What Should a Learner’s Dictionary Include?
-An evaluative study of the quality and effectiveness of three English-English Learners Dictionaries-
The present study aims at the comparison and contrast of three monolingual (English-English) dictionaries namely: Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary and Cambridge International Dictionary of English, with the learner in mind. It has been found that there are differences in presenting lexical items in each of the three dictionaries, which prompted me to invent a heuristic checklist against which each dictionary is evaluated with reference to twenty six representative lexical items chosen at random. While CCELD has been evaluated as No.1 among the three dictionaries, the research is not meant to prefer one dictionary to another as much as to reveal the characteristics that can meet the persisting needs of the learner. Based on linguistic and statistical analysis, the discussion of the research results, indeed, concludes that a good learner's dictionary is more than a paraphrase a word.
Abbreviations and definitions of terms used in this study
CCELD : Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary
CIDE : Cambridge International Dictionary of English
OLDCE : Oxford Learner's Dictionary of Current English
· Lexical relations: synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms etc
· Classification of Lexemes: attributive or predicative or gradable (adjective), countable or uncountable (nouns), etc.
· Variation of usage: variation according to country as Britain, USA, Australia, etc, Variation in spelling.
· Verb Argument Structure transitive, intransitive, ditransitive etc.
· Formality and register: formal, informal, slang, colloquial, vulgar, scientific, literary, medical etc.
I. Statement of Problem
A learner's dictionary is by definition targeted to satisfy the needs of the learner who should be helped not only to learn the meanings of lexical items (new to him/her), but also how to use each correctly and idiomatically. It is our belief, therefore, that any dictionary, especially a learner's dictionary should employ specific 'methods' of presenting a word to the learner. This paper propounds a set of methods to help assess the efficiency of an English-English dictionary (See Appendix 3).
The present piece of research will shed light on these methods with reference to the assessment of three English-English dictionaries, namely Cambridge International Dictionary of English (CIDE), the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English (OLDCE) and Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary (CCELD).
II- Review of Related Literature
II.1. Bobda (1998)
In his article on British and American usage, Bobda argues that "the divergences between American and British English pose problems of intelligibility that cannot be altogether overlooked" (Bobda: 1998, 17). Not only do these divergences emerge on the spelling or semantic levels, but also transcend them to the syntactic properties of words. Quoted below are some interesting examples provided by Bobda:
- "Accommodation": Singular (British English) è Plural (US English ) (Bobda:1998, 16)
- "Snuck out" in British English è sneaked out (US English) (Bobda: 1998, 16).
- "I visited with my friends (American English) for I visited my friends (British English)" (Bobda: 1998, 16) "underlines added"
The above example shows that the uncountable becomes countable, the transitive becomes intransitive and so forth. With learner's dictionaries in mind, there is no doubt that problems of usage among the different varieties of English are significant.
II.2. Ahulu (1998)
Samuel Ahulu, in his article entitled Grammatical Variation in International English, points to the grammatical divergences existing between standard English on the one hand, and written English in postcolonial countries on the other. Noun countability, for example, does not seem the same in both British English and some postcolonial English. The word "furniture" is uncountable in British English, and could occur in utterances like: "a piece of furniture" and "pieces of furniture". Some uncountable nouns, however, are used as countable in English written in postcolonial countries as: "luggages, furnitures, accommodations, informations, etc".
II.3. Hamdan and Fareh (1997)
Quite a large number of foreign learners are obsessed with the idea that if two words are synonyms, they can be used interchangeably in any context whatsoever. Hamdan and Fareh, In their discussion of verb argument structure, have observed that not only is this idea wrong, but also that this misconception may sometimes be inherent in and reinforced by a number of dictionaries. Two sets of verbs have been chosen and scrutinised in terms of their respective VAS (Verb Argument Structures). Each two verbs are semantically synonymous, but do not share the same argument structure. The following is an illustrative example:
"Build can occur in (1)a. and (1)b. below, whereas its generally cited synonym construct can only occur in (2)b.
(1) a. Ali built a grand palace for Salma.
b. Ali built Salma a grand palace.
(2) a. Ali constructed a grand palace for Salma.
b. * Ali constructed Salma a grand palace."
(Hamdan and Fareh: 1997, 197) "underlines added"
Upon discussing the various problems besetting some monolingual dictionaries, in this specific area, the researchers have recommended that "dictionary compilers consider the provision of some more detailed information on the syntax of verbs" (Hamdan and Fareh: 1997, 215).
II.4. Jackson (1996)
Jackson is of the opinion that a learner's dictionary should take into account that EFL learners "employ language in two functions: decoding (i.e. listening and reading), and encoding (i.e. speaking and writing)" (Jackson: 1996, 176). Therefore, if a dictionary is to meet these two needs, it should be keen to include such essential information as context(s) of use and clear definitions of all senses of a word (lexeme) in addition to the appropriate register and field. But first and foremost, Jackson maintains that a learner's dictionary must provide for "accurate and detailed grammatical information so that correct and natural sentences can be encoded" (Jackson: 1996, 176). To these, he adds collocational information.
If these suggestions, posited by Jackson, are carefully observed, the EFL learner may be able to get rid of his/her native language interference in his speaking or writing in the second language (herein English).
III. Significance of Study
The English learner's monolingual dictionary is very essential for students of English as a foreign language. It is usually in this dictionary a student learns a word and learns how to idiomatically use it in English. It is therefore important to check how far successful a dictionary is in fulfilling the needs of the learner's.
A search on the internet revealed many sites giving assessments on learner's dictionaries (the key words searched for are: "evaluation, assessment, dictionary, dictionaries, learner's". This site however, like other ones found, presents assessment on the use of monolingual learner's dictionaries based on personal experience only.
An interesting example about groundless evaluations of dictionaries could found at the aforementioned site is an advice by the writers, i.e. Gethin and Gunnemark, saying that "Dictionaries tooare often the great enemies of word-learning". Paradoxically, the writers talk about students whose repertoire of vocabulary is poor and are tired of checking the dictionary every now and then while reading. So what is and where is the problem? Is it in the dictionary or in the learner?
This illustration shows how some assessments of dictionaries have either lacked systematicity and authenticity or haven't been based on solid grounds.
This study therefore fills in the gap by suggesting a systematic and linguistic method of evaluating a learner's dictionary, something that will benefit both the user and the researcher in this field.
IV. Developing a Heuristic checklist
The following heuristic checklist shows what a learner expects or needs to find in a learner's dictionary:
1- Semantic Information:
A- Definition by paraphrase (para)
B- Lexical Relations (Synonyms and/or antonyms and/or semantic
field and/or co-hyponyms)
C- Formality and Technicality (formal, informal, slang, colloquial,
I-Collocations, idioms and fixed expressions
II-Illustrative examples showing the actual grammatical usage of the
I-Parts of Speech
II-Verb Argument Structure
III-Classification of a non-verb Lexeme (i.e. countable and uncountable
nouns, gradable, attributive and predicative (Adjectives), etc.)
IV-Grammatical use in sentences
3- Morphological Information:
I-Derivational forms of lexemes
II-Inflectional forms of lexemes
I-Pronunciation (with special reference to BrE and AE)
II-Variation (Variation of usage or spelling in the various Englishes: British, American, New-Zealand, Australian, Canadian, etc.)
The above points will be the parameters of examining the chosen lexemes in this study.
V. The Corpus
The corpus incorporated in this study includes twenty six lexemes chosen randomly to represent the English alphabets. They are as follows:
Awning (n), buy(v), cybernetics (n), dwell (v), exult (v), fuse (n), gutter (n), hypochondriac (adj), itinerary (n), justice (n), knot (n), luster (n), muzzle (n), nurture (v), owe (v), pussy (n), quirk (n), ruse (n), syntax (n), typewriter(n), utilize (n), voucher (n), write-up (n), xenophobia (n), your (pro), zigzag(n).
A comparison has been drawn among the chosen incorporated words in terms of the parameters mentioned in V above. A table of these words is appended to this research, providing a comparison between the three dictionaries in question. The different methods have been checked. The symbol 0 signifies the absence of a method, while 1 stands for its presence. The existing methods with respect to each word have been checked and the total amount of these methods for each dictionary has been calculated for statistical purposes.
Each parameter will be defined below. Samples of lexemes will be discussed and compared vis-à-vis the three dictionaries: CCELD, OLDCE and CIDEL.
Our ultimate goal will be to provide insights for producing a new generation of learner's English dictionaries, i.e. to answer the question posited in the title of paper.
A detailed analysis of the corpus is provided in the appendix of this study.
VII. Limitations of Study
The present study is restricted to the selected lexemes mentioned in V and the heuristic checklist in IV above. Optimal arrangement of entries, pictorial illustrations or computerised versions of the same three dictionaries (i.e. OLDCE, CIDEL and CCELD) will not be considered in this study. This study is not concerned with word etymology as well. The fact that this research tackles three dictionaries only does not, however, limit its scope of application to other ones.
V. Corpus Analysis and Discussion:
V.1. Semantic Information
Paraphrase is perhaps the most commonly used method of defining a word in a dictionary. It provides a semantic analysis of the word in terms of a number of features as shape, type, manner, constituents, etc. all of which pertain to what the word stands for. Consider, for example the following entry:
Awning n canvas or plastic sheet fixed to a wall above a door or window and stretched out as a protection against rain or sun.
(Sinclair et al, 1990)
Here, paraphrase enables the learner to learn that an awning could be (1) made of canvas or plastic (2) placed above a door or window, or (3) used for protecting the doors or windows from rain.
The table below shows that paraphrase has been used to a considerable degree in the three dictionaries in question:
The Percentage of Using the Paraphrase Method
in the Three Dictionaries
Obviously, CCELD is the only dictionary that makes full utilisation of paraphrase method in word definition. OLDCE follows, and then comes CIDE.
Paraphrase is an effective device, which can be used however in an inefficient way. It is supposed to provide considerable details on the meaning of the word in question. The following is an illustrative review of how the method of paraphrase has been used in the three dictionaries. This review will enable us then to test the efficiency of this method in word definition.
1- Dwell (v)
The way CCELD paraphrases this word is rather poor in comparison with the rest of dictionaries. It states that "if you dwell somewhere, you live there". Such a definition wouldn't be sufficient, for the learner is likely to be at a loss in differentiating between dwell and live. OLDCE provides some further information but its paraphrase is still inefficient. CIDE states that dwell is associated with 'a particular way' but still it does not explain how this word is distinct from live.
The three dictionaries share the meaning of exult as "to show pleasure." They differ however in explaining the way it is used, as follows:
a- to show great pleasure or happiness esp. "at someone else's defeat or failure" (CIDE)
b- you feel and show great happiness and pleasure "because of some triumph or success you have". (CCELD)
- you speak in a way which indicates how pleased or proud you are of something that has happened. (CCELD)
a-get great pleasure from something; rejoice greatly. (OLDCE )
2- Fuse (n)
CIDE again is more detailed on the matter. It states that a fuse melts when the "electric current is too high" and so it prevents fire "or other dangers". CCELD roughly states the same information. OLDCE however is so brief as it does not denote the use of fuse in electrical devices.
CCELD makes use of paraphrase here, while CIDE does not define the word at all. As for OLDCE, it uses a narrow paraphrase in such a way as the learner will be obliged to refer to the noun of this adjective to understand the meaning. This way of definition is tiring and time consuming for the learner who has to refer every now and then to other derivatives in other entries to fully understand the word in question.
This item shows clearly how OLDCE is so concise in its paraphrase of lexeme. The present item is not made clear through paraphrase, a matter that may lead the learner to misunderstand the whole word. This in turn will negatively affect the idiomatic use of the word in question.
CIDE, on the other hand, makes clear the notion of "itinerary" by distinguishing it from "plan", for an "itinerary" is a "detailed plan". But still this paraphrase is still rather vague and needs to be more illustrated by means of specifying exactly the very nature and the use of the signified of the word "itinerary".
CCELD renders a plausible paraphrase of "itinerary" elucidating the nature of the signified meaning. However, it still lacks some important information, as for instance, the fact that an itinerary is a "detailed plan".
Other pieces of information not given through paraphrase in the present example are something like:
- a person who uses itinerary is likely to be a tourist or traveler.
- An itinerary is likely to be used when you visit a place that you don't have an idea about.
The major difference between the three dictionaries lies in the first sense of the word or the first meaning to be paraphrased. While the legal sense comes first in CIDE, the general sense of the word (referring to fair behavior or treatment) is dominant in the remaining two dictionaries. In this regard, the researcher is of the opinion that the most familiar sense of the word should be stated first. This familiar sense is likely to be the one a learner wants to look up in the dictionary. The most successful dictionary, here, would be CCELD, which seems to have divided the word into senses on a scale of the learners' familiarity with the word. Each sense is paraphrased precisely giving the learner much information on how use the word in different contexts.
OLDCE starts with the most familiar sense of the word, i.e. "right and fair behaviour", yet its paraphrase is not so satisfactory as that of CCELD. CIDE begins with the very legal sense of the word, i.e. "the putting of the law into action". The other senses are not mentioned here.
The problem of sense arrangement occurs once again in this item. OLDCE begins with the most familiar sense which is "a fastening made by tying a piece or pieces of string, rope, etc.", moving downward to the uncommon senses ending with "knot" as a "unit of speed measurement". What distinguishes OLDCE from the other dictionaries is the addition of another sense of the word "ornament or decoration made of ribbon, etc twisted and tied". Paraphrase in this dictionary however is still concise and could hardly let the learner perceive and use the word properly.
CIDE begins with paraphrasing the word in its most common sense, but then it suddenly mentions something related to another sense, i.e. to feel uncomfortable. Despite the inappropriateness of sense arrangement, CIDE seems to give well-constructed and easy-to-understand paraphrase of the senses pertaining to the word in question.
CCELD is more elaborate in its paraphrase of the word "knot". It specifies that a "knot" may occur not only in ropes and strings, but also in any other material "where one end or part has passed through a loop and been pulled tight". There seems to be a good arrangement of senses on a scale of familiarity. The most common sense is placed before the less common ones.
CCELD and CIDE are roughly the same in their presentation and definition of the word "nurture". The problem is with OLDCE, which ignores one of the senses, i.e. "nurturing emotions, ideas, plans, etc.". Even the senses it provides are not made clear enough, for what do we expect a learner to learn when we tell him that "to nurture" is "to encourage the growth of something, or to nourish something"? How can the learner be sure that he is correctly saying, for example: "They are nurturing their business"?
We notice here that the paraphrase method has been effectively utilised in both CCELD and CIDE. This is not the case with OLDCE, which does not seem to have successfully used the paraphrase method, which proves to be very important in this example.
8- Syntax (n.)
OLDCE here is the most elaborate one. It precisely mentions that syntax is the "arrangement of words into phrases and phrases into sentences". Next comes CIDE which does not mention anything about "phrases". Finally comes CCELD which pays no attention to "phrases" or "sentences".
From the above discussion we conclude that paraphrase is an important method that may provide the learner with significant information. It has also been obvious that even an efficient use of paraphrase may not lead to the learner's full understanding of a word. This means that such purpose could be realised only when paraphrase goes hands in hands efficiently with other methods.
V.1.2. Lexical Relations:
Following paraphrase, dictionaries usually resort to some items that share lexical relations with the word under consideration for elucidating purposes. These relations may include references to other words of similar meaning (synonyms), broader meaning (superordinates), opposite meaning (antonyms) or of the same semantic field (hyponyms). Before we begin our analysis, it is important to tackle a problem of using synonyms. We must not, however, assume that a learner's dictionary should be involved in telling all possible lexical relations, because this would fall in the domain of a thesaurus rather than a dictionary.
As seen in II.3, Hamdan and Fareh (1997) have shown some reservation against the use of synonyms in illustrating the meaning of a word. Arguing that a dictionary may be a potential source of error, they say that two synonyms may be similar in meaning but differ in their syntactic properties. The researcher, however, believes that this reservation should not address a learner's dictionaries, but rather dictionaries of synonyms. For illustration, consider the following citation quoted from Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (WDS) in connection with the synonyms "Buy" and "Purchase" (that are among the pairs examined by Hamdan and Fareh (1997):
"&.the words [buy and purchase] are often used interchangeably without loss&&. buy may almost always be substituted for purchase without disadvantage."
(Webster, 1951:135) emphasis added
If a learner were to follow the above quotation, he would inevitably think that both "buy" and "purchase" enjoy the same syntactic properties.
You can say for instance:
He bought me a house.
* He purchased me a house.
This misconception may also extend to other pairs of synonyms.
This problem inheres only in dictionaries of synonyms. As for learner's dictionaries, synonyms are words through which a sense is made clear by means of mentioning a more common word of similar meaning. Nevertheless, it is the DUTY of all learners' dictionaries to point out the question of synonymy in their front matters warning the learner against such misusage of synonyms.
Another point worth mentioning is the fact that a dictionary is not a reference book of syntax. If a dictionary must allude every now and then to the syntactic differences among synonyms, then it is likely going to be anything but a dictionary.
The present study, accordingly, will consider synonyms, antonyms and hyponyms as important advantageous devices for meaning clarification. The following table shows to what extent the three dictionaries observe lexical relations:
The Percentage of Using the Lexical Relations Method
in the Three Dictionaries
It seems that sense relations have been observed and employed to a considerable degree by CCELD. Following comes CIDE and then OLDCE. It should be noted, however, that CIDE and OLDCE sometimes provide synonyms implicitly in their paraphrase of words.
As far as CIDE is concerned, a close scrutiny reveals that this dictionary resorts to sense relations, namely synonyms, to serve other purposes than elucidating the meaning of a word (Consider relevant discussion on "Awning" and "Buy" for example.)
Two synonyms and one superordinate are mentioned in CCELD, while CIDE observes other synonyms "sunshade" and "sunblind". OLDCE states no synonyms. Although synonyms in this example are not erroneous, the absence of these synonyms may not prevent the learner's full understanding and consequently use of the word in question, which has been fully explained by paraphrase.
CIDE's mentioning of the two synonyms is intended to differentiate between various usages of different varieties of English. CIDE says here that "Awning" is mainly used in British English, while "sunshade" and "sunblind" are used to express the same meaning in the USA and Australia respectively.
The paraphrase of "dwell" attempted by CCELD has been insufficient to provide for a good understanding of the same item. A superordinate "reside" is placed to fill in the gap. This is not the case with OLDCE, which implicitly states that "dwell" = "reside" in terms of meaning. It is now obvious that while a dictionary may discern the relationship between two words as synonyms, other ones may consider them as hyponym and superordinate in a semantic field.
CCELD specifies two superordinates: "rejoice" and "say" in addition to two synonyms: "glory" and "crow". These lexical items are not placed randomly, but in such a way as to the learner some knowledge of lexical relations with the word in each relevant sense. This will enhance the learner's understanding of the polysemous nature of some words. CIDE should have resorted to such synonyms to fill in the gap created by a brief paraphrase.
4- Buy (v)
CCELD uses only two synonyms: "purchase" and "gain" in addition to one superordinate "bribe". Other synonyms should have been stated such as those observed (implicitly) in OLDCE. In its paraphrase of the word, OLDCE mentions such synonyms as "purchase", "obtain", "believe" and "delay". CIDE, on the other hand, mentions such synonyms as "pay for" and "believe" (referred to by CIDE as GUIDE WORDS) for purposes of entry design. CIDE uses such "guide words" to help the learner find which meaning he wants quickly.
None of the dictionaries has observed the antonym "sell".
5- Gutter (n)
"Channel" is the only synonym mentioned in CCELD, CIDE and OLDCE. Other synonyms could have been given including "cesspool", "sink", "drain" and "sump", but paraphrase is sufficient in explaining this word.
6- Itinerary (n)
The meaning of this item could be grasped without resorting to lexical relations. In this example, we note how synonyms could be used inappropriately. CCELD gives "programme" as a synonym of the subject item, which is totally incorrect. A programme is far distinct in meaning from an itinerary. This will lead us to conclude that an overuse of synonyms could be unhealthy. A better synonym could be something like "guidebook", while "programme", "schedule" and "timetable" could be stated as co-hyponyms.
7- Pussy (n)
"Pussy" in its informal or slang usage refers to the "female genitals". There are of course other slang and informal synonyms of the word, none of which is mentioned by any of the three dictionaries. The researcher believes that a dictionary in explaining such an item must provide the more formal or technical synonyms that could be used safely without causing any kind of embarrassment or inconvenience. Such synonyms could be like the more common term "vagina" or the more technical "theca".
8- Quirk (n)
The synonym "idiosyncrasy" is used by CCELD. This synonym, however, may be somewhat vague for non-native speakers of English. It is recommended therefore that other synonyms are stated such as "eccentricity, peculiarity, distinctive feature, trademark, mannerism, foible"
V.1.3. Formality and Technicality
A learner must be kept aware of the social attitude of native speakers towards a specific word. Any use of a word in an inappropriate context may lead the learner to an embarrassing situation or may cause him to utter an odd, even awkward, utterance in the foreign language. It is an advantage for a dictionary, therefore, to provide where necessary, in what situation the item could be used, such as in "informal", "formal", "frozen" or other situations. The present study shows that in terms of formality and technicality, CCELD seems to dominate, followed by CIDE and then by OLDCE as shown in the table below:
The Percentage of Using
Formality and Technicality Method in the Three Dictionaries
The above table tells us that the three dictionaries do not cover all items in terms of formality. Consider for instance the following examples:
-CIDE does not observe as formal the following items:
Fuse, itinerary, owe, ruse, and your
-As for OLDCE, these are:
Dwell, nurture, ruse and syntax
-CCELD ignores the formality of:
Fuse, itinerary, and owe
Consider also the verb "buy". CIDE seems to be the only one to state that the expression "to buy yourself" is used in the military in British English.
V.1.4. Collocations, Idioms and Fixed Expressions
Recognising the meaning of a word, its lexical relations with other words and its level of formality does not guarantee an idiomatic use of the same word. There is in every language a specific non-systematic way of combining words together. A collocation is simply a habitual co-occurrence of two or more words. For instance, you can say "I go home" but not "I go house", or "green with jealousy" and not "blue with jealously". Also, one can discern the meaning of the collocation through the accumulation of the meanings of its various constituents. Idioms on the other hand are more "fossilised" due to the fact that they are syntactically restricted and that they are rather metaphorical as to the meaning of the whole idiom is not the accumulation of the meanings of its constituents. Consider the following example:
He kicked the bucket. (= He died).
* The bucket was kicked by him.
The outstanding problems and difficulties besetting the lexicographer, in this regard, could be summarised in the following questions:
1- Where should collocations and idioms be extracted from?
2- How could it be tested that the selected collocations and idioms are actual and real utterances said by native speakers of English? How could one be sure that an idiom or collocation one chooses are not mere idiosyncrasies.
3- Are the selected idioms and collocations up-to-date, or have they become obsolete?
A learner may understand the meaning of specific words, but may combine them erroneously, in terms of collocational and idiomatic meaning. Thus, providing some collocations and idioms within the dictionary entry seems to be inescapable.
Collocations and idioms grow with the growth of everyday language and are unlikely to be limited. Thus, they and may not be comprehensively encompassed in the learners' dictionary. The most commonly used ones, however, should be stated and explained. In the following, we shall try to see how much collocations the three dictionaries provided in this field. The table below shows the percentage of using the method of idioms and collocations in the three dictionaries:
The Percentage of Using
Idioms and Collocations Method in the Three Dictionaries
In appendix 2, a table shows how the three dictionaries have provided for collocations and idioms.
V.1.5. Illustrative Examples of Usage
We close our analysis in the semantic domain with illustrative examples of usage, which are perhaps the most important feature a learner's dictionary must exhibit. A learner may understand the meaning of a word through paraphrase, yet he may be unable to use it correctly and appropriately. A review of the most recent English-English learner's dictionaries would tell us that the current trend is towards using authentic illustrative examples of actual use by native speakers of English. The following table shows the extent to which the three dictionaries have used this method:
The Percentage of Using
the Illustrative Examples Method in the Three Dictionaries
Once again, we have to consider an important question: do the three dictionaries use the method of illustrative examples to the optimal degree? Or in other words, is this method efficiently utilised?
In order for an illustrative example to function efficiently, it should (among other things):
1-be actually said by a native speaker (it should not be the lexicographer's own invention)
2-provide the user with some basic syntactic characteristics of the word.
3-provide the user with some basic semantic characteristics of the word (collocations, idioms, etc)
Syntactic properties include questions on transitivity, word order, countability, gradability etc. This information has been on the whole provided in examples by the three dictionaries.
Take for instance the following examples:
1- Buy (v)
- Let me buy you a drink (CCELD) è "buy" + Oi + Od
- Money can't buy happiness (OLDCE ) è "buy" + Od
Notice also the following self-explanatory example given by CIDE:
- He bought his mother some flowers/ He bought some flowers to his mother.
2- Cybernetics (n)
CCELD is the only dictionary here that illustrates the use of the word. This use, however, seems to be a luxury. "The world of cybernetics" or "the cybernetics department" are unlikely to add to our knowledge of the word in terms of its syntactic or semantic properties. For that reason, it seems that CCELD and OLDCE have preferred not to give any example.
3- Dwell (v)
There are three examples in CIDE, and one in each of COBUILD and OLDCE. CIDE stresses two important uses of the verb "dwell", so we can say: "dwell in + Place" or "Dwell with + Someone".
4- Exult (v)
Examples have been given in each dictionary illustrating how to use the word with 'in/at'. CIDE, however, adds 'exult over'.
5- Owe (v)
- We owe you our thanks / We owe our thanks to you (CIDE)
- I owe my parents an enormous amount / I owe an enormous amount to my parents. (CIDE)
One way of examining the efficiency in using the illustrative examples methods is by answering the following question: How many idioms and expressions or collocations have I learnt from the examples provided in the three dictionaries? The answer is illustrated through the following table:
The Efficiency of the Illustrative Examples Method
The above table tells us that CCELD and CIDE are more useful than OLDCE on terms of illustrative examples efficiency. It is worth mentioning that OLDCE seems to be focusing, in an unjustifiable manner, and relying on condensed examples and phrases rather than clauses or complete sentences.
III.2 Grammatical Information
One of the main properties that distinguish a learner's dictionary is that grammatical information is more detailed than an ordinary dictionary. Part of speech, for instance, could be said to be ancillary in any dictionary but the learner's. Take the following example:
In Arabic, to use the word "tanakkara" is used as an intransitive verb, while in English the counterpart of this word is usually transitive:
- tanakkara al-rajulu bithiyabi shurti
(English version: The man disguised himself as a policeman.)
Should a learner's dictionary be oblivious to this fact, it would be more amenable to causing perplexity and language interference problems in the use of words by a non-native speaker.
It is interesting to note that CIDE disperses many syntactic rules and grammatical information, not only within word entries, but also in the course of its body. After explaining the word "compare", for example, CIDE draws a frame in which the concept of comparing and grading is explained and discussed elaborately.
In the ensuing sections of this part, we shall look into three basic elements of grammatical properties of words, i.e. the part of speech, verb argument structure and classification of lexemes (other than verbs).
Grammatical information is restricted in this paper to: part of speech, verb argument structure and grammatical classification of non-verbs.
V.2.1 Part of Speech
The part of speech has been fully observed by the three dictionaries with respect to all words of the present corpus. CCELD, however, has an advantage over the other two dictionaries for its clear labeling of the part of speech. All labels referring to nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. are placed on the left margin with respect to each sense of the word, so these labels are easy to notice and easy to understand. The other two dictionaries have preferred to place the label directly after the pronunciation or the sense of the word.
V.2.2 Verb Argument Structure
The most detailed grammatical information in a learner's dictionary is that given to verbs since:
"verb syntax is essentially the syntax of the clause, and it is where there are probably more differences between languages. The verb lexeme in a clause determines the potential occurrence of the other elements in the clause."
Of the twenty six words of the corpus, only six words are verbs. These are: buy, dwell, exult, nurture, owe and utilise. Other words of the corpus that could be used as nouns are excluded, simply because they have been randomly chosen as non-verbs.
As we have mentioned earlier, grammatical properties, including verb argument structure, are clearer in CCELD than the other two dictionaries. Not all the selected verbs are covered in terms of their arguments. Consider the following table:
Verb Argument Structure
The verb 'buy' is excluded form the verb argument structure analysis.
CCELD states that "dwell" is followed by an adverbial, but the illustrative example is a bit "syntactically" perplexing. The problem is with the word "somewhere", for this may impede a learner's interpreting of the word. After reading the definition of the word, an Arab EFL learner has produced the following sentence 'which is totally erroneous':
* He has dwelt Amman.
S V 'somewhere'
OLDCE, on the other hand, does not state that 'dwell' could occur in an NP-VP-PP structure, through it does say that 'dwell' is intransitive.
The problem is resolved in CIDE, which states that 'dwell' is a verb that is 'always' followed by an adverb or preposition. Two illustrative examples are given to show how the word is used with the prepositions 'in' and 'with'.
The word 'dwell' should have been syntactically defined as: int., V+A/PP.
The syntactic information regarding 'exult' is made implicit, through illustrative examples, in CIDE and in OLDCE, the latter of which provides some vague symbols like 'I, Ipr, It'. Although illustrative examples help us understand the syntactic properties of the word in CIDE and OLDCE, these properties seem to be much clearer in CCELD. Consider the following syntactic features of 'exult' as mentioned in CCELD:
a-The first sense of 'exult' is usually used with an adverb
b-The second sense of "exult" is used after a quotation
c-The third sense of 'exult' is usually used with an adverb
3- Nurture (v)
There is nothing remarkable concerning the syntactic properties of this word, as the three dictionaries mention that it is transitive and takes an object.
CIDE states that the word is stative and cannot be used in the progressive tense as to say: "is owing". This has been indicated by the mentioning of: '[T not be owing]. CCELD however is more elaborate and clear in terms of the syntactic features of the different senses when specifying the following arguments:
a. V+O b. V+O+O c. V+O+A (to) d. V+O+O
e. V+O+O f. V+O+A+ (to)
OLDCE is still vague in its representation as it provides mere symbols lacking illustration, which is not a good feature of a learner's dictionary.
Nothing of much importance could be said regarding this word, as the three dictionaries state that the word is transitive, and provide illustrative examples.
It seems, however, that none of the three dictionaries have indicated whether a verb is stative (cannot occur in the progressive) or dynamic (can occur in the progressive).
V.2.3 Classification of Non-verb Lexemes
Here, we talk about noun countability and adjective gradability. These two features should be observed in learner's dictionaries, because of the lack of a one-to-one correspondence among words of different languages in this regard.
Beside verbs, the twenty-six-word corpus incorporates twenty nouns and adjectives. By observing the countability of noun, a learner becomes sure that he may derive a plural of this noun, or use an indefinite article before it. Gradability, on the other hand, would inform us if we can derive the comparative and superlative forms by adding '-er' and 'est' respectively, or pre-modifying it by "very". The three dictionaries, once again, differ in using this method. The following table is illustrative:
Classification of Lexemes (Other than Verbs)
CCELD, therefore, makes more use of the classification feature. The opposite is true for OLDCE, which does not seem to rely to a large degree on countability and gradability.
As for adjectives, Quirk et al (1972) observe that:
"adjectives are distinguished positively by their ability to function attributively and/or their ability to function predicatively after intensive verbs, including 'seem' "
(Quirk et al. 1972: 234)
Two adjectives appear in the corpus, namely "hypochondriac" and "xenophobic". None of the three dictionaries provide an explicit explanation on the correct use of these adjectives (i.e. in terms of attributivity and predicativity). CCELD and CIDE at least illustrate through examples how these adjectives are used predicatively. OLDCE is short on this specific point.
The three dictionaries, on the whole, are not satisfactory when it comes to specifying the kinds of adjectives.
CIDE, however, is (grammatically speaking) distinguished from the other two dictionaries with an important and significant feature. It does provide every now and then grammatical and syntactic information that would be of great assistance to the learner. Check the said dictionary and consider, for instance, the front matter (pages xiii-xviii). It includes brief but simple and easy-to-grasp information on word classes: their forms and functions.
V.3. Morphological Information
Morphology deals with the internal structure of words in terms of their derivations and inflections. The question that arises in this study regarding morphological investigation is: does a dictionary provide the learner with the derivations and inflections of a word?
Table (9) below shows how CCELD has been keen in providing all possible morphological information of the word within the same entry. This does not seem the case with CIDE and OLDCE.
Morphological Information (Derivation and Inflection)
Examples form CCELD are: 'awnings' for 'awning", 'bought' for 'buy', 'exulting' for exult', etc. An example for CIDE is: 'itinerarition' for 'itinerary'. As for OLDCE , an example is 'lustrously' for 'lustre'.
V.4. Ancillary Information
It is true that paraphrase is perhaps the most important part of the definition of a word, but it is also a fact that in most dictionaries, lexicographers tend to provide some additional ancillary information. Such ancillary information may provide the learner with a further degree of knowledge concerning the word in question. These pieces of information are ancillary, as they may be omitted altogether from the entry without affecting the learner's understanding of the word.
A problem, however, may arise on the surface if we take into account the diversity of learners' levels of education. A beginner, for instance, may find every single detail important for learning the word, while an advanced learner may find a lot of methods in dictionaries nothing but a luxury, that he can do without.
Ancillary information may include regional dialects, pronunciations, variations of usage, formality and technicality etc. For the purposes of the present study, ancillary information will be restricted to pronunciation and variation of usage.
With regard to the British pronunciation, all words of the corpus have been observed in CCELD and CIDE. As for OLDCE, it ignores one single word only, that is 'xenophobic'.
Beside the British pronunciation, CIDE provides for American and Australian pronunciations where applicable. Examples are: 'awning', 'cybernetics', 'gutter', 'quirk', etc.
CCELD observes the British pronunciation only, simply because it states that the dictionary is directed for those who are mainly interested in learning British English.
The three dictionaries use the same standard phonetic symbols.
V.4.2 Variation of Usage
It has been stated above in II.1 that American English and British English may differ in using the same word semantically and syntactically. It has also been stated that a good learner's dictionary may have to mention these differences of usage. The term 'variation of usage' will be used here to refer to either of the following two notions: (1) variation in spelling, and (2) syntactic and/or semantic variation in usage.
Variation of Usage
In this arena CIDE, dominates. 30.77% of the total words in the corpus have been observed in terms of variation of usage among British English, American English and Australian English. Consider the following for examples pertaining to the present analysis:
CIDE draws the attention of the learner that this word is mainly used in British English, while other synonyms are used to refer to the same meaning in Australian English "sunshade" and Australian English "sunblind". English and American pronunciations are provided.
2- Buy (v)
CIDE observes that the following expressions, that involve the verb 'buy' are used only in British English:
- We bought in (=bought for future use)
- You buy yourself (=you pay a sum of money so that you can leave earlier)
It also observes the following expression as used in informal American English:
- You buy the farm (you die)
CCELD states one of the senses of the form as used in informal English. CIDE, however, observes the following usage:
The fuse has gone / has broken (British and Australian English) (The neutral expression is "The fuse has blown")
Consider the following usages observed by CIDE and CCELD:
- 'Justice' is a judge (American English)
- 'Justice' as a part of a title of a judge (British English) [CIDE adds that it is also used as such in Australian English)
- 'Justice of the peace' (American English as CIDE specifies)
Of the three dictionaries, OLDCE does not seem to give much consideration to this method.
VI. Conclusion and Recommendations:
This study has been concerned with three dictionaries: Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary and Cambridge International Dictionary of English. A set of methods has been set up in the form of a heuristicchecklist and twenty six words have been randomly chosen to form the corpus of the study. The corpus has been examined with respect to three major domains: Semantic Component, Grammatical Information and Ancillary Information. The findings have been organised and provided in the appendices of this study.
The findings of the present piece of research have proved useful in evaluating how much the learner learns in consulting any of the three dictionaries named above. In other words, the ultimate goal of our discussion is to arrive at a point where we can understand whether the learner's knowledge with respect to a word has been enhanced or not. Following is an overall analysis and evaluation of the three dictionaries:
1-Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English
OLDCE has proved to be somehow insufficient and inefficient in the three domains of the heuristicchecklist. Paraphrase is rather concise, illustrative examples are limited and restricted to fragments and phrases instead of clauses and sentences. Lexical relations are also rare (23.08%). There are, however, a few examples illustrating the use of words, though these examples are in the form of fragments and phrases rather than full sentences or clauses. These illustrative examples are also poor in collocations and fixed expressions.
In the syntactic standpoint, OLDCE pays attention to all verbs of the corpus in terms of their argument structures. This is a good advantage, yet OLDCE needs to revise the nature and positions of symbols in this regard. These symbols have proved to be difficult to understand by the learner, and should be placed on the margin of every sense so they can be clearly and easily identified. 'Stative" and "Dynamic' labels should also be taken into account.
OLDCE still needs to further its presentation in terms of noun countability and adjective classification (gradable and non-gradable, attributive or predicative).
It is optional for OLDCE to enter the variation of usage in international English as a new feature or method of defining a word. Also, it is not obligatory for it to display the pronunciations of British English and American English simultaneously.
2-Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary
On the semantic level, this dictionary has been satisfactory in providing a good paraphrase of words, lexical relations including synonyms, antonyms and superordinates. Formality and technicality have been observed in 42.31% of the words, but what gives CCELD advantage over other dictionaries is its use of illustrative examples with respect to all the twenty six words of the corpus. CCELD has passed the efficiency test we have previously posited for examining this use against the question: "How much do these illustrative examples provide for collocations and idioms?" The result is amusing, 64 collocations and expressions could be learnt from the twenty six words definitions.
On the syntactic level, CCELD has been keen in providing all argument structures of each single sense of the 6 verbs incorporated in the corpus. Noun countability has been fully observed, but the dictionary needs to specify explicitly the gradability of adjectives. The illustrative examples should be reviewed in a manner that they would contain much syntactic information of the word when it comes in a clause or a sentence.
CCELD has well observed, as well, the derivational and inflectional forms of the majority of words concerned. CELD states its main interest in the introductory as the target learner of British English. In view of this, it would not be obligatory that CCELD observes the variations of spelling, pronunciation and lexical usage among the various English varieties. It has however, in some cases, provided for information on specific expressions used only by the American English speakers.
3- Cambridge International Dictionary of English
The dictionary on the whole is interesting and satisfactory, with some reservations on the style of presentation. CIDE, nevertheless, is characterised by the organisation of its word-senses and labeling each sense with a "Guide Word" that facilitate the process of looking up a word. Syntactic information and rules are also made available in the front matter as well as in the body (where appropriate). Illustrative examples are also efficiently utilised. These provide the learner with some syntactic and semantic features of the word concerned. Collocations, idioms and expressions exist. CIDE, moreover, has the following unique features:
1- It pays attention to the pronunciations of other varieties of English, such as American English and Australian English in addition to British English.
2-It warns the learner of using false friends. This will help reduce the interference of the learner's mother tongue in his learning of English.
3-It keeps the learner aware of the semantic differences in using words by various English varieties. An example has been noted in the above discussion, when CIDE states that while British English uses 'awning', American English uses 'sunshade' and Australian English uses 'sunblind' to refer to the same meaning.
CIDE is on the whole presentable, meaning that is comfortable to use, yet it needs a re-arrangement of its symbols regarding the verb argument structure features and other ones pertaining to other classes of words such as adjectives, nouns, prepositions, etc.
"What should a learner's dictionary include?" This question, the title of the paper, should be answered by both the learner and the lexicographer. On the one hand, the learner should define his needs and know exactly whether a dictionary he has bought fulfills his needs in learning a foreign language. On the other hand, the lexicographer should be aware of the real needs in all the fields according to the heuristic checklist devised in this paper.
We recommend also that further studies touch on some areas not covered in this paper such as: overall presentation, cultural information necessary for understanding a word or one of its senses, word etymology, false friends, computerized versions of learner's dictionaries.
The learner's dictionary is in fact not a book of syntax or morphology, i.e. such pieces of information should not be very elaborate in the dictionary, but it should be satisfactory when the learner learns a word or one of its senses.
As far as ancillary information is concerned, it is recommended that a dictionary provides such information as: tables that shows frequency of words, irregular verbs, colors and words ending with certain suffixes like -logy, -ism, etc.
1- Allee, John. 1951. Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms. G. & C. Meriam Co. Publishers, USA.
2- Ahulu, S. 1998. Grammatical Variation in International English. English Today, 14(4): 13-18. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
3- Bobda, A. 1998. British or American English: Does it matter?. English Today, 14(4): 13-18, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
4- Cowise, Anthony (ed.). 1995. Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
5- Hamdan J. and Fareh, S.1997. "Dictionaries as a potential Source of Error for Arab EFL Learners: Evidence from verb Argument Structures" Studia Anglica Posaniensia, XXXII, pp. 21-41
6- Jackson, H. 1996. Words and Their Meanings. London. Longman
7- Loughridge, B. 1990. Which Dictionary?. London. Library Association Publishing Ltd.
8- Procter et al. 1997. (low-price edition), Cambridge International Dictionary of English. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, UK.
9- Quirk, R. Greenbaum, S. Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. 1972. A Grammar of Contemporary English. London. Longman
10- Sinclair, J. et al. 1997 (reprinted edition). Collins Cobuild Dictionary of Idioms, Williams Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., UK
11- Sinclair, J. et. al. 1990. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary. London. Williams Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
1- Abu-S'Eleek, Ali. The Syntactic Consequences of Differences in American and British English Usage in Longman Dictionary of English Language And Culture.
2- Gethin, A. and Gunnenmark, Erik. Learning Vocabulary1.
3- Meho, Lokman. DICTIONARIES: Outline of Significant Points.
4- Szynalski, Tomasz and Wojcik, Michal. Review
of the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary
for Advanced Learners Retrieved from:
http://www.antimoon.com/how/cobuild-review.htm on January 20, 2003
4- Szynalski, Tomasz and Wojcik, Michal. Review of the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary for Advanced Learners Retrieved from: http://www.antimoon.com/how/cobuild-review.htm on January 20, 2003
Number of Words using the Illustrative Examples Method
Appendix 1: Idioms that can be learnt from each dictionary under study
APPENDIX 2: COLLOCATIONS, IDIOMS AND FIXED EXPRESSIONS THAT CAN BE LEARNT FROM EACH DICTIONARY
Appendix 3: Table summarising the results of study
TOTAL 3 = Semantic information + Grammatical information + morphological information + ancillary information
CIDE : 181
Par= Paraphrase, Lexi= Lexical relations, FT= Formality and register, CIE= Collocations, Idioms and Fixed Expressions, PS= Part of Speech, CL= Classification of Lexemes, VAS= Verb Argument Structure, DF= Derivational Forms, IF= Inflectional Forms, BrP= British Pronunciation, AmP= American Pronunciation, DIC= Dictionary, Var= Variation of usage, T= Total.
· Lexical relations = synonyms, antonyms, hyponyms etc
· Formality and register = formal, informal, slang, colloquial, vulgar, scientific, literary, medical etc.
· Classification of Lexemes: attributive or predicative or gradable (adjective), countable or uncountable (nouns), etc.
· Verb Argument Structure transitive, intransitive, ditransitive etc.
· Variation of usage = variation according to country as Britain, USA, Australia, etc, Variation in spelling.
This article was originally published in Zarka Journal for Studies and Research, vol.5, No.1, 2003
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