Adam Kilgarriff

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Adam Kilgarriff
A photo of Adam Kilgarriff
Kilgarriff in June 2014
Born(1960-02-12)12 February 1960
Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Died16 May 2015(2015-05-16) (aged 55)
Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Alma materCambridge University, University of Sussex
Known forSketch Engine, word sketches
SpouseGill Lamden
Scientific career
Fieldscorpus linguistics, computational linguistics, computer lexicography
InstitutionsLexical Computing Limited, University of Leeds
ThesisPolysemy (1992)
Doctoral advisorGerald Gazdar, Roger Evans

Adam Kilgarriff (12 February 1960 – 16 May 2015[1]) was a corpus linguist, lexicographer, and co-author of Sketch Engine.


His parents were booksellers. He spent one year as a volunteer in Kenya 1978–1979 then began studying at Cambridge University, graduating with a first class BA degree in philosophy and engineering in 1982. His first job was as a Housing Officer for the London and Quadrant Housing Trust. At the same time he studied at the South West London College. In 1987, he left his job and started an MSc in intelligent knowledge-based systems at the University of Sussex, from where he graduated the following year, continuing a DPhil in computational linguistics with thesis Polysemy (1992).[2]

In 2008 he made a return trip to Kenya with his old friend Raphael.[3] He was also a participant[4][5][6] in the Hastings Half Marathon for many years.

In November 2014, he was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer which he succumbed to in May 2015. After the diagnosis he started his own blog[7] where he reflected on his experience with the disease and thoughts on language, corpus linguistics and life, and the world in general.

Research and career[edit]

He graduated from University of Sussex (PhD, 1992) and became a lecturer at the University of Brighton in 1995. Later he was a visiting research fellow in Department of Informatics at the University of Sussex and in School of Modern languages and Cultures at the University of Leeds.[8] The partnership with B.T.S. Atkins (Sue Atkins) and Michael Rundell brought setting up his first company Lexicography MasterClass Ltd in 2002. This company provided consultancy and training in lexicography and dictionary production. Shortly after the retirement of Sue Atkins, the company was dissolved in 2012.[2] In 2003, he started his own company Lexical Computing Limited delivering tools and services in corpus processing. He himself has been working as a lexicographer for a short period (1992–1995) at the Longman Dictionaries.

His early research career was closely associated with word sense disambiguation (PhD thesis above). Kilgarriff argued against discrete classification of word senses and saw word senses rather as a continuous space of meanings largely defined by the contexts in which a word appears. His paper "I don't believe in word senses" (1997) became soon a state-of-the-art argumentation on the topic.

The work on polysemy brought Kilgarriff to text corpora and corpus linguistics to which he devoted the rest of his career. He was one of the founding members and former chair (2006–2008) of the Special Interest Group on Web as Corpus (SIGWAC) of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) and also one of the founding organizers of SENSEVAL.[9] In the years 2000–2004,[10] he was the president of the Special Interest Group on the Lexicon (SIGLEX) of the ACL. Kilgarriff was an active member of the European Association for Lexicography (member of board 2002–2006), consultant for major publishing houses and reviewer for journals and conferences around that field.[11]

He has been working on methods for automatic acquisition of large web corpora and quantitative and qualitative corpus analysis (text genres, corpus similarity, homogeneity and heterogeneity). His work on corpora was closely connected with their application for computer lexicography.

Kilgarriff invented the notion of word sketches, one-page summaries of a word's collocation behaviour in particular grammatical relations, which represent the core part of the Sketch Engine corpus management system.


  1. ^ Death announcement
  2. ^ a b johnboy (26 May 2015). "Britain is no country for old men: Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Prince of Linguists, Adam Kilgarriff". Britain is no country for old men. Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  3. ^ Adam Kilgarriff's blog – My Kenya link
  4. ^ Hastings Half Marathon 14 March 1999
  5. ^ "John Schofield - Race Results Service". Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  6. ^ "Hastings Half Marathon Sunday 20th March 2011". Archived from the original on 22 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  7. ^ "My Kenya link – Adam Kilgarriff's blog". 4 May 2015. Retrieved 27 September 2022.
  8. ^ Faculty of Arts – Centre for Translation Studies
  9. ^ Evans, Roger (December 2015). "Adam Kilgarriff". Computational Linguistics. 41 (4). Association for Computational Linguistics: 719–721. doi:10.1162/COLI_a_00234.
  10. ^ "SIGLEX ORGANIZATION (2000–2004)". Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  11. ^ Adam Kilgarriff's Curriculum Vitae

External links[edit]