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A Comparative Review of Two Monolingual Dictionaries of the English Language

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Joanna Rek-Harrop photoThe purpose of this paper is a comparative review of two dictionaries:

Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's English Dictionary (CALD) Fifth Edition,
published by Harper Collins Publishers in January 2006 and Oxford, and

Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD) Seventh Edition,
published by the Oxford University Press in February 2005.

The basic argument of the comparative review is that the monolingual dictionary for learners should be most useful to its readership by focusing on the clarity of purpose and easy reference. The content of the book should therefore be adjusted to the learners' needs and communicate in a concise and uncomplicated manner all the information that its readership needs to know in order to understand the core meaning and secondary meanings of a particular foreign word, assist with its usage and offer information which a native speaker knows intuitively. The analyzed dictionaries deal with the matters differently.

Key Words:

reliability, precision, comprehensiveness, phraseology, vocabulary, grammar, definitions, exemplification, relevance, transparency, meaning, corpora, usefulness, collocations, colligations, meaning, idioms, pragmatics, style.

1. Introduction

Monolingual dictionaries for learners are indispensable tools in foreign language acquisition. They are based on the supposition that students must move from a bilingual dictionary to a monolingual dictionary as they progress in their study of the chosen language.

The monolingual dictionary for learners should be most useful to its readership by focusing on the clarity of purpose and easy reference.
The purpose of this paper is a comparative review of two corpus-based dictionaries for learners: Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's English Dictionary (CALD) Fifth Edition published by Harper Collins Publishers in January 2006 and Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD) Seventh Edition published by the Oxford University Press in February 2005.

The basic argument of the comparative review is that the monolingual dictionary for learners should be most useful to its readership by focusing on the clarity of purpose and easy reference. The content of the book should therefore be adjusted to the learners' needs and communicate in a concise and uncomplicated manner all the information that its readership needs to know in order to understand the core meaning and secondary meanings of a particular foreign word, assist with its usage, and offer information which a native speaker knows intuitively.

The structure of the comparative review consists of six sections. First, it introduces CALD and OALD, their authors, and the corpora used for their compilation. After that, it presents the assessment criteria (Table 1) that are used in the comparative review i.e. presentation, grammar and lexis, vocabulary, definitions, exemplification, relevance, and reliability. The following section offers comparative analysis of the books which is often supported by the dictionaries' entry examples and aims to show how and whether the compared dictionaries expound the essential information that should be included in them and why is the included knowledge imperative to its readership. The paper concludes by summarizing the principles behind the books and observations regarding the dictionaries' usefulness to the language learners.

2. The Dictionaries' Profile

2.1. Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner's English Dictionary

The fifth edition of the CALD offers the language learners an up-to-date coverage of today's English including over 110,000 words, phrases and definitions. The English dictionary covers predominantly British and American English but also includes important words from other English-speaking countries according to its corpus, which is presented in section 3.1. The language learner will find useful the supplement 'Access to English,' which contains information on essay-writing, presentations, curricula vitae, job applications, and report-writing. The included CD--ROM contains the CALD which has phonetic transcriptions along with the pronunciation.

2.2. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

The seventh edition of the OALD offers the language learner coverage of 183,500 British and American words, phrases, and meanings. It also includes 700 words from Australia, Canada, East Africa, India, New Zealand, South Africa and West Africa. The dictionary includes information on writing essays, curricula vitae, and job applications, a selection of letters, as well as punctuation rules. The included OALD COMPASS CD ROM contains over 200,000 extra example sentences. The book is mainly marketed overseas and it is less available on the British market.

3. Corpus

The paper so far has presented the background of the compared CALD and OALD. Now it will introduce the corpora used for their compilation. The term 'corpus' refers to a set of texts stored on computer which is 'a sufficiently large body of naturally occurring data of the language to be investigated' (Leech, 1991: 8). Barnbrook asserts that: 'The most common features of the language will be well represented even in relatively small quantities of texts...' (1996: 25).

The fact that the CALD and OALD are corpus-based highlights several principles behind the books and their vocabulary coverage. First, both books better reflect the English language, since corpus linguistics allows for drawing authentic examples of real-life English and thus presents a language that is actually used. Second, the dictionaries aim to present lexis and syntactical patterning together, and thus to support the corpus--driven approach to language learning and the lexical syllabus:

'There is little point in presenting learners with syntactic structures--how groups and clauses are build up--and then presenting lexis separately and haphazardly as a resource for slotting into these structures ...' Francis and Sinclair, 1994: 200)


Third, by presenting words in their typical patterns and combinations, the dictionaries not only explain their meanings, but also develop the learner's powers of observation and language analysis and thereby provide the tools needed to continue learning independently. Fourth, for compiling an advanced learner's dictionary, 'corpora should be carefully chosen to reflect the model of English the learners may want or need to acquire' (Carter, R and McCarthy, M, 1995: 154). The principle is therefore to introduce vocabulary from all types of English that learners are likely to encounter i.e. expressions commonly used by the language-learning communities, loan words, words with cultural implications, certain vocabulary of outdated usage, specialized vocabulary used in everyday language as well as the most frequent everyday English words, their derivatives, and collocations. Fifth, the principle behind the dictionaries is to assist the learner to understand the meaning of received messages by offering information which the native speaker knows intuitively 'Vocabulary is a very sensitive index of the culture of people' (Sapir, 1949: 27). Because both corpora are immersed in Anglophone cultures, they capture important social and political aspects of the English language referred to by Stubbs as 'cultural keywords' or 'culturally loaded words' (1996: Chapter 7).

All of the above concepts will be further discussed in sections 5 and 6, together with other principles behind the books.

Both of the general corpora presented below: the Bank of England Corpus and the British National Corpus, used for the compilation of the CALD and OALD, respectively, are the largest and the most up-to-date corpora in the United Kingdom.

CALD--the Bank of England Corpus (BoE)

The Bank of England Corpus was launched by Collins and Birmingham University International Language Database (COBUILD) and it is based within the School of English at Birmingham University currently containing 645 million words originating from a large collection of written and spoken texts. Approximately 40% of the corpus's vocabulary is British, 30% is American English, and another 30% comes from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The methodology of the above corpus is 'word-form based', which means that it uses 'raw,' i.e., unclassified data for its linguistic investigation and analyzes the behavior of individual words and phrases. This approach tends to challenge existing linguistic observations and therefore it is the best starting point in any language research that also includes the compilation of dictionaries for learners.

3.2. OALD--the British National Corpus (BNC)

The British National Corpus compiled by the Oxford University Press contains 100 million words from a wide selection of texts of written and spoken English from different parts of Britain. The dictionary is also based on the Oxford Corpus Collection also of 100 million words and the Oxford Reading Programme for language research. The methodology of the above corpus is a 'category-based' where data is classified i.e. 'tagged', before particular word categories can be counted and compared. The BNC methodology analyzes the behavior of usually well-established word categories and thus it is unlikely to show anything new about the language.

4. Assessment Criteria

The assessment criteria for the advanced learners' dictionaries provided in Table 1 below are based on the aforementioned principles behind the books, my experience as a language learner, translator and interpreter, and they are also derived from the experience of accomplished linguists and English language educators cited throughout the paper and in the Table. Although the selected supporting source quotations presented below refer mainly to materials developed in language teaching, the information they convey is universal for language study and thus relevant in the compilation of learners' dictionaries.


Advanced dictionary for English language learners

Supporting source


  1. Does the dictionary ensure ease of use i.e. clear introduction and entries guide?
  2. Does the dictionary ensure clarity of purpose and quick referencing?
  3. Does the dictionary have clear layout and is free from unnecessary information?

'materials which are attempting to be consciously innovative, where the authors' ideas may be running away with them' (Donovan, 1998: 186).

Grammar & Lexis

  1. Are the dictionary entries accompanied by their main patterns of usage and the combinations that they usually form?
  2. Does the dictionary highlight meaning splits of its entries?
  3. Does the dictionary include at least: phraseology, collocations and idioms?

'it is impossible to describe syntax without recourse to lexis or lexis without recourse to syntax' (Huston and Francis 1998: 62).

'Highly frequent collocations, which appear as 'fixed phrases', are in fact simple extreme cases of patterning' (Huston and Francis, 1998: 63).


  1. Does the dictionary entries cover a vocabulary selection necessary for language learners to know and ensure the word labeling i.e. cultural 'key words', pragmatics, usage, and style?
  2. Does the dictionary cover the most common word forms in the language together with their inflected forms and provide frequency information?
  3. Is the dictionary based on vocabulary drawn from authentic English language?
  4. Does the dictionary provide irregular forms of vocabulary i.e. verbs, plural forms etc.
  5. Does the dictionary offer pronunciation and phonetic symbols?
  6. Does the dictionary offer other useful features i.e. synonyms and antonyms?

'the main focus on study should be on (a) the commonest word forms in the language; (b) the central patterns of usage; (c) the combinations which they usually form' (Sinclair and Renouf, 1988: 148).


  1. Does the dictionary provide full sentence definitions with all entries and their different meanings?
  2. Do the definitions use uncomplicated vocabulary, easy syntax, analytical wording, and sound natural?

'it is essential that vocabulary learning, from a very elementary level and upwards, should focus on


  1. Does the dictionary assist its definitions with examples based on real English language?
  2. Do the examples provide additional information about context and usage?
  3. Do the examples use suitable style of English?

how the words of the language are actually used' (Kjellmer, 1991: 125).

Relevance & Reliability

  1. Is the dictionary corpus based?
  2. Does the dictionary maintain relevance to the demands of its readership?
  3. Does the dictionary identify and sufficiently explore key information?
  4. Is the provided information accurate?
  5. Is the original information source stated i.e. corpus / phonetic alphabet names?
  6. Is the dictionary helping the learners to better understand the English language and to study independently?

Through corpus-based analyses 'we gain a perspective on what is truly distinctive about language use in a particular context and identify useful directions for future investigations' (Conrad and Biber, 2000: 73).

Table 1. Assessment criteria for the advanced dictionaries for English language learners.

Having defined the assessment criteria the paper will now turn to detailed comparative analysis.

5. Comparative Analysis

5.1. Ease of Use and Clarity of Purpose

In order to be useful to its readership, dictionaries for learners of a foreign language must ensure clarity of purpose and ease of use.

5.1.1. Introduction

Both dictionaries' introductions provide the essential guides to their entries. However, the practicality and extent of CALD's introduction seems more useful to the user. CALD in its introductory on pages: xi, xiv, xv and xix provides information about grammar, list of grammatical notations and words used to structure information in patterns which clarifies and provides additional information about the grammar notes used in the book. The OALD provides general information about grammar in the reference section at the back of the book which only on three occasions directly refers to the content in the dictionary i.e. verbs, collocations and idioms.

5.1.2. Presentation

CALD and OALD are very reader-friendly. The information is presented in two-color coding, bold-type headings, clear layout, and in a handy single volume. The pages are not cramped with a plethora of abbreviations and are free of unnecessary information.

CALD's feature 'Extra Column' contains grammatical and additional information on word frequency, synopsis, synonyms, usage and pragmatics, which is very useful to its readership as it is not mixed with the main definitions and allows for quick referencing.

5.2. Grammatical and Lexical Notations

As noted earlier in section 3, both of the compared dictionaries present lexis and grammar together. According to the opinion of linguists, this is the best approach as grammar and lexis belong to the same system comprising words and patterns and operate together '... lexis and grammar are names of complementary perspectives... each explaining different aspects of a single complex phenomenon' (Holliday, 1991: 32). Sinclair's theory of 'semantic prosody' also shares the view that a word is not the language's separate unit with meaning attached to it but the connotations and implications that word has when is used with other words with positive or negative meaning spread over the whole phrase.

5.2.1. Grammar Structures

Both dictionaries offer information about the grammatical structures that a word is used with in order to help the learner to use the word correctly. The chosen entries present a special difficulty for learners of my mother tongue i.e. Polish language. The entries presented below show how efficiently the books dealt with the matter:

5.2.1.a. Verb 'Coerce'

'If you coerce someone into doing something, you make them do it, although they do not want to. [Formal]. Potter had argued that the government coerced him into pleading guilty.' (CALD, 2006: 260)

'~ sb (into sth/into doing sth) (formal) to force sb to do sth by using threads: [VN]

They were coerced into navigating a settlement. [also VN to inf].' (OALD, 2005: 287)

The CALD's explanation and example shows that the verb 'coerce' is typically used in a structure with 'somebody into doing something' and indicates that the word is predominantly used with relation to a person or people. The OALD's explanation seems to be more complete, since it shows that the verb is used in structures: 'somebody into something / into doing something' and also with 'to+infinitive'. As far as the readability of the definitions is concerned, the CALD's way is better because it uses syntax which is easier for learners to understand i.e. 'you make them do it, although they do not want to' rather than 'force somebody'.

5.2.1.b. Meaning 1 for noun 'Affiliation'

'If one group has an affiliation with another group, it has a close or official

connection with it. [Formal]. The group has no affiliation to any political party.' (CALD, 2006: 24)

'(formal) a persons' connection with a political party, religion, etc.: He was arrested

because of his political affiliation.' (OALD, 2005: 25)

The CALD's explanation and example shows that the variable noun 'affiliation' is often used with prepositions 'with' and 'to'. OALD does not provide much grammatical information with regard to the word, which disadvantages its readership. Similarly to the example 5.2.1.a, syntax used in the CALD's definition is easier to understand for the language learner than the one used in OALD.

5.2.1.c. Meaning 1 for adjective 'Unaffected'

'If someone or something is unaffected by an event or occurrence, they are not changed by it

in any way. She seemed totally unaffected by what she'd drunk... The strike shut down 50

airports, but most international flights were unaffected.' (CALD, 2006: 1570)

'~ (by sth) not changed or influenced by sth; not affected by sth: People rights are unaffected by the new law. Some members of the family may remain unaffected by the disease.' (OALD, 2005: 1659)


Both definitions show the typical grammatical structure for the adjective 'unaffected'--before the preposition 'by' and after a form of 'to be'. The definitions and examples from both dictionaries demonstrate that people or things can be unaffected by an event.

5.2.2. Grammatical Patterns and Meaning

As already presented in point 5.2.1. above, grammatical patterns show how language works. It is important for a language learner when looking up a word to see what grammatical patterns is this word attached to because different meanings are associated with different grammatical patterns and phrases: 'There is ultimately no distinction between form and meaning' (Sinclair, 1991: 7). The following examples assess whether and how both dictionaries highlight the main grammatical patterns and meanings and also present a special difficulty for learners of Polish native tongue because they do not share the majority of the grammatical patterns and meanings with the English language:

5.2.2.a. Preposition, Adjective, Noun or Adverb 'Inside'

There are two main meanings of 'inside': (i) a position within a surrounded place and (ii) a well informed communication. Both of the meanings may be further divided.

'1. Something or someone that is inside a place, container or object, is in it or is surrounded by it... 5. Inside information is obtained from someone who is involved in a situation and therefore knows a lot about it.' (CALD, 2006: 750)

'1. on or to the inner part of sth/sb; within sth/sb... adj. 2. known or done by somebody in a group or an organization: inside information.' (OALD, 2005: 803)

Both dictionaries gave the essential grammatical patterns and the meanings attached to them--when 'inside' is used to mean (i): preposition 'inside' is followed by a noun and when the word is used to mean (ii): the adjective 'inside' is followed by alternatively either another adjective and a noun or a noun on its own. Other less essential meanings have also been identified by both of the dictionaries

5.2.2.b. Verb and Noun 'Choke'

There are four main meanings of 'choke': (i) something prevents somebody from breathing, (ii) to strangle someone, (iii) to fill a space so as to make movement difficult or impossible and (iv) a valve in the carburettor of a petrol (gasoline) engine.

'1. When you choke or when something chokes you, you cannot breathe properly or get enough air into lungs. 2. To choke someone means to squeeze their neck until they are dead. 3. If a place is choked with things or people, it is full and they prevent movement in it. 4. The choke in a car, truck or other vehicle is a device that reduces the amount of air going into the engine and makes it easier to start.' (CALD, 2006: 236)

'1. Choke (on sth) to be unable to breathe because the passage to your lungs is blocked or you cannot get enough air; to make sb unable to breathe. 2. [VN] to make sb stop breathing by squeezing their throat. 4. [VN]~sth (up) (with sth) to block or fill a passage, space etc. so the movement is difficult. Noun 1. a devise that controls the amount of air flowing into the engine of a vehicle.' (OALD, 2005: 260)

Both dictionaries listed the above grammatical patterns and attached to them meanings--when 'choke' is used to mean (i): verb 'choke' is followed by: noun, preposition 'on' and noun or preposition 'to' and noun, (ii) verb 'choke' is followed by a noun, (iii) after a form of 'to be' passive form of verb 'choke' is followed by: 'with' and noun or 'by' noun and (iv) the noun 'choke' is usually preceded by a defined or undefined article.

5.2.2.c. Verb and Noun 'Exhaust'

There are three main meanings of 'exhaust': (i) to wear somebody out, (ii) to finish something (cause a lack of something) and (iii) a vehicle's gas pipe.

'1. If something exhausts you, it makes you so tired either physically or mentally, that you have no energy left. 2. If you exhaust something such as money or food, you use or finish it all. 3. If you have exhausted a subject or topic, you have talked about it so much that there is nothing more to say about it. 4. The exhaust or the exhaust pipe is a pipe which carries the gas out of the engine of a vehicle.' (CALD, 2006: 494)

'1. 'also exhaust pipe... a pipe through which exhaust gases come out. 1. to make sb feel very tired. 2. to use all of sth so that there is none of it left.' (OALD, 2005: 531)

Both dictionaries gave the main grammatical patterns and the meanings attached to them among other further derived patterns and meanings. In case (i) and (ii) the verb 'exhaust' is followed by a noun. In case (iii) the pattern of the countable noun 'exhaust' is not fixed, but most frequently it is preceded by a defined or undefined article.

5.2.3. Collocations, Colligations and Meaning

Collocations and other characteristic modes of expressions are particularly important in compiling the learner's dictionaries because 'lexical phrases are in fact basic to language performance' (Nattinger and DeCarrico, 1989: 119). The term 'collocation' has been defined as 'the occurrence of two or more words within a short space of each other in a text' (Sinclair, 1991: 170). Neither of the compared dictionaries distinguishes between lexical word co-occurrences and grammatical word co-occurrences. All the instances are called collectively 'collocations' and are highlighted in their full sentence definitions. This approach is particularly useful to its readership as it is fundamental for a learner to acquire 'collocational learning habits': 'lexical items should not be taught and learnt in isolation but only in their proper contexts. This means shifting the emphasis from individual words to the collocations in which they normally occur' (Kjellmer, 1991: 125).

5.2.4. Vocabulary

CALD has a list of the 3000 most frequently used words in English which are labelled with 1 to 3 'diamonds' in the extra column to advise the language learner of how common they are. The most important words are, as in the OALD furnished with additional information.

5.2.4.a. Noun 'Chairman'

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OALD, 2006: 221

The most frequently used words are clearly marked in both of the dictionaries. OALD compiled a list of the 3000 most useful and important keywords in English (Oxford 3000™) which are familiar and frequently used in a variety of contexts. These are printed in a larger type and with a key symbol next to it. These words are usually furnished with extra information for the language learner because there is far more to learn about them.

5.2.4.b. Noun 'Chairman'

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OALD, 2005: 241

In order to be useful to its readership the vocabulary included in both of the advanced dictionaries consists of not only the most frequently used English words but also expressions commonly used by the English language learners communities, as specified in part 3 of the paper. CALD gives more examples for its entries, which will be discussed further in section 5.2.6. OALD includes more words with cultural implications which are often accompanied by their etymology. The examples below aim to demonstrate the scope of the vocabulary enclosed in both of the compared dictionaries and the way it is presented and communicated to its readership:

5.2.4.c. Noun 'Delicatessen'

'A delicatessen is a shop that sells high quality foods such as cheeses and cold meats that have been imported from other countries.' (CALD, 2006: 371)

'(also deli) a shop, store or part of one that sells cooked meats and cheeses, and special or unusual food that comes from other countries.' (OALD, 2006: 404)

5.2.4.d. Noun 'Hoi Polloi'

'if someone refers to the hoi polloi, they are referring in a humorous or rather rude way to ordinary people, in contrast to rich, well educated, or upper class people. Monstrously inflated costs are designed to keep the hoi polloi at bay.' (CALD, 2006: 691)

'the hoi polloi: (disapproving or humorous) an insulting word for ordinary people.' (OALD, 2005: 740).

No example has been provided by OALD.

5.2.4.e. Adjective 'Al fresco'

'An alfresco activity, especially a meal is one that takes place in the open air. ...an al fresco breakfast of fresh fruit'. Alfresco is also an adverb. He came across the man shaving alfresco.' (CALD, 2006: 34)

'Outdoors: an alfresco lunch party. Alfresco adv.: eating alfresco. (OALD, 2005: 36)

No example has been provided by OALD.

5.2.4.f. Adjective 'Groovy'

'Groovy: if you describe something as groovy, you mean that it is attractive, fashionable, or exciting [informal, old-fashioned] ... the grooviest club in London.' (CALD, 2006: 639)

'(old-fashioned, informal) fashionable, attractive and interesting.' (OALD, 2005: 684)

5.2.4.g. Noun 'Walter Mitty'

CALD does not provide an entry for the word.

'a person who imagines that their life is full of excitement and adventures when it is in fact just ordinary. Origin: From the name of the main character in James Thurber's story ' The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.' (OALD, 2005: 1715)

5.2.4.h. Noun 'Haggis'

'A haggis is a large sausage, usually shaped like a ball, which is made from minced sheep's meat contained inside the skin from a sheep's stomach. Haggis is traditionally made and eaten in Scotland.' (CALD, 2006: 651)

'a Scottish dish that looks like a large round sausage made from the heart, lungs and liver of sheep that are finely chopped, mixed with oats, herbs, etc. and boiled in a bag that usually is made from part of a sheep's stomach.' (OALD, 2005: 696)

5.2.5. Full-sentence definitions

As already mentioned in sections 5.2.1 and 5.2.3, both compared dictionaries have full-sentence definitions, using vocabulary and grammatical structures based on naturally occurring English language from their relevant corpora. All definitions give plenty of information to a language learner about context, meaning, usage, collocates and structures allowing him / her to understand the meaning and secondary meanings of the word and thus easily build right sentences. To highlight the uniqueness of CALD's and OALD's definitions and demonstrate their usefulness to the language learners they are compared to standard entries provided in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED) which is predominantly used by the native speakers of English.

5.2.5.a. Noun 'Fruition'

'If something comes to fruition it starts to succeed and produce the results that were intended or hoped for. [Formal]. These plans take time to come to fruition..' (CALD, 2006: 585)

'(formal) the successful result of a plan, a process or an activity: After months of hard work, our plans finally came to fruition. His extravagant ideas were never brought to fruition.' (OALD, 2005: 626)

'1. the realization or fulfilment of plan or project. 2. poetic/literary the state or action of producing fruit.' (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2002: 570)

Explanation taken from COED without a full-sentence definition might be misleading to a language learner and therefore used in incorrect ways i.e. 'What is your greatest fruition?'

5.2.5.b. Meaning 1 of adjective 'High'

'Something that is high extends a long way from the bottom to the top when it is upright. You do not use high to describe people, animals or plants. ...a house with a high wall all around it... Mount Marcy is the highest mountain in the Adirondacks, ...high-heeled shoes... The gate was too high for a man of his age to climb.' (CALD, 2006: 684)

'Measuring a long distance from the bottom to the top: What's the highest mountain in the US? The house has a high wall all the way round it. Shoes with high heels. He has a round face with a high forehead.' (OALD, 2005: 732)

'of great vertical extend.' (Concise English Oxford Dictionary, 2002: 669)

The COED definition is very general and also too complex to the learner because he / she might not know what 'vertical' or 'extend' mean. The OALD definition is also general but it is supported by full sentence examples which clarify the matter. Due to misleading definitions the language learner might say: 'This man is very high.'

5.2.5.c. Adjective 'Stupid'

'1. If you say that someone or something is stupid, you mean that they show a lack of good judgement or intelligence and they are not at all sensible. I'll never do anything so stupid again... I made a stupid mistake... Your father wouldn't have asked such a stupid question.'... 2. You say that something is stupid to indicate that you do not like it or care about it, or that it annoys you. I wouldn't call it art. It's just stupid and tasteless... Friendship is much more important to me than a stupid pld ring!' (CALD, 2006: 1441)

'1. Showing lack of thought or good judgement. ... A stupid mistake. It was a petty stupid thing to do. I was stupid enough to believe him. 2. (disapproving) (of a person) slow to learn or understand things; not clever or intelligent: He'll manage--he isn't stupid. Forgetting my notes made me look stupid... 3. Used to emphasize that you are annoyed with sb/sth: I can't get the stupid thing open!' (OALD, 2005: 1527)

'1. Lacking intelligence or common sense. (informal) used to express exasperation or boredom: stop messing around with your stupid paintings. 2. Dazed and unable to think clearly' (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 2002: 1425)

The CALD and OALD definitions clearly explain to the language learner the context and usage of the word 'stupid' i.e. when calling someone stupid it is not always meant that the person is not intelligent but the intention might be to express that someone is disliked or annoying. The adjective often refers to ones personal feeling rather than facts and therefore carries a subjective, rather than objective, message. The COED does not highlight the aforementioned meaning, while the learners' dictionaries do.

5.2.6. Example sentences

Both of the compared dictionaries claim to have in most cases at least one example sentence for almost every meaning of every word: CALD has 75,000 examples and OALD has 85,000 that are based on the concordance instances displayed in the dictionaries' relevant corpora. However, after analysing and comparing both books OALD is found to often have several examples for one word and its derivatives and none for other words, which disadvantages its readership. CALD's examples are distributed more evenly among all its entries. As an additional assistance to learners CALD examples are given in the same order as the patterns shown in the 'Extra Column'. Another weak point of OALD is that some of its examples i.e. 5.2.6.b, are mixed with additional information which often uses difficult vocabulary and therefore can confuse the learner rather than help to understand the meaning, e.g., the words 'carnivorous' and 'herbivorous'. The examples present typical grammatical patterns, typical vocabulary and typical context. Although authenticity remains a prime consideration in all cases, the examples have been chosen carefully so the context helps to explain the meaning to the language learner. For example:

5.2.6.a. Noun 'Narcissism'

'Narcissism is the habit of always thinking about yourself and admiring yourself. [Formal] Those who suffer from narcissism become self-absorbed or chronic show-offs.' (CALD, 2006: 948)

OALD provides a definition, but no examples for the word.

5.2.6.b. Adjective 'Omnivorous'

'1. An omnivorous person or animal eats all kinds of food, including both meat and plants. [Technical or Formal]. Brown bears are omnivorous, eating anything that they can get their paws on. 2. Omnivorous means liking a wide variety of things of a particular type. [Formal] As a child, Coleridge developed omnivorous reading habits.' (CALD, 2006: 998)

'1. (technical) eating all types of food, especially both plants and meat--compare carnivorous, herbivorous. (formal) having wide interest in a particular area or activity: She has always been an omnivorous reader.' (OALD, 2005: 1058)

5.2.6.c. Phrase 'Run amok'

'If a person or animal runs amok, they behave in a violent and uncontrolled way. A soldier was arrested after running amok with a vehicle through Berlin.' (CALD, 2006: 43)

OALD provides a definition, but no examples for the word.

5.2.6.d. Noun 'Savvy'

'If you describe someone as having savvy, you think that they have a good understanding and practical knowledge of something. [Informal]. He is known for his political savvy and strong managerial skills.' (CALD, 2006: 1282)

'(informal) practical knowledge or understanding of sth: political savvy.' (OALD, 2005: 1350)

5.2.7. Pronunciation and phonetic symbols

In order to learn words effectively, one must also be able to pronounce them correctly. Both compared dictionaries aim to help the language learner to be understood by using symbols adapted from those of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The OALD claims to provide pronunciation used by 'younger speakers of General British' (2005: R118). In addition to British, OALD also includes American English pronunciation. CALD is more precise in naming the source i.e. English Pronouncing Dictionary by Daniel Jones (14th Edition, revised by A. Gibson and S. Ramsaran 1988). Both dictionaries contain separate transcriptions in British English and American English when required and the stress is underlined appropriately also in stressed syllables when words are used in context. Although CALD has a large section explaining pronunciation and phonetic symbols, the OALD presents the information in a more transparent manner because it is divided into small sections and therefore it is easier to apply by the student.

5.2.8. Idioms

Idioms are defined as 'groups of words with set meaning that cannot be calculated by adding up the separate meanings of the parts' (Kjellmer, 1991: 113). The most frequent in general English and thus the most vital idioms are important in compiling the learner's dictionaries as similarly to other phrases they are essential in the correct comprehension of the studied language. Both of the compared dictionaries clearly label and explain idioms in a similar manner.

CALD lists idioms under general name 'phrases':

5.2.8.a. Adjective, Adverb and Noun 'Deep':

<? echo $title; ?>
CALD: 2006: 365

OALD clearly labels idioms under their name:

<? echo $title; ?>
OALD: 2005: 399

5.2.9. Pragmatics

Context, meaning and tone of a word changes between cultures and can have contradicting implications. Pragmatic competence is therefore a fundamental feature in communication. In order for language learners to understand correctly received messages and reply in a culturally educated way it is important that they are given complete information about the manner in which the English language is used. Both dictionaries appreciate the need for pragmatic competence of its readership. However, they communicate it with a different degree of precision:

5.2.9.a. Adjective 'Domineering':

<? echo $title; ?>
CALD, 2006: 419

<? echo $title; ?>
OALD, 2005: 453

Both of the compared dictionaries marked the adjective 'domineering' as 'disapproval'. However labelling used in the extra column and featured by CALD seems more useful to a learner as it is not mixed with the main text and therefore more visible allowing for a quick referencing or checking.

5.2.9.b. Noun 'Big Brother'

<? echo $title; ?> 
CALD, 2006: 127

<? echo $title; ?>
OALD, 2005: 137

The term 'Big Brother' for some cultures, particularly those of communistic political systems or under certain dictatorships will not have, at least officially, negative connotations. CALD clarifies the situation with regard to the English language by labelling the word as 'disapproval'.

5.2.9.c. Noun 'Abortion'

<? echo $title; ?>
CALD, 2006: 3

<? echo $title; ?>
OALD, 2005: 3

In certain cultures or societies, particularly those highly religious i.e. Islamic and Catholic, the word 'abortion' has only negative connotations as it is considered as a crime and thus legally prohibited. For learners coming from the above cultures CALD and OALD state that in the general English (clearly excluding the conservative Irish view) the word has no such implications.

5.2.10. Usage and Style

Usage shows how a word, phrase, or concept is used in a language. It is therefore of great importance for a language learner to use a monolingual learners' dictionary which determine patterns of regional, specialized or social usage as well as meaning. Both dictionaries offer a selection of geographical and style labels which include among others: business, computing, law, dialect, informal, formal, offensive and old-fashioned.

5.2.10.a. Adjective 'Mitigating':

<? echo $title; ?>
CALD, 2006: 919

<? echo $title; ?>
OALD, 2005: 980

6. Conclusion

Comprehensiveness, usefulness to its readership and a clear focus on purpose are the main principles behind the two compared dictionaries.

The scope of vocabulary presented in CALD and OALD is well suited to the needs of their readership as it does not only include the most frequently used words but also expressions commonly used by English language learners and vocabulary that they are likely to encounter. CALD's way of labeling words is more useful than OALD's because it does not only prioritize learning of the key words, but also indicates how common the words are. OALD's includes more words with cultural implications accompanied by their etymology and over 1700 pictures for words, which can better be explained visually. The feature is helpful but not essential because the lexicography of a modern language is about synchronic and not diachronic linguistics, and there are other sources available to check this information, e.g., Etymological Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias. As demonstrated in this paper, the most effective way to explain a word meaning and usage to a language student is by full sentence definitions and exemplification because learners understand more by seeing English used in context. After assessing examples gathered in both dictionaries--CALD's examples use everyday language and are more frequent than the number of examples offered by OALD. CALD's definitions use uncomplicated vocabulary, and their syntax is easier to read due to use of verbs instead of nominalization, analytical rather than concise wording, etc.

Both dictionaries effectively predict the sorts of problems that learners might have with understanding or using a word or phrase. They contain information about the word class, word patterns, indispensable phraseology, restrictions or extensions to behavior of any word, and important information about grammatical structures which otherwise would not be found in conventional grammar books. CALD's feature 'Extra Column' helps to expand one's knowledge of English and ensures a speed of use by quick referencing, since the grammatical patterns associated with each meaning are not mixed with the main definitions as they are in the OALD.

OALD presents information on pronunciation and phonetic symbols in a more transparent manner because it is divided into small sections and therefore it is easier to apply by the student. CALD communicates pragmatics of all of its vocabulary and with a greater degree of precision. The disadvantage of the OALD is the need of a thesaurus.

Both compared dictionaries have many useful appendices like irregular verbs, punctuation, maps, and information on essay- and letter-writing. One might question whether information on electronic messaging included in OALD is essential to a language learner and the effects that type of communication has on correct spelling and grammar.

Both dictionaries suit their purpose extremely well and are user-friendly, uncluttered, and logical. Overall, however the CALD is easier to use for its readership because it offers less decorative extras but more functionality such as: a thesaurus and many usage examples.


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Published - January 2010

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