undergraduate years that became obvious to me when reading the Lydia Davis short story “The Walk.” The protagonist – who acts as a stand-in for Davis – in an evening walk randomly chances upon the house of James Murray, the influential editor of the OED, which she had unsuccessfully been searching for since her arrival in Oxford. I experienced a similar sensation when a few weeks after reading Davis’s piece I came across a blogpost calling for applications for the Summer Placement. It was a chance encounter, but I knew I was moving in the right direction as I filled out the aptitude test (a part of the application process) and couldn’t help but smile at how much fun I was having.
What have you learnt during your time at Oxford Languages?
Daniel: The most impactful thing I have learnt is the influence of time on dictionaries and languages more generally. All projects I worked on gave me different ways of thinking about how time spans affect the words we use: from the changes established words go through or the perils of adding ephemeral words to a dictionary to the prioritisation of entries according to their current relevance. Modern dictionaries, such as the Oxford Dictionary of English, list as the primary sense that which is currently predominant, while historical dictionaries, such as the OED, list the senses of a word from earliest to most recent. It has been fascinating thinking about how a dictionary not only has to capture a static word but its entire history.
Yoshimi: The placement is structured so that interns are introduced to a wide range of projects conducted in Oxford Languages. This gave me a holistic insight into lexicography, a field in which the details may not be very well known by the general public and can be vastly different across specialties. I learned how lengthy and meticulous the editorial and selection processes for dictionary entries are and realized how multiple skill sets come together– whether it be recording pronunciation, adding etymological information, or editing of definitions and example sentences– to create the entry page users see when it is finally published. Of course, I also learned how widely Oxford Languages’ data and resources are implemented, and that I’d been an everyday user without knowing it!
Which elements of the placement did you enjoy the most?
Yoshimi: I was initially nervous when applying for and starting the placement, but I immediately realized how welcoming and open to questions all of the people who work at Oxford Languages are– meeting people and learning about what they do quickly became one of my most enjoyable aspects of the placement. Being able to be involved in some of their projects was rewarding, as I felt that my knowledge in language had a tangible impact, namely upon making the dictionary more helpful and accessible for users.
I was able to come into the office in Oxford and saw for myself the room full of the infamous slips of paper sent into OUP that traditionally made up OED’s dictionary entries (and still do, I learned, despite much of the work being conducted online). This was one of my favourite moments during the placement, as I was reminded of how much lexicography– despite it feeling at times an individualistic field as you constantly research, judge, and collate evidence– is a collaborative process.
Daniel: The most enjoyable aspects of the placement for me were getting to know and talking to the people at OL. The variety of interests, experiences, and workloads was united by a common and infectious enthusiasm. The Monitor Lexicography Prioritisation exercise in particular was the task which was made most rewarding by the social atmosphere at OL. In it we were tasked with assigning scores signifying how high a priority we believed an individual headword should receive when being considered for inclusion into their dictionaries. After assigning scores to roughly 200 words through a mixture of intuition, personal experience, and research my results were added to a collated spreadsheet. This spreadsheet was then used as the basis for a meeting with various team members to achieve a final score for the words. Moving from the private mode of personal consideration to the public discussion was fascinating and highly enjoyable, as the meeting was filled with compelling disagreements, salient points, and fun banter on the silliness of words.
How did you feel your time here could help you in the future?
Daniel: While I will not immediately be returning to lexicography, many of the curious and interesting ways of engaging with language that my time at OL has taught me will be very helpful in my postgraduate degree in Comparative Literature. I found the concept of linguistic transparency (the ease with which the meaning of a compound can be identified – think bedroom versus hogwash), a central point of discussion in OL’s considerations of when to include a word in the dictionary, particularly compelling. It is one of many ways in which working at OL has deepened my understanding and appreciation of language.
Yoshimi: I feel that this placement reinforced my practical skills in undertaking different projects simultaneously and working in a structured full-time working environment, an opportunity I am especially grateful for upon completing university. I’m planning to pursue further studies in language and literature, perhaps involving my mother tongue (Japanese) as well as English. I’ve been teaching both languages for the past two years and plan to continue, so I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned through this placement in work I undertake in future— whether it be related to lexicography or through a career that’s supported by the work done in the field!
Make sure to bookmark this page for updates on when applications open.
The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.