How They Work
Do you use dictionaries? Do you use them to look up the definition of words? Do you use them to see how a word is spelled? Do you use them for something else?
Most people don’t use dictionaries for anything other than finding the meaning or spelling of words. Dictionaries are valuable tools which provide much more information than spelling and meaning if you know how to use them.
To access all the information a dictionary has to offer about a word, you need to know the features of dictionaries. Dictionaries can be classified in many ways. To classify a dictionary, ask these questions:
1. Is it monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual?
2. Is it of the contemporary language or does it have a historical or regional dimension?
3. In addition to the linguistic aspect of words, does it include people, places, historical events, and other encyclopedic information?
4. Does it use pictures?
5. Does it contain appendices with charts and tables?
6. How many words does it contain? And does that number refer to only headwords or to every word belonging to a family and/or various grammatical forms of the headwords?
7. Does it include evidence from a collected corpus?
8. How much information does it provide for each headword?
The answers to these questions determine how different dictionaries can be. They also allow you to select the right one for you.
Do you own a dictionary? If so, how did you choose your dictionary? What factors influenced your decision? When you want to buy a dictionary, it’s important to evaluate it.
To evaluate a dictionary, you need to compare it with another of the same size, looking for specific headwords, their definitions, and all the other information about them. It’s also important to get a new and updated dictionary every few years.
If you read the preface to your dictionary, you will understand all the abbreviations used in your dictionary. These will tell you a lot about each headword.
You can also get familiar with the phonetic system used in your dictionary to learn the pronunciation of an unfamiliar word.
Furthermore, if you pay attention to the stylistic labels of words, they will specify if a word is formal, slang, archaic, or related to a specific field of study like geology or medicine.
Nowadays, you can access online dictionaries, get various types of information about words, often written using abbreviations similar to those in printed dictionaries, and hear the word pronounced. You can even see how the words are used in sentences. If the sentences provided in dictionaries, whether they are printed or online, aren’t enough, you can find more evidence using the Compleat Lexical Tutor.
If you have never compared dictionaries, try it. If you own a dictionary and have never read its preface, do it. At the very least, you will get one step closer to understanding how dictionaries work.