Language Learning & Technology
Vol.12, No.1, February 2008, pp. 23-42
External links valid at
time of publication
Review by Alfonso Rizo-Rodríguez, Department of English, University of Jaén, Spain
English learners’ dictionaries on CD-ROM are attracting more and more attention, given the enormous potential afforded by the new technologies to enhance language description. McCorduck (1996) states that this "shows the exciting promise of the application of multimedia computer technology to lexicography and language learning" (p. 225). As an electronic resource, a dictionary is based on its printed counterpart, "a synchronic monolingual dictionary intended to meet the demands of the foreign user" (Herbst, 1990, p. 1379).
This review focuses on the latest editions of five advanced learners’ dictionaries of English on CD-ROM, each of which comes packaged with their printed editions. The review highlights their most outstanding characteristics and constraints and compares them over ten dimensions: graphical user interface, accessibility and information retrieval, macrostructure, microstructure, thesaurus-like consultation, complex searches, copy and print functions, extras, multimedia resources, and customization. The comparison also addresses the advantages of computer-aided lookup over paper-based consultation methods.
GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE (GUI)
The GUI is a key feature of electronic dictionaries (EDs) since users expect to gain access to every function in an electronic dictionary in a simple, direct manner. A GUI is graphics-based, rather than character-based, although it reproduces the entries content of paper-based dictionaries. Consequently, GUI design may make consultation easier while extra attributes (e.g., color and clear typography) can act as psychological incentives for users. Corris, Manning, Poetsch, and Simpson (2000) note that "electronic interfaces still possess the charm of novelty" (p. 178), and this helps explain users’ satisfaction with EDs and their preference for them (Nesi, 2000b).
A clear evolution is obvious in the graphical interfaces of current EDs, compared to their earlier editions: graphical innovations have been added to make the interface more modern and stylish and to enable access to menus and options easier; further links to extras have been included; and small pop-up windows have been designed for joint use of EDs with other computer applications (e.g., word processors, hypertext on the Internet, or e-mail). These elements, and others mentioned below (pop-up menus, tool bars, on-screen buttons, and dialogue boxes), add to the user-friendliness of EDs and ensure "fail-safe" lookup procedures (de Schryver, 2003, p. 182). Figures 1 through 5 in the Appendix illustrate the GUIs of the five EDs examined here, all showing the same search word, catch.
All five EDs have similar interfaces, although certain differences are apparent. As far as layout is concerned, three dictionaries—Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (henceforth CALD2), Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary (COBUILD5), and Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (MED2)—present a long, narrow panel on the left displaying an alphabetical index list and a results list of all entries containing the search word. This design might be more informative than the interfaces of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Compass (OALD7) and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE4), which simply include a drop-down menu next to the search box showing the search word within a limited list of words beginning with the letters keyed in. Neither of the last two dictionaries displays the full A-Z index of entries; however, OALD7 offers a results list window showing a word in four sections: headwords, idioms, phrasal verbs, and structures.
The second element on the screen is a definition (or entry) window showing the entry for the word. The design of this window is different in each of the dictionaries. In paper dictionaries, "all the information [is presented] in a linear order on the same level (unless using different typesets or colours)" (Tono, 2000, p. 855); in contrast, three electronic dictionaries—CALD2, MED2, and LDOCE4—opt for the so-called "layered" presentation (p. 857). They do not display all information straightforwardly, but rather, by clicking on different tabs, the user can retrieve further details about the search word not supplied directly in the text of the definition window. This utility adds to the simplicity of entries and facilitates customization, that is, adaptation to the lookup aims of each user. In contrast, the other two EDs examined have a "traditional interface", where "information is provided in a similar way to that in a paper dictionary" (Tono, 2000, p. 856), and, hence, they reproduce the entry text of their printed counterparts accurately. As a result, the definition window is packed with information and might be a little hard to process.
Standard elements of the interface of EDs are a menu bar and a tool bar. The former includes Windows-like menus, such as File, Edit, Options, History, or Help, and is found in two dictionaries, CALD2 and COBUILD5. In contrast, MED2, LDOCE4 and OALD7 opt for Tool bars of various kinds and designs, including options such as Back, Forward, Copy, Print, Paste, History, Help, and Quick Search, also used in CALD2 and COBUILD5. Tool bars may prove more user-friendly than Windows-like menus since they provide quicker, more direct access to the software utilities.
A more recent feature of the interface of these EDs is the inclusion of on-screen buttons, or tabs, which give direct access to dictionary extras, as well as to other complementary books accompanying the dictionary proper. These elements are very practical for users because, by simply clicking a button, they can easily consult other resources. Some of the EDs examined also incorporate additional components on the right-hand side of the interface. LDOCE4 offers access to a Phrase Bank, an Examples Bank, and an Activate-Your-Language option. OALD7 offers Word Origin, Example Sentences, and a Wordfinder tool. The interfaces of CALD2, COBUILD5 and MED2 do not contain these types of panels, and, hence, LDOCE4 and OALD7 can be considered superior in this regard.
From the user’s point of view, all five interfaces allow quick and easy access to the desired information (see Table 1). The interfaces of LDOCE4 and OALD7 stand out among the others since they enable access to the largest number of dictionary extras and complementary books. MED2 and CALD2 are unique due to their modern, layered interface. COBUILD5’s interface (see Figure 2) proves rather plain in its content and visual appeal.
Table 1. Comparison of Graphical User Interface Features
ACCESSIBILITY AND INFORMATION RETRIEVAL
EDs surpass hard copy dictionaries in their search potential. The software locates every occurrence of a word in the entire dictionary. Thus, users automatically get information about lexical items as they appear not only in main entries, but also in derived words, compounds, phrasal verbs, idioms, collocations, definitions, and examples. However, the search capabilities of the five EDs are not identical. MED2, CALD2 and COBUILD5 (in that order) offer the widest range whereas OALD7 is slightly less informative because its simple search function locates a word only in headwords, idioms, phrasal verbs, and collocations. LDOCE4 looks for a word only in main entries. Which search function is most practical to a given user depends on his/her needs and proficiency level. A wide search range is most useful to advanced users, researchers, and EFL teachers, who may want to seek detailed information about a lexical item as it is used in idioms, examples, collocations, or definitions. Conversely, language learners may just need to access a word in a quick manner by referring directly to its main entry.
CALD2 uses a special color code for entries, which helps users identify the type of entry appearing in the results list, e.g., headwords are displayed in dark blue, phrasal verbs in green. This feature might be particularly helpful if the user needs to identify the specific location of a search term in the text of the dictionary quickly, e.g. in a definition or in an idiomatic construction. In contrast, OALD7 uses explicit labels (headwords, idioms, phrasal verbs, and collocations) for that purpose. This practice, typical of OALD7, is even more helpful to users because it is more self-explanatory. None of the other three dictionaries feature this type of color code or label convention, which makes them less user-friendly.
Accessibility is a major and distinctive attribute of EDs, realized in different word look-up methods (Corris et al., 2000). Users may key in a word in the search box, they may choose a lexical item from a word list after typing in "the first three or so letters of a word" since "the word list automatically scroll[s] down to that point", or they may locate it by means of "fuzzy spelling options" (p. 175). This last search method is made possible as a result of a very helpful feature of the five dictionaries, their spell-check function. When a word typed in the search box is spelled incorrectly, a small window is automatically activated providing the correct form, as in COBUILD5. The four other EDs also display other lexical items with a similar spelling. To illustrate, if the user types *assesment, the EDs list assessment, abasement, assortment, amusement, amazement, and so forth. This fuzzy spelling option helps language learners retrieve words from the A-Z list when they are not certain about correct spelling and are guided merely by the way the words sound. Other instances of the flexibility of EDs as search tools are their "hyperlinking" function, "a search mechanism by which a double click on a word on screen will call up a dictionary entry for that word" (Nesi, 1999, p. 61) and instant retrieval of fixed expressions and idioms, which can be looked up with great ease.
The accessibility of the entry text in the five EDs is superior to that of print editions due to the design of the entry window. The entry word is clearly highlighted; extensive use is made of indentation in order to separate meanings, example sentences, derivatives, and so forth; spacing is generous; and use of color and fonts adds to the clarity and neatness of the text (see Figures 1 – 5). As a result, the layout of entries and their visual impression is entirely distinct from that characteristic of print editions.
Some variation among the five EDs is, nevertheless, evident in the presentation of entries. As shown in Figures 1 through 5, only MED2 offers a comprehensive list, or menu, of the various meanings of polysemous words at the top of the definition window—e.g. catch (verb). This facilitates the lookup process for language learners since the whole range of uses of the word can be seen at a glance. Moreover, each of the numbered meanings provides hyperlinks to the word’s definition and examples. LDOCE4 optionally displays this type of menu by allowing the user to click on the appropriate tab on the toolbar at the top of an entry. The other EDs, like their printed versions, do not feature this element, and hence the user inevitably has to scroll through the text, which proves cumbersome at times.
Finally, access to further lexicographical information is enhanced through inclusion of a link to various online electronic dictionaries. This is a feature exclusive to CALD2 and MED2. Users may thus obtain details about a word not supplied by the dictionary on CD-ROM. More specifically, in CALD2, users may conduct searches in various works published by Cambridge University Press, such as the Dictionary of American English, the International Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, the International Dictionary of Idioms, or the Diccionario Klett Compact Spanish-English. In MED2, the link enables free access to the British and American editions of this work, as well as regular updates of new words.
Table 2. Accessibility and Information Retrieval
Table 2 summarizes the characteristics of the five EDS as far as accessibility and information retrieval are concerned. The first criterion in the table is satisfied by each dictionary to various degrees, so that a gradation is established by means of one or more plus signs. On the whole, MED2 and CALD2 have the greatest number of accessibility and information retrieval devices.
The macrostructure of the five EDs, that is, the alphabetical list of entries, is identical to that of their printed counterparts. Moreover, the latest editions of these printed works, based on solid corpus evidence, include a large variety of newly coined terms, as well as subject-specific vocabulary, especially from the areas of science, computing, and communications technology. For example, the terms ozone-friendly and neural network are included in all five dictionaries.
However, the coverage of regional varieties of English is not uniform in the five EDs. MED2, CALD2 and OALD7 (in this order) stand out in this respect because they include words characteristic of different varieties, such as American, Australian, or Indian English, such as anchorman (American), bonzer (Australian), or prepone (Indian). In contrast, regionalisms, with the exception of American English, are scarce in LDOCE4 and COBUILD5. Similarly, the treatment of spoken and informal registers is much more exhaustive in MED2, CALD2, OALD7, and LDOCE4 than in COBUILD5. For example, the terms nohow, irregardless, foul something up, allnighter, and argy-bargy are included only in the former four dictionaries. Representative coverage of regionalisms and register differences adds to the usefulness of a learner’s dictionary for decoding purposes.
Interestingly, CALD2 has maintained an approach characteristic of the first and second editions of its printed versions: the different meanings of polysemous words are described in separate entries. For example, the noun line is described in fifteen different entries, and its derivative line (verb) appears three times under specific meanings of its noun. Similarly, the description of very common functional words, e.g., in, off, and lexical ones, e.g., go, put, requires a very large number of entries. For example, the verb go itself (not its use in a phrasal verb) is described in twenty-six different entries accompanied by semantic indications such as move, leave, become, weaken, and happen. This proliferation of entries may be a serious obstacle for users interested in one particular meaning of a word because, instead of finding all the information at a glance within the same entry, users will have to scroll down on the screen. Another unfortunate consequence of this practice is that the pronunciation and irregular forms (in the case of verbs) of words are repeated in every single occurrence of each entry (Rizo-Rodríguez, 2005).
On a positive note, the normal macrostructure of the printed edition of LDOCE4 is interspersed with 9,000 encyclopaedic entries taken from the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture (2nd revised edition, 1999). Similarly, the alphabetical list of OALD7 words is supplemented with 10,000 cultural entries from the Oxford Guide to British and American Culture (1999). This is particularly advantageous because learners can gain access not only to the core vocabulary of English, as is expected in a learner’s dictionary, but also to a significant number of terms (typical of an encyclopaedia) which may enrich their background and cultural knowledge.
Table 3. Macrostructure
Table 3 depicts the macrostructure features of the five EDs. Two or more plus signs indicate differences in coverage. Accordingly, MED2, CALD2 and OALD7’s A-Z list of entries is rather representative of the different uses and varieties of the English language compared to LDOCE4 and COBUILD5. Besides, the inclusion of encyclopaedic entries in LDOCE4 and OALD7 constitutes a significant addition to the macrostructure of their printed counterparts. In contrast, CALD2, COBUILD5, and MED2 are still heavily dependent on the A-Z list of their printed editions, an obvious shortcoming.
The microstructure of the five EDs, that is, the content of entries, is an exact replica of their hard-copy versions. Two dictionaries, COBUILD5 and OALD7, opt for the so-called traditional interface, which faithfully reproduces the entry text of the book. In contrast, the microstructures of CALD2, MED2, and LDOCE4 exhibits a layered presentation which permits users to select extra details not supplied directly in the definition window. As a result, entries are less compact and users can customize their searches (see Table 4).
The entry window in CALD2 displays links to pictures, study pages, and terms related to the target word, as well as the on-screen buttons: Smart Thesaurus, Word Building, Verb Endings, Extra Examples, Collocations, Common Learner Errors, and Usage Notes. Both the links and the notes on Collocations, Common Learner Errors, and Usage are appended to respective entries in the printed version, but the other buttons supply additional information found only in the electronic version. Similarly, MED2 includes different tabs in some entries—Am/BrE Differences, Animations, Avoiding Offense, Collocations, Cultural Notes, Exercises, Expressing Yourself, Get-It-Right Notes, Illustrations, Metaphors, Sound Effects, Synonyms, Usage Notes, Weblinks, Word Sets, and Word Stories. All of these, except Exercises, Sound Effects, and Weblinks, also form part of the print dictionary. Moreover, every meaning of an entry on the CD-ROM is connected to a thesaurus button, and entries for verbs, nouns, and adjectives include an Inflections button which can be clicked to get the inflected forms.
LDOCE4 includes a toolbar showing extra details about a lexical item: Pronunciation, Menu, Word Family, Word Origin, Verb Forms, Word Sets, and Frequency of Use. These details, except the last, are available only in the electronic version, which has maintained three features of the hard-copy edition—Word Choice, Word Focus, and Collocations—by appending them to some entries. Finally, OALD7 supplements entry information with the addition of three small panels (exclusive to the CD-ROM): Word Origin, Example Sentences, and Wordfinder.
On the whole, as Table 4 illustrates, the microstructure of LDOCE4 offers the largest number of extras, as compared with its paper-based edition, while COBUILD5 contains the least amount of extra information. This variety of supplements adds to the usefulness of an ED since they are intended to complete the description of a search term. Users can thus obtain a wealth of information about a word, and this extra knowledge may significantly contribute to enhancing their command of the language.
Table 4. Microstructure
Four EDs—CALD2, MED2, LDOCE4, and OALD7—feature thesaurus-like "onomasiological" resources not furnished by their book counterparts, apart from their A-Z "semasiological" dictionaries (Rizo-Rodríguez, 2004, p. 37). Every meaning of a word in CALD2 is accompanied by a button which opens up a Smart Thesaurus, whose internal semantic typology of concepts, drawn up very much in the style of Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (150th anniversary edition, 2002), though less exhaustive, constitutes the basis of a very detailed onomasiological classification of English words that proceeds from concepts to words (Rizo-Rodríguez, 2004). The Smart Thesaurus utility in CALD2 is perfectly integrated with the A-Z list, so that the user can obtain a large variety of expressions semantically related to each meaning of a search word, as well as definitions and examples. Finally, the user can consult an index to the Smart Thesaurus categories for words classified in related categories.
The second edition of MED also includes a Thesaurus that supplies synonyms, antonyms, related words, and their definitions next to every meaning of a word. Conceptual categories semantically associated with a search word can be looked up, but they are not organized into an index. Another shortcoming of this Thesaurus is that it can only be consulted jointly with the A-Z dictionary, not as an independent resource.
LDOCE4 features the Longman Language Activator (2nd edition, 2002). Conceived as a production dictionary, the Activator organizes vocabulary around 866 key words denoting basic concepts, which in turn are expressed by more specific lexical items. The internal organization of the Activator is alphabetical with each particular word explained and illustrated. Users can refer to this onomasiological dictionary separately or can browse through it in conjunction with the A-Z dictionary.
Similarly, OALD7 incorporates the Oxford Learner’s Wordfinder Dictionary (1997), an onomasiological lexicon which classifies vocabulary into 630 keywords in alphabetical order. Each of these semantic spheres comprises semantically related subareas and their corresponding terms, all of them accompanied by a definition and example sentences, as in the Activator. The Wordfinder is available as an independent resource on this compact disk, or it can be looked up in combination with the A-Z dictionary.
In summary (see Table 5), the most complete onomasiological information is found in CALD2, whose Smart Thesaurus is easy to use. Equally accessible is LDOCE4’s Activator, another excellent source of terms semantically related to a search word. OALD7’s Wordfinder is clearly inferior in coverage to the Activator since it targets intermediate learners. MED2’s Thesaurus is a user-friendly tool, but, as explained above, it has some limitations. Finally, COBUILD5 does not include thesaurus resources. Instead, many of its entries list synonyms and antonyms of a search word; however, the electronic version contains a higher number of these types of terms than its printed edition.
Table 5. Thesaurus-Like Consultation
A feature exclusive to EDs is their capacity to carry out complex word searches in a manner that exceeds the capabilities of the most meticulous paper-based dictionary user. It is one of the clearest indications of the potential of EDs as language learning/teaching tools. Only four of the EDs examined incorporate an advanced function that allows users to carry out complex lexical searches: CALD2, LDOCE4, MED2 and OALD7 (see Table 6). In order to compensate for the absence of this function, COBUILD5 enables users to conduct two extra searches: a phonetic search (e.g., by entering the word rite, one obtains rite, right and write) and a morphological search (e.g., the program gives the singular form of an irregular plural noun keyed in (e.g., mouse, mice) or the bare infinitive of any inflected verbal form (e.g., lie, lying)).
Three of the EDs, CALD2, MED2 and LDOCE4, possess an elaborate system of filters for customizing complex searches. For example, users can look for all the adverbs ending in –ly, all the verbs followed by a that-clause, or all the Spanish loan words. While the search window of each of these EDs shows its own distinctive design, the searching mechanisms are similar. They are based on filters and are graphically displayed in a dialog box where the filters are conveniently organized and ready to be selected individually or in combination with others. Searches can be conducted by entering a word in an appropriate box and by selecting one or more filters. The software then looks for that word according to the conditions established by the filters selected.
For instance, in CALD2, after entering the word get and marking the option Linking verb in the grammar filter, the software identifies only the copulative uses of that verb. Alternatively, a search can be launched simply by selecting some of the filters. In that case, the program returns all the words in the dictionary that match the filter criteria. For example, in MED2, by choosing the option Australian in the filter Region, the user obtains all the terms registered in this dictionary typically used in that variety of English. From the user’s perspective, these sophisticated searching mechanisms exceed the demands of the average learner, who will not normally make use of them. However, these tools do serve the needs of the EFL teacher or the language researcher concerned with the description of English or the retrieval of very specific linguistic data which can be used in the classroom.
MED2 and CALD2’s search systems are quite exhaustive. They include six filters: part of speech, grammar, region, style (or usage), frequency, and subject (or topic). CALD2 is more meticulous than MED2 in its grammar filters. It includes refined options, such as "+ two objects", "+ object + to-infinitive" for the description of verb complementation patterns. Conversely, the region filter is clearly more specific in MED2 (e.g., Indian, New Zealand, Scottish, and Irish English) than in CALD2 (which includes only American English, British English, and Other Regions).
In contrast, LDOCE4 has only three filters—frequency, part of speech, and style— but it features its own original types of searches for multimedia additions, word origin, subject, and pronunciation. Multimedia, like MED2’s Extra Features Search, locates all the terms that are accompanied by illustrations or sound effects in the dictionary. Word Origin returns lexical borrowings that entered English and classifies them by century. Subject search finds terms specific to a discipline. Finally, pronunciation locates all the words containing a sequence of phonemes, and, hence, it is useful in locating words whose exact spelling is not known, or in retrieving homophones and words that rhyme. MED2 and COBUILD5, unlike CALD2 and OALD7, possess identical pronunciation functions.
In contrast, the advanced search utility in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is quite different. Searches have to be conducted within a blank window without the help of any filter menus. Instead, searches require the use of specific labels listed in the advanced search window. After a test of this system, it was found that it is in need of substantial revision and simplification, mainly because queries must be formulated in a syntax barely explained in the Help menu, and also because many of the labels are, unfortunately, interpreted literally by the software. For example, after keying in the label "computing", the user does not only retrieve terms relative to this discipline, but rather all the occurrences of this lexical unit in the dictionary text.
Finally, advanced searches can be formulated with the help of wild cards: the symbols ? (standing for one letter) and * (standing for zero or more letters) and Boolean operators AND, OR, and BUT. This is possible only in MED2, LDOCE4 and OALD7. This sophisticated tool can be exploited by EFL teachers to obtain supplementary classroom materials. For instance, by typing in will / would AND if, teachers can retrieve a large number of examples of conditional sentences. Similarly, language researchers may want to expand the scope of a search in order to look for certain types of lexical items. The search NOUN:*ee returns all the nouns ending in –ee recorded in the dictionary.
On the whole, MED2 has the most powerful advanced search instrument. CALD2 and LDOCE4’s are also very efficient. The three of them, unlike OALD7, are equipped with an elaborate system of filters which simplify searches. In contrast, the advanced search function of OALD7 is extremely intricate and actually hinders complex searches while COBUILD5 does not incorporate this utility at all.
Table 6. Complex Searches
COPY AND PRINT FUNCTIONS
Much of the usefulness of the results obtained with the advanced search function described above resides in their readiness to be exported to a word processor. The copy and print functions will be particularly appreciated by EFL teachers and language researchers, who can easily employ the results furnished by the sophisticated search mechanism. CALD2 and MED2 can be successfully exploited for this purpose. With CALD2, both the hits listed in the results window after performing a normal search and those appearing in the advanced search window can be copied (up to 1,000 hits) or printed. MED2 also permits copying, printing, and saving with the advanced search utility (up to 200 hits). The other dictionaries, however, fall short in this respect. LDOCE4 and OALD7’s complex search results cannot be copied or printed at all. This is a shortcoming which significantly lessens the utility of the advanced search mechanism.
Another restriction of OALD7 is that the text from the Word Origin window and the content of the Example Sentences window cannot be exported or printed. In contrast, COBUILD5’s Wordbank, LDOCE4’s Examples Bank and Phrase Bank, and MED2’s extra examples can be copied or printed, while those in CALD2 can only be printed. Moreover, COBUILD5 and MED2 are the only dictionaries reviewed which allow copying of a complete entry without altering its text properties (font, color, phonological transcription, indentation, spacing) so that it can be used for teaching purposes after pasting it into a word processor document. The other EDs can copy an entry but turn it into unformatted, plain text.
To conclude, as shown in Table 7, as far as the handling and export of search results and dictionary text are concerned, the best dictionaries are MED2 and CALD2. COBUILD5 and LDOCE4 are less flexible, and OALD7 is deficient in this regard.
Table 7. Copy and Print Functions
The latest versions of EDs all contain a number of extra features to cater to users’ different needs. According to Varantola (2002), "the future dictionary is […] an integrated tool or a number of tools in a professional user’s toolbox where it coexists with other language technology products such as encyclopedic [sic] sources of reference, different types of corpora, corpus analysis tools" (p. 35). However, an ED should not just be a mere amalgam of extra materials (Nesi, 2000a); instead, "there is need for ‘multi-referencing’: for simultaneous signalling to the user that the same query item is to be found in a number of different resources" (Leech & Nesi, 1999, p. 301). An examination of the five EDs under review reveals that four of them—LDOCE4, OALD7, MED2, and CALD2—stand out in terms of their extras (see Table 8).
Both LDOCE4 and OALD7 are collections of reference books: the former includes the text of its printed counterpart as well as the Longman Language Activator. Similarly, OALD7 comprises the 7th edition of its printed version, The Oxford Guide to British and American Culture (1999), The Oxford Learner’s Wordfinder Dictionary (1997), and also Oxford Genie. All these books work in perfect conjunction, as advocated by Leech & Nesi (1999), and guarantee multi-referencing. The other three EDs do not include further reference works.
An exclusive feature of OALD7 is its Word Origin window that furnishes etymological information on 20,000 words. LDOCE4 is notable for its Phrase Bank (a vast collection of phrases containing the search word and collocates used with the entry word, all of them illustrated with additional examples), its lesson plans for teachers (a mixture of notes for teachers and language activities intended to promote familiarization with the dictionary and its use), and its grammar section (an appendix offering brief summaries of various grammar points). All these extra elements constitute "evidence of pedagogical design and consideration of the learners’ needs" (Seedhouse, 1997, p. 63). They will benefit the advanced user who wants to obtain further details about a search term and also the teacher concerned with promoting dictionary skills.
A similar attempt on the part of LDOCE4, OALD7, CALD2 and MED2 to serve those needs is the inclusion of a writing assistant. But the capabilities of this tool are not identical in the four EDs. The most practical writing assistant is that of LDOCE4. It provides thesaurus-like details and diverse grammatical information, as well as typical learner mistakes and their correct versions. In contrast, it is questionable whether the Know-how utility in OALD7 is equally useful for every user. Learners must type a sentence in order to check its acceptability against various example sentences, but the effectiveness of this resource ultimately depends on the users’ ability to infer grammatical information from linguistic chunks. Despite its name, CALD2’s Superwrite is not a genuine writing assistant since it simply displays any word in a text pointed at with the cursor with its complete entry. Finally, MED2 does not feature a writing assistant proper either, but its sections Improve Your Writing Skills and Expand Your Vocabulary offer appendix-like explanations on a number of communicative functions and expressions accompanied by interactive writing exercises.
Additional extra features are MED2’s language awareness articles (fourteen contributions by leading specialists on idioms, metaphors, pragmatics, or word formation), its atlas featuring geographical information, and its links to websites offering cultural and encyclopaedic information. Similarly, CALD2 contains study pages about grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. These will all be helpful to language learners, who can easily access and use these resources through on-screen buttons.
LDOCE4, CALD2, OALD7, and MED2 also provide a large variety of exercises (accompanied by both check-answer and show-answer buttons) intended for upper intermediate and advanced level learners of English. LDOCE4 offers the widest range on grammar, vocabulary, culture, listening comprehension, intonation, sentence dictation, and word dictation. OALD7 incorporates a variety of vocabulary exercises, as does CALD2, which additionally includes grammar exercises. Finally, MED2 features lexical and grammatical activities, matching Get-It-Right explanatory notes on typical learner errors (appended to 104 entries) as well as writing exercises. Moreover, LDOCE4, CALD2, and OALD7 include exam papers from a variety of language certificates, e.g., Certificate of Proficiency in English, Test of English for International Communication, or Business English Certificate, which should be useful especially for advanced learners of English preparing for these examinations.
Another outstanding feature of the latest editions of EDs on CD-ROM is the inclusion of extra examples, or small language corpora, a component metalexicographers find useful (de Schryver, 2003; Svartvik, 1999) as they provide ample evidence of language use. This will prove most advantageous for encoding tasks, mainly writing, and also for teaching purposes. Four of the EDs feature this component, but to different degrees (indicated in Table 8 by means of multiple plus signs). COBUILD5 stands out with its Wordbank, a 5-million-word representative sample of British and American English, both written and spoken. Likewise, LDOCE4’s Examples Bank window offers a wealth of example sentences (76,000 from other dictionaries published by Longman and over one million examples from the Longman Corpus Network, http://www.longman.com/ldoce/about_cd.html). OALD7 contains 200,000 extra example sentences (http://www.oup.com/elt/catalogue/isbn/6712?cc=es&sk=19676491). These examples have been taken from the entire text of the dictionary, as is the case with MED2’s Example Sentence search. Finally, CALD2 gives just five extra examples, apart from those included in the entry itself, for the most important words, marked with the symbols E(ssential), I(mprover), and A(dvanced).
Finally, CALD2, MED2, and LDOCE4 feature a Guided Tour of the dictionary. The first two are particularly effective because their tutorials are actual videos combining animation and narration. OALD7 has a graphic tutorial, and COBUILD5 offers a Help menu. This type of graphical element is in line with our present-day predominantly visual culture nowadays as it may help learners to quickly become familiar with the content and use of the dictionary. In contrast, a typical traditional paper dictionary merely includes an introduction and a brief key to its entries, which proves much less user-friendly than a visual tutorial.
In brief, LDOCE4 is the most outstanding dictionary in terms of the usefulness of its extras (Table 8). MED2, CALD2, and OALD7 are also characterized by the inclusion of abundant supplementary materials, and COBUILD5 exceeds the others only with its Wordbank.
Table 8. Extras
A distinctive feature of EDs is their integration of various kinds of multimedia resources (see Table 9). The five dictionaries offer both American and British English recorded pronunciation of each entry, as well as pronunciation practice. In LDOCE4, even example sentences are accompanied by recordings, and users can practice reading them aloud and comparing their pronunciation to that of the original. This ED, like MED2, also features the inclusion of recordings of some musical instruments and of onomatopoeic verbs and nouns denoting types of sounds difficult to define (e.g. bleat, chirp). Moreover, all of the EDs, except OALD7, include an option for "automatic pronunciation replay" or "always play pronunciation/sound," which activates the recorded sound of every word keyed in the search box. These types of multimedia resources add to the usefulness of an electronic dictionary, since exposure to the spoken language is always beneficial for language acquisition (Brown & Yule, 1983).
Interestingly, video clips are no longer included in the latest EDs, except in MED2, whose animation videos illustrate hard to define verbs or nouns (e.g. juggle, lob). Earlier works, such as the Longman Interactive English Dictionary (2nd edition, 2000) and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s CD-ROM Dictionary (6th edition, 2000), made use of video clips. This feature might have been eliminated from the majority of the EDs in order to save space on the CD-ROM and to give priority to the type of original extras discussed above, which may prove more informative to users.
As far as illustrations or pictures are concerned, images and color also play a prominent role in the EDs examined, except in COBUILD5. LDOCE4 uses illustrations and photographs exclusively to support the definition of certain terms and, hence, they form an integral part of the entries. In CALD2, pictures are presented in an appendix accessed by means of an on-screen button, and they serve to enrich lexical description by grouping illustrations of semantically related terms (for example, in the office). In MED2, illustrations accompany some entries, or alternatively, they can be viewed separately as members of a list. Finally, in OALD7 users have no direct access to pictures, which accompany only some entries in a small window, but illustrations labelled expand open in a larger window depicting items semantically associated (for example, vegetables).
MED2 and LDOCE4 are the only EDs whose complete list of illustrations and photographs can be retrieved by means of the advanced search mode. This might be helpful for teaching purposes in order to present semantically related vocabulary. In addition, the pictures in CALD2 and MED2 can be rendered interactive through "hot spots": by holding the cursor over some parts of a drawing, users can activate terms denoting items in a picture. In contrast, in LDOCE4 and OALD7, illustrations include labels denoting specific vocabulary.
All in all, multimedia resources are abundant in MED2 and LDOCE4 but not in the other EDs examined.
Table 9. Multimedia Resources
One recurrent demand from metalexicographers is that EDs should allow customization in terms of the lookup aims of particular users (Atkins, 2002; Corris et al., 2000; de Schryver, 2003; Varantola, 2002). The five examined EDs allow some degree of customization (see Table 10). Interactivity, a feature of the advanced search mode, is typical of all the dictionaries except COBUILD5. Users can carry out complex searches according to their individual reference needs. Customization and flexibility are also evident in the layered presentation characteristic of the graphical interface of CALD2, MED2, and LDOCE4. This ensures that users can decide what type of information is of interest to them.
Other customization elements are restricted to the display style of entries on the screen and recorded pronunciation. All dictionaries offer very similar alternatives: selection of font size, American or British English pronunciation, and display options (e.g., phonetic transcription, grammar labels, spell check, and quick/full view). MED2 also features an annotation facility, which allows users to add personal notes to any entry. For example, a translation equivalent or a list of synonyms previously retrieved with the advanced search function can be permanently appended to an entry and, afterwards, they can be edited or removed. COBUILD5 allows customization through its "My Dictionary" function, which enables the creation of a personal lexicon. On the whole, the five EDs offer very similar customization options.
Table 10. Customization
Based on the preceding comparison of five EDs several conclusions may be drawn. The electronic versions of these works are superior to their hard-copy counterparts in terms of accessibility and flexibility of information retrieval (enhanced by their graphical user interface), wider macrostructure (in some EDs), more detailed microstructure, thesaurus-like resources, complex search mechanisms, copy and print functions, extra components, multimedia resources, and the degree of customization. Additionally, the comparison shows that all EDs are equally easily accessible to users and that they all provide a large variety of lookup operations. At a more specific level, however, the preceding analysis suggests that MED2 ranks highest because it exhibits the largest number of functions and innovative features. It is closely followed by LDOCE4 and CALD2. OALD7 also possesses a large number of valuable features, while COBUILD5 is the most basic. In particular, MED2, LDOCE4, CALD2, and OALD7 stand out due to their modern graphical interface, addition of entries from other reference books (LDOCE4 and OALD7), supplementary information in their entries, inclusion of abundant thesaurus-like information, powerful search utilities (MED2 and CALD2), excellent copy and print functions (MED2 and CALD2), high number of extra elements, recorded pronunciation and practice of every example sentence (LDOCE4), and layered presentation of content (CALD2, MED2, and LDOCE4).
Nevertheless, this comparison has also exposed some weak points in the EDs. For example, the macrostructure of COBUILD5, CALD2, and MED2 merely reproduces that of their hard-copy counterparts; LDOCE4’s dictionary search function proves insufficient for retrieving very specific types of language data (it consists of only three filters); and OALD7’s search function (non-filter based) would benefit from revision and simplification. In addition, all dictionaries, except MED2 and CALD2, which already possess it, should incorporate a flexible, unrestricted copy and print function in order to help users utilize the findings of the advanced search function. Furthermore, a first-rate attribute of LDOCE4 – its recorded pronunciation and sentence practice functions – might well be a "must" in subsequent editions of other EDs as they facilitate exposure to the spoken language. Furthermore, these dictionaries might also look toward including instrumental animated videos featured by MED2 since they facilitate learning of words that defy semantic description. Finally, the EDs might benefit from extending customization features to suit users’ reference needs. These additions would result in more efficient, powerful language tools that meet the increasing demands of learners, teachers, and metalexicographers.
Finally, although the macrostructure and microstructure of these electronic works depend to a considerable extent on those of their printed versions, these EDs also possess properties which set them apart from paper dictionaries and which make them very effective. The present survey of ED features has shown that significant moves are being made by lexicographers and publishers to produce versatile, multipurpose electronic dictionaries that clearly surpass their printed editions.
Figure 1. Cambridge advanced learner’s dictionary on CD-ROM (2nd Ed., 2005)
Figure 2. Collins Cobuild advanced learner’s English dictionary on CD-ROM (5th Ed., 2006)
Figure 3. Longman dictionary of contemporary English, writing assistant edition CD-ROM (Updated 4th Ed., 2005)
Figure 4. Macmillan English dictionary for advanced learners on CD-ROM (2nd Ed., 2007)
Figure 5. Oxford advanced learner’s compass (7th Ed., 2005)
1. Research leading to this review has been sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology under I+D contract HUM2007-61766/FILO entitled "ADELEX: Assessing and Developing Lexis through New Technologies."
The author is deeply grateful to Dr. Sigrun Biesenbach-Lucas, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA, and Dr. Carmen Pérez-Basanta, University of Granada, Spain, for their insightful comments on a previous version of this review.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr. Alfonso Rizo-Rodríguez (Ph.D., University of Granada, Spain) is senior lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Jaén, Spain. His research interests comprise English grammar and lexicographical theory. His publications include a monograph on English catenative verbs, as well as numerous articles on diverse grammatical aspects and on dictionary use and criticism.
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