A design task

In addition to the standard entry information listed in Step 2.4, many dictionaries provide other types of information to help users learn the form, context, usage and meaning of words.

We would expect different types of information (and different amounts of information) to be provided for different types of words. For example, if a word only has one standard spelling and one standard pronunciation, and if it inflects in a predictable way, it may not be necessary for the dictionary to give much information about word form. On the other hand, if the form of the word is irregular in some way, more word form information would be useful, especially for language learners.

The task in Step 2.4 asked you to think of additional types of dictionary information that could answer questions about the form of a word, the contexts in which it is found, its usage and its meaning.

Here are some examples of possible additional types of information:

form

  • A sound recording of someone pronouncing the word
  • The opportunity to record your own pronunciation, and compare it
  • A usage note pointing out common spelling mistakes
  • Information about irregular inflections
  • Information about restrictions on form, for example, if a noun has no singular form or a verb is not used in progressive (continuous) forms

context

  • Grammar codes, for example for transitive and intransitive verbs, and countable and uncountable nouns
  • Information about grammar patterns and restrictions, for example, if a verb is only used in passive constructions
  • Other words the word typically occurs with (collocation)
  • Examples and/or concordance lines showing typical contexts for the word
  • A usage note pointing out common grammatical errors

usage

  • General frequency information
  • Frequency information across registers, for example in conversation versus academic prose
  • An indication that the word is used in certain disciplines or professional fields, for example in science or law
  • Information about regional restrictions, for example, American versus British usage
  • A warning label, for example, for a taboo or offensive word
  • An indication that the word is archaic or old-fashioned
  • An indication that the word is more often used in certain registers, for example, spoken or written, informal or formal
  • Information about whether the word occurs in predominantly negative or positive contexts (semantic prosody)

meaning

  • Pictures or diagrams to illustrate concepts, difficult to define objects or the technical names for parts of things
  • A sound recording of the noise the word describes, or the noise associated with the word
  • Information about words with a similar meaning (synonyms) or the opposite meaning (antonyms)
  • The meanings associated with the word, in addition to its primary meaning (connotation)
  • Information about whether the word expresses approval or disapproval
  • A usage note showing words that are commonly confused

Your task

Which of these types of information might usefully be included in a dictionary entry for each of the following words? Have a think about the different types of dictionary we have explored so far, not all are text-only, and there are multimedia opportunities offered by electronic dictionaries.

For example:

bleat: A sound recording of the noise the word describes.

bleat charabanc
discreet pelvis
tort sidewalk
skinny utterly

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding English Dictionaries

Coventry University