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Who created COBUILD?

John Sinclair was Founding Editor-in-Chief of the first edition of the COBUILD Dictionary. An outstanding linguist and scholar, he was Professor of Modern English Language at the University of Birmingham for most of his career, and was one of the very first modern Corpus linguists. He led the COBUILD project in lexical computing, funded by Collins, that revolutionized lexicography in the 1980s and resulted in the creation of the largest Corpus of English language texts in the world.

Professor Sinclair personally oversaw the creation of this very first electronic Corpus, and was instrumental in developing the tools needed to analyze the data. Having Corpus data allowed Professor Sinclair and his team to find out how people really use the English language and to develop new ways of structuring dictionary entries.

For example, frequency information allowed the team to rank senses by importance and usefulness to the learner (thus the most common meaning should be put first). The Corpus also highlights collocates (the words which go together), information which had only been sketchily covered in previous dictionaries. Under his guidance, Professor Sinclair’s team also developed a full-sentence defining style, which not only gave the user the sense of a word, but showed that word in grammatical context.

When the first Collins COBUILD Dictionary of English was published in 1987, it revolutionized dictionaries for learners, completely changing approaches to dictionary-writing, and leading to a new generation of Corpus-driven dictionaries and reference materials for English language learners.

Professor Sinclair worked on the Collins COBUILD range of titles until his retirement, when he moved to Florence, Italy and became president of the Tuscan Word Centre, an association devoted to promoting the scientific study of language. He remained interested in dictionaries until his death, and the Collins COBUILD range of dictionaries remains a testament to his revolutionary approach to lexicography and English language learning.