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Review of  Lexicography at a Crossroads

Reviewer: Michael Mann
Book Title: Lexicography at a Crossroads
Book Author: Henning Bergenholtz Sandro Nielsen Sven Tarp
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discipline of Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.936

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EDITORS: Bergenholtz, Henning; Nielsen, Sandro; Tarp, Sven
TITLE: Lexicography at a Crossroads
SUBTITLE: Dictionaries and Encyclopedias Today, Lexicographical Tools Tomorrow
SERIES: Linguistic Insights. Studies in Language and Communication. Vol. 90
YEAR: 2009

Michael Mann, Lehrstuhl für Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft,
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany


The volume contains 15 contributions (plus Introduction, and Notes on
Contributors) resulting from a symposium held from May 19 to 21, 2008, at the
Centre for Lexicography, University of Aarhus (Denmark), whose programme was ''to
focus on the future theoretical course of lexicography'' (p. 9). The
contributors, ''researchers from five continents'' (p. 9), present their research
on various facets of lexicography such as: printed and (mostly) electronic
dictionaries, monolingual and bilingual lexicography, social and structural
aspects of dictionary making.

Sven Tarp, ''Beyond Lexicography: New Visions and Challenges in the Information
Age,'' states an ''identity crisis'' (pp. 17, 20) of lexicography due to the gap
between lexicographic theory and practice, the possibilities of computer
technology vs. the actual realisation of electronic dictionaries, the increasing
role of the computer vs. the decreasing role of the lexicographer, information
society vs. the need for quick and easy access to information, and negligence of
non-linguistic lexicographic works in lexicographic research. He advocates an
independent science of lexicography and a theory which is based on the
lexicographic needs of potential dictionary users, the so-called function
theory, whose basis is outlined in ten theses. Tarp paints the big picture and
states desiderata for future dictionaries rather than presenting a detailed
working plan.

Yukio Tono, ''Pocket Electronic Dictionaries in Japan: User Perspectives,'' deals
with hand-held electronic dictionary devices, which have become very popular in
Japan. By now they have evolved to a fourth generation, capable of presenting
multimedia content and containing more than 100 dictionary titles in one device.
After a short overview of the history and the marketing of pocket electronic
dictionaries (PEDs), the author presents a typology of PEDs by intended users
and by functions; the latter not being clearly structured. It is pointed out
that the most important points of critique voiced in earlier reviews of PEDs
have been corrected or are being corrected. Research is cited which shows that
PEDs are used more often than paper dictionaries, but also that the use of paper
dictionaries results in a better recall of words. Tono presents a
state-of-the-art article with little critique or future prospects.

Serge Verlinde and Jean Binon, ''Pedagogical Lexicography Revisited,'' present the
''Base lexicale du français'' (BLF), an online environment for learning and
teaching French vocabulary which combines a dictionary, a text corpus and an
exercise generator. The description of word combinations (co-occurrences:
collocations, phraseology, idiomatic expressions, proverbs) is ''at the very
heart of the BLF'' (p. 73); most of them result from corpus analysis. They can be
accessed by searching for formal or lexical criteria (such as the grammatical
category, lexical function or domain). Apart from these co-occurring words,
another focus is on ''schémas actanciels'' at the level of sentences: verbal
complements and verbs combining with nouns or adjectives respectively. The
pedagogical aspect is treated quite casually in the paper: Navigating through
the data and comparing the ''lexical profiles'' of words, the learner can
''discover'' which words combine (p. 78); filling-in exercises can be generated
automatically for students to improve their language skills (pp. 80, 84). A new
''needs-oriented interface'' (p. 86) now allows the user to specify his situation.
Unfortunately, many of the figures (screenshots) are of poor quality and/or skewed.

Gerard Meijssen outlines ''The Philosophy behind OmegaWiki and the Visions for
the Future.'' OmegaWiki is a Wiki-system based upon the concept of
''DefinedMeaning'': an expression and its definition (p. 95). Translations of the
definition and relations between DefinedMeanings connect the expressions and,
using a relational database system and a localisation concept, allow access of
the same data via different languages. Different user interfaces are available
for different user types. Users are allowed to contribute to OmegaWiki; other
applications are allowed to use OmegaWiki material. Although it is quite short
(8 pages), the paper is not very well structured. It is not really made clear
how or if Wiktionary content is used, how the different user interfaces work or
what is still a ''vision'' and what has already been implemented. The OmegaWiki
web page (see References) is a more comprehensible source of information.
Nevertheless, the reviewer did not find different user interfaces there, nor a
category ''Horse heads'' (p. 97), nor was it possible to reconstruct the data in a
screenshot (p. 96).

Pedro A. Fuertes Olivera, ''The Function Theory of Lexicography and Electronic
Dictionaries: WIKTIONARY as a Prototype of Collective Free Multiple-Language
Internet Dictionary,'' is an analysis of the Internet dictionary ''Wiktionary''
from the viewpoint of a Spanish professional reading and translating English
texts. First, Fuertes Olivera distinguishes two types of Internet dictionaries:
''institutional Internet reference works'' and ''collective free multiple-language
Internet reference works'' (103), with Wiktionary being a prototype of the latter
(p. 107) (here, it can be asked why monolingual dictionaries are not explicitly
addressed in the typology). Wiktionary is not considered a multilingual but a
''multiple-language'' (p. 113) dictionary because English is the dominant language
also used in (amongst others) Spanish articles and outside matter. Subsequently
it is clearly shown that Spanish articles differ considerably from English
articles in terms of data types and coverage - ''the Spanish entries are mostly
useless for most users'' (p. 115) - and that there is also interlingual variation
between different English language articles. Three proposals are made for
developing this type of dictionary further, concerning the accuracy of
definitions, checking the entries for errors, and the use of a dominant language
(which is rejected). Apart from the (rather obvious) claim that dictionaries and
lexicographers should bear in mind the needs of the users, the connection to
function theory (as outlined by Tarp (see above or Tarp 2008) is rather loose.

Joseph Dung, ''Online Dictionaries in a Web 2.0 Environment,'' discusses benefits
and problems of relatively new Internet technologies that allow for more dynamic
dictionaries. He focuses on the aspects of accessibility, precision and scope:
dictionaries now can have 'free content mobility' (p. 140), i.e. their data can
be integrated in and accessed from any web site on the WWW - provided that
certain technical requirements are fulfilled. Word sense disambiguation can be
achieved by taking the context into account and by using a sense-tagged corpus -
provided that such an expensive tool is available. The scope of one dictionary
can be broadened by linking it with other dictionaries (to the reviewer it does
not appear essential to link this idea to the concept of zero sum games, as done
by the author (p. 155)). Dung proposes two comprehensible formulae for metering
dictionary precision and recall (p. 153). On several occasions he refers to a
new, dynamic Internet dictionary ('','' provided by the
WordNet-project, Princeton) but also admits or points out that most of his
proposals are not realised there, so that the role of this dictionary remains

Jón Hilmar Jónsson, ''Lemmatisation of Multi-word Lexical Units: Motivation and
Benefits,'' votes for an independent treatment of set phrases as individual
lemmas. On the basis of data from three Icelandic phraseological dictionaries
and of Jónsson's experience as the author of those, a standardised form of
presenting phrases is introduced. Indices play an important role in accessing
the data. In the electronic 'Icelandic wordnet,' a step further is taken and
phrases are treated as separate entries which can be accessed by word form,
concept or grammatical category. All of the (few) examples given are in
Icelandic, so fluent speakers of that language will benefit most from this
chapter. The question (raised on p. 166) what is to be understood by a 'lemma'
in an electronic dictionary remains unanswered (Mann [forthcoming] discusses
aspects of this issue).

Zhang Yihua, ''A Bilingual Dictionary Generation System Based on the
Microstructure of a Lexicographical Database,'' sketches a programme which
produces different dictionaries out of one lexical database. The conception,
architecture and interface structure of this system, which is rooted in the
mental lexicon, is outlined. The elements of the microstructure, or the
micro-data, are mediostructurally interlinked by morphological, conceptual,
grammatical and pragmatic correlations, trying ''to describe the 'invisible'
cognitive process of humans by means of a 'visible' metalanguage'' (p. 206). A
screenshot is presented (p. 211), but it is not clear how far this project has

Philippe Humblé, ''Dictionaries on the Periphery. The Case of Brazil,'' achieves
the aim ''to give a panorama of Brazilian dictionary-making'' (p. 216). Only about
30 years ago, the first proper Brazilian monolingual dictionaries were produced
- by now, there are four fully-fledged general dictionaries, whereas most
languages with a much longer lexicographic tradition only have one or two. Since
the year 2000, bilingual dictionaries have been playing an important role, for
economic rather than touristic reasons - today, Brazilian bilingual dictionaries
are available with not more than eight 'foreign' languages (an exhaustive
bibliography is listed; other languages are covered by Portuguese bilingual
dictionaries). Brazilian was among the first languages to have an electronic
dictionary; children's dictionaries have been distributed by the government.
Nowadays, however, these developments have come to a standstill and Brazilian
lexicography has lost some of its creativity.

According to Humblé, the above-mentioned boom in dictionary-making reflects
developments in Brazilian society. On the one hand, there is an uncertainty
about what is 'correct' Brazilian, especially in contrast to Portuguese. On the
other hand, Brazilians seek to be recognised as citizens of an independent and
important nation. Humblé fascinatingly shows the bonds between lexicography and

Robert Lew, ''Towards Variable Function-Dependent Sense Ordering in Future
Dictionaries,'' first discusses various ordering strategies for ''multiple-sense
entries'' (p. 237): ordering by chronology, frequency, logic, by
textual/pragmatic aspects or by other criteria. He states that there is no
single best ordering strategy; rather there are optimal strategies for
particular situations. Some proposals for empirical approaches to explore these
situations are made, partially referring to existing access features of
electronic dictionaries. In electronic dictionaries, sense ordering could be
dynamically adjusted and customised to the user's needs, taking into account
functional-specific (production/reception), item-specific (status of the lexical
acquisition process) and domain-specific aspects. Completing this long-sighted
chapter, Lew does not forget to mention the aspect of users' habits which might
lead to confusion if the presentation of a dictionary article changes dynamically.

Rufus H. Gouws, ''Dictionaries as Innovative Tools in a New Perspective on
Standardisation,'' argues that '' [d]ictionaries should not only reflect the
standard but play an active role in establishing the standard'' (p. 269).
Nowadays, in the ''Wikimedia era'' (p. 270), where people not only refer to
dictionaries but to a variety of other sources, the ''McDonaldisation of the
media'' (p. 271) should not spill over into lexicography where it would lead to
the production of ''McDictionaries'' (ibid.). Nevertheless, Gouws does not
advocate a practise of lexicographers sitting in an ivory tower, having lost
connection to ''ordinary members of society'' (ibid.), but rather advocates a
''regulated lexicographic democracy'' (p. 275) where users can contribute to
lexicographic works. Finally, though, a lexicographer should decide if a user's
suggestion will find its way into the dictionary; and it is the lexicographer's
future task to recognise ''real language forms'' (e.g. neologisms) (p. 275), to
help with variation by recommending one or more forms (proscription), and to
facilitate the access process, to elaborate a dictionary which is well accepted.

Patrick Leroyer, ''Lexicography Hits the Road: New Information Tools for
Tourists,'' focuses on tourist lexicography. After pointing out several problems
of existing reference tools for tourists (websites, guides, phrase books, travel
dictionaries), Leroyer defines the ''genuine purpose of lexicographic tools for
tourists'' (p. 297) and elaborates on three tourist situations (prospection,
introspection and retrospection). Three ''transformational moves'' (p. 300) are
proposed to refine existing tools for tourists and to adapt them to the
particular tourist situation; these ''moves'' concern tool localisation (adaption
to the tourist's destination), functionalisation (according to function theory)
and ''lexicographisation'' of data access (p. 304) in order to make access easier
to handle. Presenting these ideas, Leroyer shows the huge potential of
lexicographic tools for tourists, which have not had the full attention of
theoretical lexicography in the past years.

Raja Saravanan, ''Structural Format for a Dialect Dictionary Showing Lexical
Variation with Special Reference to Microstructure and Macrostructure,'' claims
to treat issues related to the preparation of (an article of) an Indian (Tamil)
agricultural dialect dictionary. However, most of the sections
(Dictionary-Definition, Dictionary typology, Description of lexical meaning,
Component parts and structures of a dictionary) are mere summaries of very
general (and elderly) lexicographic standard literature by Zgusta, Svensén,
Hausmann & Wiegand and others. Only few lines are dedicated to a description of
the methods used to collect the dialect data or to the structure of the
dictionary in question. The exemplary article printed to illustrate the
microstructure is incomplete because in the legend two items are not explained.
Regrettably, it has to be stated that the author has missed the opportunity to
communicate to a broader audience the peculiarities of the special fields of (a)
Indian (Tamil) lexicography and (b) agricultural lexicography.

Julia Pajzs, ''On the Possibility of Creating Multifunctional Lexicographical
Databases,'' is a collection of proposals for future dictionaries and future
lexicographers, concerning macrostructural aspects and (mainly, in twelve
paragraphs) the treatment of microstructural items. Summing up, the author
argues for a more detailed analysis and description of lexical items, made
possible by corpora and databases, to avoid errors which, as shown in a case
study, can be found in present (printed) dictionaries. Storing the data
modularly, it can be used multifunctionally for different purposes. ''The only
question to be solved is how to supply a user-friendly interface, so that
everybody can easily realise which facilities (s)he needs'' (p. 350). This seems
to be a little too optimistic, as further problems (e.g. details or guidelines
about the 'how' of selecting examples out of corpora, treating multiword units
or deciding which cultural/encyclopaedic information to include) are mostly

Birger Andersen and Sandro Nielsen, ''Ten Key Issues in Lexicography for the
Future,'' is a summary of the symposium's concluding discussion. Ten key issues
are put up for discussion, picking up aspects already addressed in the preceding
papers. Different positions are contrasted, thereby the wide range of opinions
about the character of lexicography is sketched. As this chapter already is a
summary, it will not be summarised further here.


According to the Introduction, the chapters of this volume can be divided into
two groups: those dealing with ''general lexicographic issues'' and those dealing
with ''specific dictionary projects'' (p. 10). This division cannot be detected in
the order the chapters are presented: Tarp begins with general ideas, followed
by Tono who treats a specific dictionary type (PEDs) rather than a specific
dictionary project and by Verlinde & Binon, Meijssen and Fuertes Olivera who
clearly refer to specific dictionary projects. Dung and Jónsson, then, though
referring to concrete dictionaries now and then, discuss more general aspects,
as well as most of the following authors; Saravanan again at least originates in
a specific (agricultural) dictionary project, and so on.

As the programme of the symposium had been quite general, there can hardly be
found another common denominator for all chapters besides 'lexicography,' maybe
supplemented by 'recent developments in'. Most ideas and projects are presented
in such a general way that points of critique can hardly be found - this, again,
is a point of critique: a little more detail about how to reach the mostly high
aims would have been even more enlightening. Many, but not all of the chapters
discuss the possibilities of electronic dictionary-making. Topics vary very
broadly. About a third of the papers are clearly written in the spirit of the
theory of lexicographic functions, so one is tempted to ask: Which types of
readers is this volume addressed to? The answer clearly is: lexicographers. So,
which types of lexicographers' needs is this volume meant to satisfy? The
answer will be: Most lexicographers will find inspiration in one or more of the
chapters. The volume as a whole is directed at lexicographic experts who are
interested not only in one particular aspect of lexicography but in an overview
of what is going on in their discipline at an international level. It is the
merit of the editors to have invited not only European scholars but colleagues
from around the world.

In terms of typography, layout and design, the book is quite legible;
unfortunately, several of the figures (in the chapters by Verlinde & Binon,
Dung, Jónsson, Lew) are of poor quality: they show JPEG artefacts, are blurry or


Mann, Michael. Forthcoming. Makrostrukturen und Zugriffsstrukturen in
Online-Wörterbüchern zur Linguistik. In: Schierholz, Stefan J. & Wiegand,
Herbert Ernst (eds.): Probleme der linguistischen Fachlexikographie.
OmegaWiki. Accessed August 20, 2009 .
Tarp, Sven. 2008. Lexicography in the Borderland between Knowledge and
Non-knowledge. Tübingen: Niemeyer. [Lexicographica. Series Maior 134.]

Michael Mann is a research assistant and PhD student (preparing a doctoral thesis on Internet lexicography) whose interests include lexicography, corpus linguistics, German morphology and syntax.

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