The term “electronic dictionary” has already become ordinary. Usually, it means a dictionary on your computer that in essence contains the content of a similar paper dictionary, equipped with convenient search tools. But in fact, electronic dictionaries 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 the volume of the dictionary is, the fuller the description of lexical units is, and the more difficult it 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 that are not suitable for fast retrieval of information. A typical example is the Oxford English Dictionary (20 Volume Set).
2. The fuller and deeper the description of lexical units is, 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 words, examples, and translation they contain differ from reality.
3. The more interesting the lexicographical concept of a dictionary is, the narrower its lexical database is.
As a result, multipurpose paper dictionaries show a lack of 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 the content of a dictionary article, including the possibility of the 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 the 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 quite a problem. For example, the verb ‘set’ contains 400 basic meanings.
4. A distinctive feature of an electronic dictionary is that it gives a very wide range of information about a word or phrase. It contains 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 the number of paper dictionaries has been reduced by over the 20% for the last years, and it is probable that in the future, paper dictionaries will be completely replaced by electronic ones.
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