The term “computer dictionary” has already become ordinary. Usually it means a dictionary on your computer that in essence presents a content of a similar paper dictionary, equipped with convenient search tools. But in fact electronic dictionary is a special lexicographic object, which can contain many productive ideas that are not popular in paper dictionaries.
So let’s focus on problems of the classical paper dictionaries.
1. The bigger is the volume of the dictionary, the fuller is a description of lexical units the more difficult is to use.
That’s why in the market of paper dictionaries there is a big number of rather primitive but easy to use dictionaries, which replace professional publications which are not suitable for fast retrieval of information. A typical example is the Oxford English Dictionary (20 Volume Set).
2. The fuller and deeper is a description of lexical units the less a dictionary corresponds to a current linguistic and cultural situation.
An extremely long process of creation and modification of paper dictionaries leads to the fact that the lexis, examples and translation they contain differ from reality.
3. The more interesting is a lexicographical concept of a dictionary the narrower is its lexical database.
As a result, multipurpose paper dictionaries show a lack of the influence by the achievements of theoretical lexicography on lexicographical practice. Scientific lexicographical projects exist, but don’t cover even 10% of the total lexicographic space.
Now let’s have a look at the advantages of electronic dictionaries:
1. Electronic dictionaries have much more sophisticated capabilities in displaying a content of a dictionary article, including the possibility of partial display according to different criteria (different “projections” of a dictionary), a variety of graphical tools that are not used in paper dictionaries.
2. Usage of various linguistic techniques such as morphological and syntactic analysis, text search, identification and synthesis of sound, etc.
3. From a user’s point of view it is possible to find information quickly, and a dictionary responds to user’s requests directly. In case of a paper dictionary we have to read the whole article to find out whether it contains the answer to our request. For such dictionaries as Oxford, it’s a serious problem. For example, the verb ‘set’ contains 400 basic meanings.
4. Particularity of an electronic dictionary is that it gives a very wide range of information about a word or phrase, not just a translation, but also examples, and suggests a choice of several possible alternatives.
So as far as all the languages of the world face constant changes in their vocabulary, dictionaries become fatter and fatter, and publishing costs increase rapidly. That’s why a number of paper dictionaries has been reduced for over the 20% for the last years, and it is probable that in the future paper dictionaries will be completely replaced by the electronic ones.