The University of Caen Normandy’s (UNICAEN) thesaurus stands out among French online reference works. Housed at UNICAEN’s language sciences lab CRISCO, the thesaurus boasts an average of 250,00 search queries per day. Now 18 years into its existence, CRISCO’s thesaurus contains a little under 50,000 entries and roughly 205,000 synonym pairings.
CRISCO director Éric Gilbert recalls, "In 1998, several of our linguists created a search tool that combined seven French dictionaries. They had to merge the lists and clean them up. Their painstaking work produced a database with 40,000 entries that went online in 2000. Today, it is one of the most extensive French-language databases."
Words with French
Since 2014, the site has been a participatory effort. The user suggestions page generates roughly 1,000 new links between words every year. The thesaurus also offers a combined search function and a French-English extension project.
At the request of researchers and writers living abroad or in places with poor Internet access, CRISCO developed a €36 offline version. In addition to its thesaurus, CRISCO is home to Kali, a speech synthesizer for the blind available in French, English and Wolof.
When the Word Gets Out
For UNICAEN, "It’s a very important showcase because CRISCO and its thesaurus are responsible for most of the visits to the university’s site in France and throughout the French-speaking world," explains Gilbert. The web hits tracking tool Easy Counter ranks UNICAEN’s site 12,299th worldwide, above its French peers.
Despite its popularity, CRISCO is short on funds. The lab’s other activities, including colloquia, generate income but otherwise, "like the other labs, our funding is based on the number of published authors, " notes Gilbert. Yet CRISCO refuses to turn to advertising.
For two years now, CRISCO has been collecting donations. "Last year, we received €2,200. It’s just a little extra but we want to keep the service free. It’s important to us. One of the thesaurus’ advantages is that it’s free of advertising." That winning combination makes for a top hit on Google.
Translated by Nina Fink, Morgane Taquet | Publié le