LINGUIST List 14.2576

Fri Sep 26 2003

Review: Lexicography/German: Beaton (1996/2001)

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  1. Charley Rowe, A Practical Dictionary of German Usage

Message 1: A Practical Dictionary of German Usage

Date: Fri, 26 Sep 2003 17:14:51 +0000
From: Charley Rowe <>
Subject: A Practical Dictionary of German Usage

Beaton, K. B. (1996/2001) A Practical Dictionary of German Usage,
Oxford University Press.

Announced at

Charley Rowe, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

_A practical dictionary of German usage_ is a reference book of the
_Duden_ type (containing highly selective entries with full
citations). It is intended for (advanced) Anglophone learners of
German. However, I imagine that it could be useful for advanced German
learners of English as well, as well as for professional translators.

The book is, as explained in the author's preface, a reworking of two
other reference books: Farrell's (1953) _A dictionary of German
synonyms_ and Eggeling's (1961) _Dictionary of modern German prose
usage_. Explanations from these two works were rewritten, and
illustrative examples created afresh. The English definitions in the
dictionary derive primarily from Webster's Dictionary and from the
Oxford English Dictionary (OED). All entries are in English; examples
are primarily in German, with occasional partial translations in
English for the purpose of clarification.

Beaton's dictionary is, for the target audience, intended to supplant
the use of monolingual German dictionaries, which do not typically
contain precisely the sort of information that native speakers take
for granted and which learners so closely rely on. The current
edition under review is the paperback version, which corrects errors
in the hardback edition (1996). Included is an index of English and
German terms used.

To test the dictionary's usefulness, I used two selection strategies:
(1) random selection of some entries, and (2) specific selection of
certain entries I knew to be difficult for Anglophone learners of
German. The results of my selections follow.

Difficult pairs: The classically difficult _go_ (German
_gehen/fahren_) is carefully and thoroughly disambiguated (e.g. in
what cases can _gehen_ refer to vehicular transport?). The _noch
ein/ein anderes_ 'another' gambit (an 'additional' piece of cake,
versus a 'different' piece of cake) is likewise well treated, with
full explanation. The less difficult _quite/ganz_ are also thoroughly
explained, somewhat of a rarity for this entry. However, sorely
missing is an entry for _actually_ (the _tatsaechlich/eigentlich_
pair), which even some quite proficient non-natives never fully
master. An especially impressive entry is the one for 'relation' and
conceptually related words (2-1/2 pages), which provides in particular
an exhaustive illustration of the differences and contexts of usage of
_Verhaeltnis_ and _Beziehung_. In these and similar cases, the entry
concludes with a list of several (typically five or more) contrastive
example sentences.

Valency variations are nicely dealt with: _frieren, einfrieren,
gefrieren,_ etc., are well explained, with relevant example sentences,
for the entry _freeze_), as is the _lend/borrow_ pair.

The entry for _know_ (_kennen, wissen, koennen, verstehen,
ausscheiden, erkennen, sich auskennen_) is especially well formulated
(three pages worth!), providing a grammar lesson of sorts within the

Given the space devoted to them (2 pages), the modal auxiliaries, in
their epistemic and deontic usages, are really quite thoroughly and
efficiently dealt with. The examples with their English equivalents
are on the mark, and the prose explanations are pleasantly near-

There is a UK bias inherent in some entries, e.g. _meant_ with the
'expectation' and 'reputation' readings (_I am meant to go to the
meeting. Alicante is meant to be beautiful_.) While these should
rightly be invoked, it would have been worth flagging them as UK-
specific (and specifically North American usages should likewise also
be so noted).

Morphology: The dictionary seems to grant better coverage to verbs and
deverbals. For example, _cover_ (the case cited in the preface) does
not mention the nominal form at all, nor does _leave_. And the
citation for _course_ has no mention of _course_ in the sense of
German _Seminar_.

Special usages: The entry for _schlecht_ lacks the 'with
difficulty'/'hardly' usage (_Das kann ich sehr schlecht sagen_ 'I
really can't say.'), and the entry for _hang [up]_ does not include
the translation for 'hang up [the telephone]'. The entry for _die_
has no mention of _ums Leben (ge)kommen_, which is so common in
written German, particularly in the media. Commendably, the entry for
_remember_ includes _denken an_ (i.e., 'remember' in the NOT+forget
sense), which is somewhat rare for dictionaries. Some entries point
out regional variations (e.g. north German _arg_) and colloquialisms.

There is no cross-referencing in the book. If one looks up _cheat_,
one finds no partial entry; instead, one must know to look up
_deceive_ instead, which gives the usages for _deceive, cheat,
delude_, etc. However, this problem is circumvented with the word
index in the back.

A final note: After completing this review, I asked an intermediate/
advanced level learner of German to look up some terms he found
difficult or curious, thus testing the dictionary's efficacy in an
actual target user. The learner selected the following: _popular_,
_close_, and _however/but_. On all counts, he was satisfied with the
degree of detail and explanation offered, as well as the writing
style; he also considered reading a few pages a day for edification.

Overall, the dictionary is quite useful, and I would recommend it to
learners of both English and German, and perhaps also to professional
translators as well. I would not say that it replaces the need for a
monolingual dictionary, but it does supplement it quite well. The
writing style is especially refreshing, its style near-conversational-
in contrast with the usual style for reference books.


Duden. 1972. Zweifelsfaelle der deutschen Sprache. Mannheim. 

Duden. Das grosse Woerterbuch der deutschen Sprache (6 volumes). 1976-
1981. Mannheim.

Eggeling, H.F. 1961. A dictionary of modern German prose
usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Farrell, R.B. 1953/1971. Dictionary of German synonyms. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

The Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Webster's third new international dictionary. 1961. Springfield MA.


Charley Rowe is a post-doctoral fellow in English dialectology at the
University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Her research interests lie in
the fields of casual speech, dialectology (of German and English, in
particular) and computer-mediated communication.
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