LINGUIST List 15.2127

Thu Jul 22 2004

Review: Lexicography: Sterkenburg (2003)

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  1. Alina Villalva, A Practical Guide to Lexicography

Message 1: A Prectical Guide to Lexicography

Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004 21:11:47 -0400 (EDT)
From: Alina Villalva <>
Subject: A Prectical Guide to Lexicography

EDITOR: Sterkenburg, Piet van 
TITLE: A Practical Guide to Lexicography
SERIES: Terminology and Lexicography Research and Practice
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2003
Announced at

Alina Villalva, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa

A Practical Guide to Lexicography is a collection of papers (twenty
nine in total, by thirty two contributors), edited by Piet van
Sterkenburg, from the Institute for Dutch Lexicology, at Leiden, The
Netherlands. According to the editor, this book is intended to present
a ''theoretical re-think of the entire subject of lexicography'',
which is basically dealt with in Part I (The forms, contents and uses
of dictionaries) and a ''description of how dictionaries were and are
put together'', with a special emphasis on electronic devices, tackled
on Part II (Linguistic corpora (databases) and the compilation of

The readership aimed by this Guide is quite vast, ranging from
''students of linguistics, language engineering and natural language
processing who want to study or work in Lexicography'' to ''teachers
who want to teach the efficient use of dictionaries, translators'' and
even to ''general readers'' who might be interested in the making-of
of dictionaries.

Part I is divided into three chapters and each chapter is divided into
a variable number of papers:

Chapter 1, Foundations, comprises five articles:

1.1 'The' dictionary: Definitions and history, by P. van Sterkenburg
(3-17), presents ''a brief overview of the development of the
monolingual [...] general-purpose dictionary''.

1.2 Source materials for dictionaries, by F. Cerm�k (18-25), deals
with the emergence of corpora as primary lexicographic resource.

1.3 Uses and users of dictionaries, by P. Bogaards (26-33), is a
survey of recent research on dictionary use and users.

1.4 Types of articles, their structure and different types of lemmata,
by R. Gouws (34-43), is an account of one specific approach to the
definition of the macro- and the microstructure of dictionaries.

1.5 Dictionary typologies: a pragmatic approach, by P. Swanepoel (44-
69), ''is meant as a map for language users as to what dictionary or
dictionaries to consult when confronted with lexical problems''.

Chapter 2, Descriptive Lexicography, includes six articles:

2.1 Phonological, morphological and syntactic specifications in
monolingual dictionaries, by J. de Caluwe and A. van Santen (71-82),
is an analysis of the phonological, morphological and syntactic
information provided by dictionaries.

2.2. Meaning and definition, by D. Geeraersts (83-93), goes ''over the
main choices that a lexicographer is faced with when dealing with
semantic information in dictionaries'', singling out the most usual

2.3 Dictionaries of proverbs, by S. Predota (94-101), is an analytical
survey of different proverb dictionaries.

2.4 Pragmatic specifications: Usage indications, labels, examples;
dictionaries of style, dictionaries of collocations, by I. Burkhanov
(102-113), is an outline of ''lexicographic techniques of representing
pragmatic information''.

2.5 Morphology in dictionaries, by J. de Caluwe and J. Taeldeman (114-
126), is basically devoted to the treatment of morphologically complex
words in dictionaries.

2.6 Onomasiological specifications and a concise history of
onomasiological dictionaries, by P. Van Sterkenburg (127-143), draws a
typology of onomasiological dictionaries, distinguishing among
thesauri, synonym dictionaries, reverse dictionaries and pictorial
dictionaries, and it looks at onomasiological specifications in
semasiological dictionaries and also at electronic onomasiology.

Chapter 3, Special types of dictionaries, has two articles:

3.1 Types of bilingual dictionaries, by M. Hannay (146-153), describes
the organizational features which characterize each kind of bilingual

3.2 Specialized lexicography and specialized dictionaries, by
L. Bowker (154-164), is an introduction both to specialized
lexicography and specialized dictionaries.

In Part II, four other chapters can be found:

Chapter 4, Corpora for dictionaries, is formed by four papers:

4.1 Corpora for lexicography, by J. Sinclair (168-178), presents a set
of guidelines for the organization of a corpus that ''will be easy to
handle and easy to update''.

4.2 Corpus processing, by J. Sinclair (179-193), aims to ''explain how
a corpus, once assembled, can be used for lexicographic purposes''.

4.3 Multifunctional linguistic databases: their multiple use, by T.
Kruyt (194-203), is about the advantages of reusability of
lexicographic data.

4.4 Lexicographic workbench: a case history, by D. Ridings (204-214),
deals with the need for specific software and software developers for
each dictionary making enterprise.

Chapter 5, Design of dictionaries, comprises three articles:

5.1 Developments in electronic dictionary design, by L. Oppentocht and
R. Schutz (215-227), is about the advantages of technology for the
production of dictionaries and for dictionary users.

5.2 Linguistic corpora (databases) and the compilation of
dictionaries, by K. Varantola (228-239), presents a set of design
features that ''come from a hypothetical future dictionary [...]
feasible with present-day technology and resources''.

5.3 The design of online lexicons, by S. M. Burke (240-249), is ''an
attempt to apply and extend aspects of lexicographic theory in the
light of the possibilities of online media''.

Chapter 6, Realization of dictionaries, has five papers:

6.1 The codification of phonological, morphological, and syntactic
information, by G. Booij (251-259), discusses what kinds of
grammatical information should be encoded in dictionary entries.

6.2 The production and use of occurrence examples, by J. Simpson (260-
272), is a survey of methods for language sampling ''in order to
provide information about what a dictionary or glossary should

6.3 The codification of semantic information, by F. Moerdijk
(273-296), is about the identification, ordering and definition of
words, which is the most common method of explaining the meaning of
words in dictionaries.

6.4 The codification of usage by labels, by H. Verkuyl, M. Janssen and
F. Jansen (297-311), deals with the codification of restrictions on
the domain of application of a word, which comprises two kinds: 'group
labels' characterize groups of speakers; 'register labels' deal with
social domains.

6.5 The codification of etymological information, by N. van der Sijs
(312-321), is a discussion of the presence of etymological information
in dictionaries and on how new technologies may favor it.

Finally, Chapter 7, Examples of design and production criteria, has
four articles:

7.1 Examples of design and production criteria for bilingual
dictionaries, by W. Honselaar (323-332), is a ''broad outline'' of a
bilingual dictionary project definition.

7.2 Design and production of terminological dictionaries, by W. Martin
and H. van der Vliet (333-349), argues that ''more attention should be
devoted to cognitive modeling'' in order to get better terminological
dictionaries and databases.

7.3 Design and production of monolingual dictionaries, by F. Kiefer
and P. van Sterkenburg (350-365), is the answer to the following
question: ''what are the factors to be taken into account when
designing a monolingual dictionary and what are the variables that
determine whether a design is suited to the aim the designers have in

7.4 Towards an 'ideal' dictionary of English collocations, by S.
Nuccorini (366-387), deals with the problems posed by the linguistic
definition and classification of 'collocations' and related
terminological issues.

Apart from a general index (443-459) and a bibliography (421-442), the
book further includes a glossary (389-419) of lexicographic terms
extracted from all of the above-mentioned papers.

In the Preface, the editor of the Guide invites his readers to react
''in the interest of improving future editions''. It is a nice
gesture, so let's do it. This Guide is certainly of great interest to
all those that are involved in dictionary-making and it should also be
interesting to all dictionary users: its main merit is related to the
light that it sheds into technological developments that make
lexicography a whole new technical domain in linguistics: potentially
much richer, much more useful to all other domains in linguistics and
much more user-friendly. Furthermore, the light shed on electronic
dictionaries also highlights the lexicographic heritage and the
lexicographers know how.

Even though it is split over thirty nine papers, this state of the art
of lexicography covers several domains that I will try to systematize
as follows:

1. What is a dictionary?

Although this is not presented as a definition, it is quite obvious
that, in this Guide, the dictionary is seen as a lexical reference
work that provides a meeting point for the advances of knowledge in
all linguistic domains and real use of language. The definition given
by van Sterkenburg (p.3) concerns the prototypical dictionary, which
is presented as an ''alphabetical monolingual general-purpose

It is interesting to look at a dictionary as a window to the lexicon
of the speakers of a language and also to the lexicon of the language,
regardless of time boundaries - the frame being given by the choices
lexicographers make on the inclusion/exclusion of words and on the
label they assign them (as entries or sub-entries, for instance). So,
it should also be interesting to find, among the papers included in
the Guide, something about this relation between dictionaries and the
lexicon, and eventually something about the acquisition of the

2. Are all dictionaries alike?

Dictionaries are of course not all alike. The Guide offers a typology
of dictionaries that concerns, basically, their content: dictionaries
vary according to the number of languages that they deal with
(monolingual, bilingual, plurilingual) and to their coverage (general
purpose, specialized dictionaries). Some typologies of dictionaries
are presented and discussed (cf. 2.1)

The other fundamental distinction that is drawn deals with the medium,
setting apart printed and electronic dictionaries (cf. 2.2).

2.1. Typologies

Swanepoel (44-69) presents a dictionary typology (p. 46), based on
several proposals (cf. Geeraerts and Janssens 1982, Geeraerts 1984,
Landau 1984 and Zgusta 1971. This typology may obviously be
questioned, but it is clearly and elegantly presented. Now, if it is
based on several proposals, why is it identified as ''A dictionary
typology (Zgusta 1971)''?

Besides this typology, a large number of special dictionaries can be
enumerated: there are dictionaries of language varieties,
pronunciation, spelling, slang, neologisms, loans, abbreviations,
synonyms, antonyms, proverbs, collocations and terminological
dictionaries that cover any kind of special uses of language.
Furthermore, dictionaries comprise all sort of pedagogical
dictionaries, that, if they are multingual, may be production or
reception-oriented, and uni- or bi-directional.

2.2. Printed vs. electronic dictionaries

Although the change from printed to electronic dictionaries is
presented as responsible for the fact that ''our concept of the
dictionary is at present under great pressure'', as van Sterkenburg
(p. 5) points out, the viewpoint of the book, as a whole, is that
this change is irreversible and very welcome. The advantages of
electronic dictionaries for human users are self-evident:
user-friendliness allows searchability and fast consultation; coverage
is virtually limitless, since space is not a problem and text, as well
as audio and video material can be included; updating facilities allow
for correction making and addition of new data in a much more
efficient way. Furthermore, electronic dictionaries may be available
online (cf. Consequently, the
content-based diversity of dictionaries may soon come to an end. At
present, most users still use printed dictionaries, but it is
reasonable to suppose that in the (near) future, most users will
prefer electronic dictionaries.

This transformation in the domain of lexicography is not costless:
electronic dictionaries can not be achieved only by lexicographers;
they require specific software and software designers.

3. Where do dictionaries come from?

The history of dictionaries is summarized by van Sterkenburg (8-17,
141-143), and a bibliographical list is provided, inviting to further
reading on the subject.

4. How is a dictionary designed and produced?

Dictionary design and production is a vast subject, coped by several
papers in the Guide (cf. Chapters 5, 6 and 7). Ideally, design and
production criteria are explicitly stated in a style manual (also
called the canones), that aims to ''ensure that the lexemes are dealt
with in the most uniform possible manner, especially when a number of
editors are working on the same dictionary simultaneously.''
(cf. Kiefer and van Sterkenburg, 361). The design of a dictionary
comprises two different domains: macrostructure and microstructure.

4.1. Quoting Burke (240), macrostructure refers ''to the way the
lexicon is set up so users can [...] find the desired headword''. The
distinction between onomasiological (from meaning or concept to word)
and semasiological dictionaries (from word or lexeme to meaning) is
presented by van Sterkenburg (127-143), but the general idea seems to
be that electronic dictionaries create a shortcut between these two
kinds of macrostructural approaches, due to search facilities.

4.2. Microstructure deals with what kind of information is associated
to each dictionary entry and how it is encoded. A dictionary entry may
convey information on a variety of domains: phonology and phonetics
(including pronunciation and stress location), morphology (including
inflection, derivation and compounding), syntax (including syntactic
category, combinatorics and collocates), semantics (senses, meaning
structure and sense relations), pragmatics (usage), variation,
etymology, orthography (including spelling and hyphenation),
stylistics (by the assignment of labels like euphemistic, formal,
humorous) and even extra-linguistic and encyclopedic information.

5. Which are the sources for dictionary making?

Lexicographers are generally accurate language users, but their
knowledge of language is insufficient to support the making of a
dictionary. Data-collection used to be a time-consuming and very
expensive task, conveying a product, such as the lexicographic
archives, that is not unquestionably reliable, since it involved too
many people and suffered from a lack of uniformity. Technology, once
again, is changing this landscape and, as Sinclair (p. 167) puts it
''as is becoming increasingly common, a corpus is close to the centre
of a dictionary project''. Outlines for corpus organization are
provided by several papers (cf. Cermak (18-25), Sinclair (167-178),
Sinclair (179-193), Simpson (260-272).

It is interesting to find the information (cf. p. 22) that the British
National Corpus is built upon a ''reasonable balance of text-types and
registers'': 10% of spoken text and 90% of written text, which
includes 19% of imaginative texts and 81% of informative texts (33% of
which come from periodicals and 57% from books) on several domains,
like arts (7.5%), faith and thought (3.4%), commerce and finance
(8.3%), leisure (13,9%), natural science (4.3%), applied science
(8.1%), social science (15.9%) and world affairs (19.6%).

It is also stressed that corpus annotation, including extralinguistic
and linguistic annotation of the data is a crucial operation, for the
sake of reliability and reusability.

6. What is known about users and uses of dictionaries?

According to Bogaards (26-33), research on dictionary use and users is
quite recent and no reliable results have yet been produced. It is,
nevertheless, interesting to know that dictionaries are most used to
find out the meaning of words, less used for spelling purposes, and
lest of all used to find out the pronunciation of words. Furthermore,
we get to know that grammatical, etymological and phonetic information
is only rarely looked up.

It is also interesting to know that, usually, dictionary users ignore
any kind of guidelines included in the dictionary to help them with
design options (cf. Verkuyl, Janssen and Jansen, p. 309).

Thus, this Guide provides a quite impressive overview of lexicography
nowadays. The major objection that, in my opinion, could be raised is
that although it is announced as A Practical Guide, it lacks
practicality: the information is spread over several papers, located
on different chapters, split over Part I and Part II. Organizing
thirty nine contributions and make a book out of it is certainly not a
simple task. The problem is that editorial criteria, in this case, are
not always self evident. For instance, Chapter 4 is on 'Corpora for
dictionaries', but on Chapter 1 we already found a paper on source
materials for dictionaries, which obviously includes corpora.
Eventually, Chapter 4 could have a broader scope, dealing with source
materials for dictionaries, and thus including the initial paper by
Cermak and keeping the papers that are already there. Or, perhaps, all
but the last one, which seems to be a little out of place: it deals
with software and software design (not only for corpus processing).

In Chapter 7, to give another example, we wonder if is there a
particular reason to present the example of design and production of
monolingual dictionaries, after the presentation of the examples of
design and production of bilingual and terminological dictionaries? It
the monolingual dictionary is more prototypical than the others
shouldn't it come first?

Still looking at Chapter 7, we understand that it is meant to provide
examples of design and production criteria for dictionaries, but what
does 'major dictionaries' mean, if the chapter includes both general-
purpose and specialized dictionaries?

These are probably minor issues for lexicographers who are familiar
with the subject, but it may be not very helpful to general readers
included in the aimed readership. In other words, there seems to be a
slight mismatch between the title and the content.

Finally, at the end of the book, we are left with the impression that
it deserved some extra proof-reading, to avoid distracting typos such
as: ''... dictionaries can cope with this with little difficulty ...''
(p.78,l.31); should we include affix es in the macrostructure
(p.116,l.19); ''... using compounding and derivation al rules ...''
(p.119,l.25); ''... for which the dictionanty also lists the regular
forms ...'' (p.254,l.19).


D. Geeraerts 1984. Dictionary classification and the foundations of
lexicography. I.T.L. Review 63, 37-63.

D. Geeraerts and G. Janssens 1982. Wegwijs in woordenboeken. Een
kritisch overzicht van de lexicografie van het Nederlands. Assen: Van

S. I. Landau 1984. Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of
Lexicography. New York: Scribners.

L. Zgusta 1971. Manual of Lexicography. The Hague: Mouton.


Alina Villalva is a Professor at the Department of Linguistics of the
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa. Her main research
interests are morphology and lexicon. She has published Estruturas
morfol�gicas. Unidades e Hierarquias nas Palavras do Portugu�s
(Lisbon: F. C. Gulbenkian, 2000) and she is co-author of the Gram�tica
da L�ngua Portuguesa (Lisbon: Caminho, 2003).
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