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Types of Dictionaries

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Unilingual Bilingual or multilingual
General Explanatory dictionaries irrespective of their bulk English-Russian, Russian-English, etc. and multilingual dictionaries  
Etymological, frequency, phonetical, rhyming and thesaurus type dictionaries   Concentrated on one of the distinctive features of the word
Special Glossaries of scientific and other special terms; concordances1 Dictionaries of abbreviations, antonyms, borrowings, new words, proverbs, synonyms, surnames, toponyms, etc.2 Dictionaries of scientific and other special terms1 Dictionaries of abbreviations, phraseology, proverbs, synonyms, etc.2
Dictionaries of American English, dialect and slang dictionaries Dictionaries of Old English and Middle English with explanations in Modern English  

1 Dictionary entries are chosen according to the sphere of communication or the corpus in which they occur.

2 Dictionary entries are selected according to the type of relationships between words.

1 For instance: Schmidt, Alex. Shakespeare Lexicon. A Complete Dictionary of All the English Words: In 2 vols. Berlin, 1923. There are concordances to the works of G. Chaucer, E. Spenser, W. Shakespeare, J. Milton, W. Wordsworth, P.B. Shelley and other writers.


Finally, dictionaries may be classified into linguistic and non-linguistic. The latter are dictionaries giving information on all branches of knowledge, the encyclopaedias. They deal not with words, but with facts and concepts. The best known encyclopaedias of the English-speaking world are “The Encyclopaedia Britannica”1 and “The Encyclopaedia Americana”.2 There exist also biographical dictionaries and many minor encyclopaedias.

English lexicography is probably the richest in the world with respect to variety and scope of the dictionaries published. The demand for dictionaries is very great. One of the duties of school teachers of native language is to instil in their pupils the “dictionary habit”. Boys and girls are required by their teachers to obtain a dictionary and regularly consult it. There is a great variety of unilingual dictionaries for children. They help children to learn the meaning, spelling and pronunciation of words. An interesting example is the Thorndike dictionary.3 Its basic principle is that the words and meanings included should be only those which schoolchildren are likely to hear or to encounter in reading. The selection of words is therefore determined statistically by counts of the actual occurrence of words in reading matter of importance to boys and girls between 10 and 15. Definitions are also made specially to meet the needs of readers of that age, and this accounts for the ample use of illustrative sentences and pictures as well as for the encyclopaedic bias of the book.



A dictionary is the most widely used reference book in English homes and business offices. Correct pronunciation and correct spelling are of great social importance, because they are necessary for efficient communication.

A bilingual dictionary is useful to several kinds of people: to those who study foreign languages, to specialists reading foreign literature, to translators, to travellers, and to linguists. It may have two principal purposes: reference for translation and guidance for expression. It must provide an adequate translation in the target language of every word and expression in the source language. It is also supposed to contain all the inflectional, derivational, semantic and syntactic information that its reader might ever need, and also information on spelling and pronunciation. Data on the levels of usage are also considered necessary, including special warnings about the word being rare or poetical or slangy and unfit to be used in the presence of “one’s betters”. The number of special bilingual dictionaries for various branches of knowledge and engineering is ever increasing. A completely new type are the machine translation dictionaries which present their own specific problems, naturally differing from those presented by bilingual dictionaries for human translation. It is highly probable, however, that their



1 The Encyclopaedia Britannica: In 24 vols. 10th ed. London — Chicago — Toronto, 1961.

2 The Encyclopaedia Americana. The International Reference Work: In 30 vols. 9th ed. N.Y., 1957.

3 Thorndike E.L. The Thorndike Century Junior Dictionary. Scott Foresmann Co.. Chicago — Atlanta — Dallas — New York, 1935.

18* 275


development will eventually lead to improving dictionaries for general use.

The entries of a dictionary are usually arranged in alphabetical order, except that derivatives and compounds are given under the same head-word. In the ideographic dictionaries the main body is arranged according to a logical classification of notions expressed.1 But dictionaries of this type always have an alphabetical index attached to facilitate the search for the necessary word.2

The ideographic type of dictionary is in a way the converse of the usual type: the purpose of the latter is to explain the meaning when the word is given. The Thesaurus, on the contrary, supplies the word or words by which a given idea may be expressed. Sometimes the grouping is in parallel columns with the opposite notions. The book is meant only for readers (either native or foreign) having a good knowledge of English, and enables them to pick up an adequate expression and avoid overuse of the same words. The Latin word thesaurus means ‘treasury’. P. Roget’s book gave the word a new figurative meaning, namely, ‘a store of knowledge’, and hence ‘a dictionary containing all the words of a language’. A consistent classification of notions presents almost insuperable difficulties. Only relatively few “semantic fields", such as kinship terms, colour terms, names for parts of human body and some others fit into a neat scheme. For the most part, however, there is no one-to-one correlation between notions and words, and the classification of notions, even if it were feasible, is a very poor help for classification of meanings and their systematic presentation. The system of meanings stands in a very complex relationship to the system of notions because of the polysemantic character of most words. The semantic structure of words and the semantic system of vocabulary depend on many linguistic, historical and cultural factors.


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