In this Tour de CLARIN blog post, we present an in-depth interview with Aneta Nedyalkova, who is an MA student of Bulgarian philology. Under the auspices of CLaDA-BG, she is working on an associative dictionary of verbal expressions. The interview was conducted via e-mail.
1. You are a really early-stage-researcher since you are just finishing your MA. How did you get interested in psycholinguistics?
My interest was inspired by a course on interdisciplinary approaches in linguistics at Shumen University, especially the project-oriented psycholinguistics practicum which addressed questions that have always excited me. Under the guidance of prof. Velka Popova I conducted an experiment on word associations with ten people from the Osmar village, Northeastern Bulgaria, where I live. The course assignment then grew into a master thesis project and I found myself in the role of a junior but enthusiastic researcher.
2. How did you get involved with CLaDA-BG?
I was in an advanced phase of my associative investigation on my master thesis when I attended a presentation of CLaDA-BG by the local coordinator prof. Dimitar Popov and immediately realized that my research interests would be a great fit for CLaDA-BG as it would give me an opportunity to collaborate with experienced linguists and researchers with similar interests and learn from them.
3. What are you working on at the moment?
I am finishing my master thesis, titled “Specific features of the contemporary Bulgarian native speakers’ dictionary. A psycholinguistic research”, which presents a pilot survey on the mental lexicon of non-expert native speakers based on three psycholinguistic procedures: a free associative experiment, spontaneous elicitation of definitions and example sentences for a given word. My results motivated me to extend experimental work and create a dictionary of verbal associations of 100 people from the Osmar village which will be my main contribution to CLaDA-BG.
4. What makes such a dictionary important from a psycholinguistic perspective? Why did you choose this region?
One of the key challenges of psycholinguistics is the study of the mental lexicon. The free associative experiment is one of the most popular approaches for this, as it allows psycholinguists to uncover very broad semantic patterns that exist in human consciousness, that is to say, cognitive links between words that are not based on lexical-logical relations, such as synonymy and antonymy, but on more ephemeral associative links. In an associative experiment, you ask participants to write down certain word combinations that they associate with a target notion.
One of the main tasks of CLaDA-BG’s Shumen team is the creation of several contemporary associative dictionaries which will serve as a basis for investigations of language awareness in Bulgarian society and for researching the sociolinguistic aspects of the Bulgarian mental lexicon. In the Bulgarian lexicographic tradition, there already exist two associative dictionaries. The first is the Bulgarian Standards of Verbal Associations from 1984 and the second is The Slavic Associative Dictionary: Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian from 2004. While the 1984 dictionary is outdated, The Slavic Associative Dictionary, albeit more recent as well as multilingual, has a major methodological flaw in that it includes data from only one social group, students between the ages of 18 and 25. Consequently, the application of the dictionary in research is quite limited.
CLaDA-BG aims to create new associative dictionaries that will be broader in scope with regards to sociolinguistic variables, and will account for differences in territorial origin, gender, age, education, and profession. Consequently, the idea is that they will be useful resources for a wide range of users across the humanities and social scientists, such as linguists, psycholinguists, sociolinguists, ethnolinguists, cognitologists, psychologists, teachers, and political scientists. My task to create an associate dictionary of verbal expressions on the basis of the inhabitants of the town of Osmar is just one of CLaDA-BG’s associated dictionaries. I have chosen this town for two reasons. First, Osmar is an urban-type settlement, in-between a typical town and a typical village. This is reflected in the inhabitants’ specific lifestyle, clothing, and attitude towards technological progress, that is also reflected in the collective features of their mental lexica. The second reason is personal – I live and work as a secretary in Osmar’s local library.
5. Could you describe in more detail the compilation of the dictionary of verbal associations and related preparation of questionnaires and experiments? What are the inspiring parts of this work and what are the challenges?
The compilation of an associative dictionary involves several stages. First, you need to design the associative experiment that will be the basis for the dictionary. This involves selecting the participants, determining the word-stimulus pairs, setting up the research design (written or spoken) and developing the research materials. Then the experiment is run with every participant separately, which is followed by processing and summarization of the results. Direct contact with the participants is the most inspiring part for me. It is a challenge for me to prepare and motivate them to participate in the experiment. The actual experiment is always interesting, and sometimes very funny or even emotional. The final part of summarizing the data in a systematic way in the dictionary is the hardest and the most exhausting, but the curiosity to see the results keeps me inspired and enthusiastic even in this last stage.
6. How did the services and knowledge expertise in CLaDA-BG support you in your work?
In general, research is often lonely and challenging for a beginner, so being part of the CLaDA-BG team helps a lot. After the initial training of the young researchers by prof. Popova, we were offered guidance by the local project coordinator prof. Popov. In addition, a Student Linguistics Club was established – a small community for like-minded students in which we discuss our research in the infrastructure.
Several different associative dictionaries are currently being developed, some of which have resulted from joint work of students under the guidance of CLaDA-BG. One of the PhD students is the coordinator and synchronizer of the collected data, which is organized and submitted in separate batches. They are then reviewed by the scientific supervisor prof. Popova. This way, the data goes through two levels of verification, which provides control and guarantees the objectivity of the results.
The first year of work on the associative dictionaries has shown me the importance of the guidance that CLaDA-BG has offered me related to the compilation of the associative dictionary. Their other language services, such as models and standards for data processing, are also important and useful for us young researchers. The further expansion of these services and software environment, which are part of the consortium’s future agenda, could be considered as an optimal perspective for the accomplishment of higher quality of the research work.
7. What tools and/or resources of CLaDA do you find most useful for your current and future work and why?
For my research, the most helpful CLaDA-BG resources are the corpora of spontaneous speech and the lexicons which provide me with material for the verification of my hypotheses and theoretical models. In addition, I also use the language processing modules, such as the part-of-speech tagger and the sense annotator because they make my data structured and searchable. Finally, I extensively use the WebClark concordancer for detecting additional contexts that provide explanations for various associations.
8. What do you envisage to focus on after the completion of your MA?
After my MA I intend to continue my research in the field of psycholinguistics. I plan to participate in the work on the expansion of associative data and speech corpora by CLaDA-BG, which will be beneficial for theoretical as well as applied activities of a wide range of specialists. In conclusion, I would say that I am very happy to be a member of the CLaDA-BG team, since with my experience and data I am able to help other researchers but also have the opportunity to further develop my competencies.