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Book Review - A Non-Native User’s Perspective of Corpus-Based Dictionaries of English and French


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Le Nouveau Petit Robert
DICTIONNAIRES LE ROBERT - PARIS - ISBN 2-85036-976-4
List Price: US$ 185.00

Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS - ISBN 0-19-431585-1
List Price: US$ 44.31

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS - ISBN 978-0521605007
List Price: US$ 43.00



Estela Carvalho photoCorpus-based dictionaries are intended for any native or non-native speaker of a particular language. Nonetheless, terminology researchers insist that professional translators need to be aware of the array of resources made available to them by modern dictionaries.

Consulting dictionaries is an essential and time-consuming activity of a translator's daily work.

Consulting dictionaries is an essential and time-consuming activity of a translator's daily work. Even though bilingual dictionaries are useful, they cannot take the place of monolingual dictionaries, particularly since the late nineties, when the most important English-language learners' dictionaries started to be reformulated owing to the availability of large quantities of text of varied sources in machine-readable form.

Certain combinations of words in a language happen more frequently than they would happen at random. Such combinations, known as collocations, are the most important offerings of corpus-based dictionaries. As pointed out on its back cover, the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary [OALD] (2002 edition, with Genie CD-ROM) is based on the Oxford Corpus Collection and the British National Corpus. It is filled up with numerous examples based on real context of use, with emphasis given to collocations.

Sixteen study pages offer important information to the user on how to consult the dictionary. Number B3, which refers to Collocation, is particularly useful; it makes clear that the examples shown in the dictionary are based on natural occurrences.

Certain combinations of words in a language happen more frequently than they would happen at random. Such combinations, known as collocations, are the most important offerings of corpus-based dictionaries. As pointed out on its back cover, the Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary [OALD] (2002 edition, with Genie CD-ROM) is based on the Oxford Corpus Collection and the British National Corpus. It is filled up with numerous examples based on real context of use, with emphasis given to collocations.

Sixteen study pages offer important information to the user on how to consult the dictionary. Number B3, which refers to Collocation, is particularly useful; it makes clear that the examples shown in the dictionary are based on natural occurrences.

The noun Wine is worthy of note. For starters, a question is raised: Can you say "pink wine"? Subsequently, texts containing that noun are reproduced. Non-native speakers will therefore be able to realize that they can say dry / sweet / red / rosé or white wine. The same sort of explanation is given with reference to which verbs can be used with a specific noun and which adverbs are normally employed with particular adjectives. Important collocations are also printed in bold type, as in the example: She writes under a pseudonym.

The grammar points are particularly useful to a non-native speaker. Subtle differences in the use of, for example, can / be able to / could / manage to, are found in note boxes placed close to one of the entries, and they are also referred to in the entries.

The Genie CD-ROM can be used either by inserting the CD into the CD-tray or by installing the software on the hard disk. By clicking twice on the corresponding icon shown on the Desktop of a PC, an image similar to a palmtop is shown. One should only have to type a word in the dialog box and then press < enter> in order to learn its meaning. When using a word processor or the Internet, it is only necessary to point the word with the cursor of the mouse and the dictionary entry will appear on the Genie screen.

Grammar points are also featured on the Genie screen, a useful feature for text production purposes.

Conversely, if the word in question is mistyped, the Genie will not display any possible option. One must first know the correct spelling of a word to look it up on the Genie CD-ROM.

As mentioned above, the OALD's printed version contains useful study pages and visual aids, which are absent in the CD-ROM. Therefore, users will have to refer to the printed version of the dictionary if they need to comprehend, for example, the difference between pie / pudding / pancake, supposing that if the entries on the screen are insufficient for someone to grasp it. As a result, when traveling or working outside the office, a translator using his laptop will also have to carry the printed version of the dictionary.

The New Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary [CALD] CD-ROM is much superior to Oxford's Genie CD-ROM.

To begin with, it is readily understandable: one should just have to start typing a word for a list of similar entries to be automatically displayed on the left side of the screen window. A variety of information comes together with the definition of the meaning: spelling, smart thesaurus, and word building, a unique feature that reveals a list of words that are formed from a common root.

Word Building is displayed through a pop-up window that reveals related words formed with the same root, that is, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.

The Smart Thesaurus illustrates the words related to a particular entry. All information can be copied or printed. The option "copy all entries" makes it possible to paste the content of all related words to a new Word document, including their meaning and examples.

In the Pictures section, there is an onomasiologic term-bank, varying from animals, to car and trucks, kitchen equipment and cooking. Labels can be seen by pointing the cursor over the picture and, to see a definition, it is only necessary to click on the label: a small "look up" window opens showing the definition. Finally, it is possible to see the complete entry in the main dictionary window by clicking the "show in main dictionary" button.

This represents an enormous economy of luggage if working outside the office is needed. A portable computer and the CALD's CD-ROM would be all that is needed.

The 2004 edition of the Nouveau Petit Robert [PR] is illustrated by examples and citations derived from a corpus formed by literature, scientific texts, extracts from films and music.

It is the first time it benefits from information technology techniques of corpus compilation and research. A commentary found on one of the fourteen pages of introduction justifies that, as the press is more up-to-date than literature, many citations are taken from newspapers, rather from literature, especially in what concerns neologisms.

The editors present a new way of explaining how a lexicographer can use his intuition or corpus information to form examples to illustrate each entry: the circumstances under which a lexicographer produces examples are as natural (or as artificial) as those of a writer while writing fiction texts.

Five pages describe, in alphabetical order, the names of the authors quoted in the citations. Furthermore, forty-seven periodicals are listed as contributing to the compilation of the corpus, from the legendary Le Monde to Cosmopolitan and Le Québec tel quel. Moreover, 28 films, from Les dames du Bois de Boulogne to Et Dieu créa la femme are quoted, and the scriptwriters' names are indicated as well.

Most entries begin with their first year of appearance [i.e., cité (1080), baladeur (1985), logiciel (1970), souris (1983), cédérom / CD-ROM (1989), courriel (1990)].1

Finally, some entries are illustrated either by citations or by invented examples. When the entry refers to a citation, the author or periodical is shown just after the sentence: "L'oursin, dont la bouche s'appelle, on ne sait pourquoi, lanterne d'Aristote, creuse le granit." (Hugo). "Les raves, ces nuits secrètes [...] dans des vieux hangars désaffectés." (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1995).

The PR is a sizeable investment for a Brazilian translator and, if a CD-ROM with the same contents is also required, one has to disburse twice as much.

Hence, if working outside the office is needed, the 2949-page book should be also taken. On the other hand, the OALD or the CALD costs half that sum, with a CD-ROM included.


1 city / walkman / software / mouse / CD-ROM / e-mail, respectively.












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