Different types of dictionaries

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

18 Pages, Grade: A (1,0)



1) Introduction

2) A short overview of the history of dictionaries

3) General Definition

4) Variations between dictionaries
4.1) Unabridged Dictionaries
4.2) Abridged Dictionaries

5) Descriptive vs Prescriptive

6) Other Variations

7) Different types of dictionaries
7.1) Monolingual dictionaries
7.2) Bilingual dictionaries
7.3) Bilingualised dictionaries
7.4) Specialized dictionaries

8) Different types of specialized dictionaries
8.1) Dictionary of Usage
8.2) Thesaurus
8.3) Spelling dictionary
8.4) Dictionary of Slang
8.5) Visual Dictionaries.
8.6) Rhyming dictionary
8.7) Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms

9) Conclusion

10) Works Cited

1). Introduction

Most students don’t know how different types of dictionaries can be used. Some of them don’t even know that there are different types of dictionaries, although the knowledge of how a term can be best found in the appropriate dictionary is an aid for academic research and will be helpful on their future job.

This paper is to inform not only students but also the general public who is interested in dictionaries about the use of dictionaries, as well as the many different types and kinds of dictionaries that are available to them. Dictionaries can help everyone to better understand the own language, or languages one is learning. This paper also contains a list of good monolingual and bilingual dictionaries with some sample pages.

It also provides the explanation of certain types of specialized dictionaries which seemed interesting and important to the author. The word “engine” was chosen for all examples to demonstrate the main differences between the different types of dictionaries

2) A short overview of the history of dictionaries

The custom of making collections of glossaries, called glossarium or glossary grew up in the 8th century, and caused the appearance of the first dictionary. These collections were a great help for students because they were not only a list of words, but also a sort of dictionary for them.

In the 10th century Abbot/Elfric produced a Latin grammar book which included a short Latin English dictionary (www.hausarbeiten.de).

The first bilingual dictionary was produced in 1440. Galfridus Grammaticus created the Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum, which was the first Latin – English dictionary (www.hausarbeiten.de).

Until the 16th century most of the produced dictionaries were bilingual, because the emphasis of dictionaries lay on translating foreign words into English. There was no need for a monolingual dictionary because in that time a lot of foreign words made their way into “standard” English. The idea of an English-English dictionary first came out when language purists thought that the English language was in danger of being taken over by foreign languages. In 1604 Robert Cawdry brought out the Table Alphabetical. It included thousand “hard” words which had become common in English (www.hausarbeiten.de).

In 1674 the first dictionary of dialect words was produced by John Ray. People all over the country liked it and so they send him local terms to help him with his work. It grew with the help of the people, and so in 1691 he brought out his second and enlarged edition.

The next huge step in the history of dictionaries was Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1755. It is based on the idea of standardising the language (www.hausarbeiten.de). Johnson’s dictionary was very successful and it was the basis for all following dictionaries.

3) General Definition

If you look up the word “dictionary” in the Merriam Webster’s online thesaurus you will get the following information:

“Entry Word: dictionary
Function: noun
Text: a reference book giving information about the meanings, pronunciations, uses, and origins of words listed in alphabetical order <try to develop the habit of going to the dictionary whenever you encounter an unfamiliar word>
Synonyms lexicon, wordbook
Related Words glossary, thesaurus, vocabulary” (www.m-w.com)

So, a dictionary is a list of words with their definitions in the same or in another language. Of course, there are many more important things that you have to know about a dictionary. It also provides pronunciation information, word derivation, histories or etymologies, illustrations, usage guidance, and examples in sentences.

Dictionaries are most commonly in an alphabetical word order. As there are various kinds of dictionaries which list all sort of things in sometimes varying ways, the information given can be extremely different in one dictionary compared to another. First of all, dictionaries vary widely in size and scope. Secondly, the content depends on the type of dictionary used. These different types of dictionaries, or at least some of them, will be explained in this paper.

4) Variations between dictionaries

4.1) Unabridged Dictionaries

The largest dictionaries in the general market-place are called “unabridged” dictionaries. The term “unabridged” means that the book is not a condensed version of a larger work. These dictionaries are the royalty of their species – the most complete, richly detailed, and thoroughly presented dictionaries of English. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they contain all words that exist in the English language, because no one really knows how many words a language includes. They are millions, that’s for sure – and you can’t put millions of words in a dictionary. Even if you could, there would always be terms or words that you would forget.

Unabridged dictionaries can be found in most libraries and schools and are most commonly perched on a pedestal or on a swivel-based table stand because the books are big and heavy.

Unabridged dictionaries normally contain more than 300,000 main entries, and they usually provide detailed information about words in common use. They include specialized words from various fields, archaic words, words “borrowed” into English from other languages and so on. They often provide notes as well as complete etymological information.

An example for unabridged dictionaries is Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language with over 450,000 words, including 14,000 new words, 3,000 illustrations, 140,000 etymologies describing word origins, and more than 10,000,000 usage examples. Webster’s Third (or short Webster’s III) is the largest, most comprehensive American dictionary available (www.amazon.com).

4.2) Abridged Dictionaries

Most people use “abridged” dictionaries. They are not as complete as an unabridged dictionary, but they are more affordable and more portable. Abridged dictionaries are also called “desk dictionaries” or “pocket dictionaries.” Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition is an abridged dictionary. It contains more than 225,000 definitions, including words new to the language. Another one is the American Heritage College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. It contains more than 200,000 definitions and biographical and geographical notes, along with crisp photos, drawings, and diagrams in every margin www.amazon.com). Good abridged dictionaries, especially for learners of English, are the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (DCE) with 207,000 words, phrases, and meanings, or the Longman Dictionary of American English which is available in different sizes and which presents English as it is spoken in the USA.

5) Prescriptive vs Descriptive

Another important variation is the distinction between a prescriptive and a descriptive dictionary. Noah Webster believed that a dictionary should serve, first of all, as a guidebook to aid in the self-education of the American people. So, for example, you will find neither profane words, nor vulgar words, nor obscenities, and very little slang in Webster’s Second (Webster’s II). Other publishers followed his example, and so all dictionaries published before the 1960’s are almost identical. Their primary function was to guide and to include words, pronunciations, and spellings that should be used in educated speaking and writing. Words like “ain’t” that exist in the spoken language do not exist in these dictionaries because the purpose of these dictionaries was to “prescribe” a standard for acceptable American English.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Different types of dictionaries
Middle Tennessee State University
Modern English Grammar and Usage
A (1,0)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
554 KB
This Paper was written at the Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. It is graded with an A. The sources are good and helpful, and the research was very precise.
Different, Modern, English, Grammar, Usage
Quote paper
Andishe Gottlieb (Author), 2005, Different types of dictionaries, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/47246


  • guest on 7/7/2010

    i dont like it .. :( im sorry

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