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Different types of dictionary

Find out about types and formats of dictionaries.
© Sharon Creese. CC BY-NC 4.0

So, you have an idea in your own mind of what a dictionary is, but do you have any idea how many different types and formats of dictionary there are?

Probably the most visible difference is between printed dictionaries and electronic ones. More and more publishers are dropping their printed dictionaries because if we have the internet, that’s where we tend to look for information on words.

There are still some parts of the world, where the internet either isn’t accessible or isn’t readily available, where printed dictionaries are still very important. However, if dictionaries and search engines are both readily available, why would anybody choose a dictionary? Take a moment to think about that. What reasons are there?

One key reason for this trend is the range of different types of dictionary that are available online, some of which you may have come across, some you might never even have thought of.

The first distinction to be made is between expert-produced dictionaries and other new types of dictionaries. Expert-produced dictionaries are created and produced by lexicographers. The vast majority started out as printed versions and have since made the transition to electronic formats. A handful, like dictionary.com, began life online although their content was originally based upon that of older printed dictionaries. New types of dictionary exist only online and draw on a variety of information sources such as user-generated content.

You will learn more about the influence of web technology on dictionary design later on at Step 1.12.

There are expert-produced dictionaries for all types of user (including L1 speakers, language learners and translators) who need information about everyday, academic or technical vocabulary. For example:

  • Visual or picture dictionaries are useful for native-speaker children, beginner language learners of any age and people who want to find out the exact (technical) names for items they recognise in pictures.

  • School dictionaries are available for a variety of age ranges.

  • Advanced learners’ dictionaries are often targeted at university student speakers of other languages.

  • Bilingual or multilingual dictionaries are used by translators, holidaymakers and travellers.

  • Dictionaries for general reference (monolingual) are intended for users who are already proficient in a given language.

  • Subject-specific dictionaries are available on a wide range of different topics, from business, politics and medicine, to fashion, photography and journalism.

  • Other types of specialist dictionaries are used for pronunciation, spelling, idioms, collocations or slang expressions.

Your task

Read and answer the following questions:
  • Did you know about all the types of dictionaries mentioned above?
  • Have you used any/all of them before?
  • Did you use them in print or electronic form?
  • Are all these different dictionary types available in your country?
Share your responses in the comments area.
© Sharon Creese. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Understanding English Dictionaries

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