LINGUIST List 15.1011

Fri Mar 26 2004

Review: Lexicography/Applied Ling: Humbl� (2001)

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  1. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Dictionaries and Language Learners

Message 1: Dictionaries and Language Learners

Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 16:27:39 -0500 (EST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Dictionaries and Language Learners

Humbl�, Philippe (2001) Dictionaries and Language Learners, Haag und

Announced at

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India


The volume is produced with the purpose for highlighting some problems
often faced by the foreign language learners when they try to access
dictionaries for understanding the words used in the target
languages. As an experienced foreign language teacher and a dictionary
maker the author has clear vision about the problems the students
often encounter in their way of learning a foreign language. This has
inspired him to design an innovative as well as praiseworthy manual of
pedagogical lexicography.

This short volume contains four chapters along with a well-written
preface by Jean Binon of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), and
a moderately long introduction by the author himself. In brief,
Chapter 1 deals with the history of dictionaries and the learner's
need; Chapter 2 presents the review of the literature with reference
to the questionnaires and the experiments conducted by earlier
scholars; Chapter 3 highlights the some major issues related with the
enterprise of foreign language lexicography; and Chapter 4 focuses on
an integrated approach to foreign language lexicography proposed by
the author. The volume ends with a concluding remark, a list of
appendixes, a glossary of terms, a list of dictionaries, and an
enumerated bibliography.


In the Introduction (Pp. 15-28), the author argues that the basic aim
of foreign language lexicography is to help the learners with the task
of 'decoding' and 'encoding' the information embedded with the entry
words of a foreign language dictionary. In recent times he observes a
reversal process in the approach where emphasis is mostly shifted from
'decoding' to 'encoding'. Whether this paradigm shift has done any
good or bad to the target group is an unsolved issue, which requires
extensive empirical exploration of the phenomenon. However, he is
right when he opines that in order to adapt this new trend it is
important to discover the precise needs of the dictionary users
(p. 17). We also agree with him to suggest that due to the inadequacy
of various innovative research techniques, we still lack proper
understanding of the issue, therefore are not in a position to deliver
any final verdict.

In 'objective and hypothesis' the author categorically mentions his
motive behind this book: ''to formulate suggestions to improve
dictionaries for foreign language learners by means of qualitative
research that analyses existing dictionaries, on one hand, and, on the
other, the learner'' (p. 18). This is a new approach, which makes us
inquisitive to follow his path. In the next part, he refers to the
issues like tests and questionnaires, which he proposes to use to
achieving his goal. He also addresses the ideological issues
integrated with lexicography, which refer to the role of dictionary in
standardization of language, consolidation of national consciousness,
symbolization of literacy, monitory of culture, and manifestation of
distinction of linguistic communities (p. 23). However, I think, the
idea of ideology in dictionary making is a highly controversial issue,
which is mostly linked with a number of philosophical, ethnological,
cultural, and sociopolitical factors (See Landau 2001,
Ch. 7). Therefore, it needs careful analysis and introspection in a
separate chapter at the end of the volume.

In Chapter 1 (Dictionaries, History and Learners' Needs, Pp. 29-54),
the author draws our attention towards a small survey on the history
of dictionaries along with the reference to the learner's, bilingual,
and bilingualised dictionaries. The history presented here, though not
exhaustive and elaborate, fulfils the purpose of the author in general
and provides the readers with a short glimpse of the trade practiced
for centuries. In this context, however, readers can refer to the work
of Landau (2001) that deals with detailed history of dictionary
creation and use to augment their knowledge about the field. The main
contribution of this chapter lies in the attempt of the author for
justifying the use of a dictionary (p. 31) in general as well as in
drawing a fine line of distinction between the 'bilingual' and
'bilingualised' dictionaries. Also, the reference to the 'Longman
Language Activator' shows how much the author is concerned with the
aspect of 'encoding', an important criterion in learner's
dictionary. However, the chapter does not refer to the learner's need
although its title hints to address the issue.

In Chapter 2 (Review of Literature. Pp. 41-54), the author actually
refers to some questionnaires and experiments conducted by some
earlier lexicographers to find out the actual need of the learners
while learning as well as expressing in foreign languages. In course
of his analysis, he meticulously refers to the questionnaires designed
and used by Tomaszczyk (1987) and B�joint (1981) as well as to the
criticisms raised by Hartmann (1987) and Bogaards (1988). Next, he
discusses the pros and cons of the controlled experiments undertaken
by Bensoussan, Sim, and Weiss (1984), Laufer (1992), and Laufer and
Melamed (1994) to observe the 'impact of bilingual and monolingual
dictionaries on reading comprehension through a multiple-choice EFL
(English as Foreign Language) reading test' (p. 45). He has also used
Atkins's (1996) model to evaluate the potentials of the new
technologies adopted for foreign language lexicography. Furthermore,
he deploys Nesi's (1996) results to refer to the limits of the methods
of the natural sciences applied to dictionary research. Finally, he
proposes for the generation of a new kind of dictionary in electronic
form that will excel over the traditional printed dictionaries to
serve better the target users in multidimensional ways never
accomplished before. We agree that an electronic dictionary is far
more efficient a tool than a printed dictionary for the language
learners. Because, an electronic dictionary is endowed with some
qualities (e.g. large storage capacity, easily portable, scope for
regular augmentation, customization for specific needs,
personalization by the users, new search features, hyperlinks, etc.)
that can be effectively used by both the foreign and native language
learners to achieve far better linguistic competence, the traditional
lexicographer has ever dreamt of.

In Chapter 3 (Examples: The core of foreign language lexicography, Pp.
55-96) the author presents his own qualitative kind of research based
on the issue of citing examples in learner's dictionary. No doubt, it
is one of the central issues related with the work of dictionary
making, therefore deserves special attention for its proper and useful
representation. To achieve this goal, all examples are classified and
analyzed according to their type, function, encoding, and
decoding. The problem of collocation and syntax are also discussed
with close reference to the examples used in learner's dictionary,
where these issues are addressed with citation of lexical items and
set phrases (e.g. road, take a stand, indulge, criteria, proposal,
etc.) often used in various English dictionaries. The author draws a
line of distinction between the 'authentic' (empirical) and the
'made-up' (intuitive) examples to show how a dictionary like COBUILD,
which has used 'authentic' examples, can easily excel over other
dictionaries that furnish mostly intuitively formed examples. The
importance of corpus is duly acknowledged since corpus is considered a
faithful resource for providing possible varieties of examples. Issues
of example in bilingual dictionary (e.g. sequential ordering, literal
vs. figurative, translatability, target users, etc.) are addressed
with necessary citation taken from some well-known dictionaries.
Thus, the author thoroughly examines a set of different dictionaries
to find out that most of the dictionary makers have followed no clear
policy for representing examples while others do not care to utilize
these examples to their full extent.

In Chapter 4 (An integrated approach to foreign language lexicography,
Pp. 97-160), the author presents a brief outline of a new kind of
dictionary he postulates for others to develop for the foreign
language learners. In this outline, he recommends some suggestions
that can take into account the unprecedented capabilities of modern
computers to de deployed for the purpose of enhancing linguistic
efficiency of the dictionary users. First, he tries to make a
distinction between the 'decoding' and 'encoding' part of the proposed
dictionary. Then he considers both the activities from the point of
view of beginners and advanced learners, respectively. In the course
of his proposition, he halts at every stop to ventilate on the issues
like morphology and multi-word units, idioms and collocations,
polysemy, disambiguation of translation options in the 'decoding'
process. In case of encoding, which is considered to be far more
difficult task than decoding, the author discusses various issues like
labels, synonyms, examples, and definitions, which the learners focus
while learning a foreign language via the source language. In case of
learning via the target language, the learners need to focus on
finding out suitable word string from it definition, consideration of
the register variations, changing from congruent to metaphoric, use of
fixed expressions, formulas, etc. for achieving their goal. Finally,
the author chalks out the path the learners should follow to learn to
select lexical items to use them in their linguistics exercises. In
sum, it should be appreciated that the suggestions he makes are not
suitable for the dictionaries in electronic version only, but are
equally useful for the dictionaries made in traditional printed form.


In brief, the book deals with the problems of foreign language
lexicography. It is concerned with the lack of adequacy between the
current reference works and the learners' needs. These needs have been
insufficiently investigated and this book suggests that the lack of
substantial results in the area is due to a flawed research
methodology. It is suggested that a qualitative type of research,
instead of a quantitative one, should yield better results. A sample
of this kind of qualitative analysis, carried out on dictionary
examples, bears out that dictionaries would be more beneficial with a
separation of the encoding and decoding parts. This hypothesis had
already been suggested by some earlier researchers, but only at a
theoretical level. A series of practical consequences of this
separation are then considered and, as a result, recommendations are
formulated for the compiling of dictionaries in the future. The
recommendations are intended mainly to improve the encoding part of
the dictionary.

The volume has some minor limitations. The final chapter should have
been much well designed particularly when it deals with so many
important issues of foreign language lexicography. It would have been
better if 'decoding' and 'encoding' part have been dealt with in two
separate chapters. Moreover, encoding part needed to be more elaborate
since it is one of the most reliable ways of learning foreign
languages and acquiring foreign language efficiency. Finally, the
volume carries no index for the topics discussed in the book, and the
size of the font used in the book is very small for fast
reading. However, despite these limitations the value of the book
cannot be ignored since it makes a contribution towards the
improvement of dictionaries, which have some practical consequence in
the field of (foreign) language learning, both in general and
particular sense.


Atkins, B. T. S. 1996. Bilingual dictionaries: past, present and
future. Proceedings of the 7th Euralex International Congress on
Lexicography. Pp. 515-546.

B�joint, H. 1981. The foreign student's use of monolingual English
dictionaries: a study of language needs and reference skills. Applied
Linguistics. 2(3): 207-222.

B�joint, H. 2000. Modern Lexicography: An Introduction. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Bensoussan, M., Sim, D., and Weiss, R. 1984. The effect of dictionary
usage on EFL test performance compared to the student and teacher
attitudes and expectations. Readings in a Foreign Language. 2: 15-32.

Bogaards, P. 1988. A propos de l 'usage du dictionnarie de langue
�trang�re. Cahiers de Lexicologie. 52:131-152.

Hartmann, R. R. K. 1987. Four perspectives on dictionary use: a
critical review of research methods. In Cowie, A. Ed. The Dictionary
and the language learner. (Papers from the Euralex Seminar at the
University of Leeds). Pp. 121-135. T�bingen: Niemeyer.

Landau, S. I. 2001. Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laufer, B. 1992. Corpus-based versus lexicographic examples in
comprehension and production of new words. In the Proceedings of the
5th Euralex International Congress on Lexicography. Vol. 2. Pp. 71-76.

Laufer, B. and Melamed, L. 1994. Monolingual, bilingual and
'bilingualised' dictionaries: which are more effective, for what and
for whom? In Martin, W., et al. Eds. Proceedings of the 6th Euralex
International Congress on Lexicography. Pp. 565-576.

Nesi, H. 1996. The role of illustrative examples in productive
dictionary use. Dictionaries: The Journal of the Dictionary Society of
North America. 17: 198-206.

Tomaszczyk, J. 1987. Foreign language learner's communication failure:
implications for pedagogical lexicography. In Cowie, A. Ed. The
Dictionary and the language learner. (Papers from the Euralex Seminar
at the University of Leeds). Pp. 136-145. T�bingen: Niemeyer.


Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of Corpus Linguistics and
Language Technology at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research
interest includes Corpus Linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical Semantics,
and Lexicography. Presently he is working in the area of corpus
generation in Indian languages, corpus-based lexicography, and lexical
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