Apresjan, Juri (2000) Systematic Lexicography, Oxford
University Press, hardback ISBN: 0-19-823780-4,
Reviewed by: Andrzej Zychla, Teachers' Training College of
English, Zielona Gora, Poland.
The book is an attempt to bridge the gap between
lexicography and theoretical linguistics by demonstrating
that the two fields can successfully contribute to and
supplement each other. It consists of a number of papers by
Apresjan, mostly dictionary afterwords and journal
articles, translated into English by Kevin Windle. The book
should be of interest to theoretical linguists,
(meta)lexicographers, semanticists and, since most of the
examples discussed throughout it have been taken from
Russian, also to the students of that language.
'Systematic Lexicography' is divided into two major parts.
There are six chapters in the first one (I. 'Problems of
1. 'English Synonyms and a Dictionary of Synonyms' - a
brief, theoretical introduction into contemporary semantics
and a presentation of an experimental active bilingual
dictionary of English synonyms, based on new principles of
synonym description (that evolved from practical and
theoretical considerations) and aiming at a full and non-
redundant description of the similarities and distinctions
between the synonyms included in its entries.
2. 'Types of Information in a Dictionary of Synonyms' - a
detailed survey of the entry structure of the 'New
Explanatory Dictionary of Russian Synonyms' (NEDRS):
lexicographical information within each entry is
distributed among the seven main zones (sometimes further
divided into subzones).
3. 'The Picture of Man as Reconstructed from Linguistic
Data: An Attempt at a Systematic Description' - a
systematic, integrated and non-contradictory description of
a human being based exclusively on linguistic data and a
large body of facts by means of the language of the
explications (dealt with in a greater detail in Chapter 8).
The overview of the research into the naive picture of the
world is also presented in this chapter.
4. 'The Synonymy of Mental Predicates: schitat' [to
consider] and its Synonyms' - a dictionary entry written by
the author for the NEDRS, preceded with a discussion of the
basic principles of systematic lexicography.
5. 'The Problem of Factivity: znat' [to know] and its
Synonyms' - the continuation of the previous chapter
offering some more background information about systematic
lexicography, constituting the theoretical framework of the
6. 'Khotet' [to want] and its Synonyms: Notes about Words'
- the writer's comments resulting from the work done on the
NEDRS. The verb khotet' has been selected since it is an
example of the verbs of wishing; the idea of a word
portrait (i.e. a detailed word-description) introduced.
There are four chapters in the second part (II. 'Systematic
7. 'Metaphor in the Semantic Representation of Emotions' -
discusses the two approaches to the description of emotions
and argues that the metaphorical one is indeed much more
successful, though it needs to be based on a careful
comparison of lexical co-occurrences rather than
impressionistic judgements of researchers (examples
8. 'On the Language of Explications and Semantic
Primitives' - gives a systematic overview of the semantic
explications, whose language relies on its genuine
vocabulary and syntax and is universal as it stems from the
most basic human concepts; the treatments of explications
by the Moscow and Polish Semantic Schools are compared
9. 'Lexicographic Portraits (A Case Study of the Verb byt'
[to be])' - the idea of a lexicographic 'word portrait'
explained and illustrated with an example of one of the
commonest Russian words.
10. 'A Lexicographic Portrait of the Verb vyiti' [to
emerge, come out]' - the entry for the word vyiti' is
presented and discussed thoroughly in the chapter.
A number of indices follow, including lists of English and
Russian lexemes cited throughout the book.
Apresjan's book is one more call for exhaustive word-
treatment in lexicography. While such an approach may be
successfully applied in academic projects, it is usually
frowned upon in commercial lexicography (dictionary users
tend to avoid long entries and skip arcane codes and
symbols). All of the 'word portraits' painted by Apresjan
and those suggested by Wierzbicka (1985) are rarely less
than one page long and are thus not particularly user-
friendly. Besides, most commercial projects do not allow so
much room for individual word treatment so the
lexicographers are, in a way, 'forced' to write
'incomplete' definitions, making certain assumptions about
the 'shared knowledge' (see: Piotrowski 1994:66).
The idea of incorporating word portraits in all paper
dictionaries may seem a bit scary now, but further advances
in machine-readable dictionaries (in which space
constraints are no longer a problem) will make it possible
to include more detailed word treatments as it will be the
users who will eventually decide how to tune a dictionary
in to their particular needs and which parts/aspects of the
definition to omit.
Learner's dictionaries nowadays (even those intended for
advanced levels of language proficiency) frequently fail to
render the similarities and differences between closely-
related words satisfactorily, which is quite annoying for
inquiring users. Apresjan's suggestions offer a good way-
out, let us hope we will not have to wait long to see them
incorporated in the forthcoming generation of machine-
Piotrowski, T. (1994). Problems in Bilingual Lexicography.
Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego.
Wierzbicka, A. (1985). Lexicography and Conceptual
Analysis. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers.
The reviewer is an assistant at the Teachers' Training
College in Zielona Gora. He defended his MA thesis
(a critical evaluation of one of the Polish bilingual
dictionaries) in 1998. He is currently working on his PhD
dissertation (Defining strategies used by EFL teachers and
their possible implications for dictionary definitions).
His interests include: (meta)lexicography and applied
linguistics (language teaching methodology and translation).