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Date: Thu, 25 Mar 2004 13:48:43 +0530 (IST) From: Niladri Sekhar Dash Subject: Dictionaries and Language Learners
Humblé, Philippe (2001) Dictionaries and Language Learners, Haag und Herchen.
Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India
DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK'S PURPOSE AND CONTENTS The volume is produced with the purpose for highlighting some problems often faced by the foreign language learners when they try to access dictionaries for understanding the words used in the target languages. As an experienced foreign language teacher and a dictionary maker the author has clear vision about the problems the students often encounter in their way of learning a foreign language. This has inspired him to design an innovative as well as praiseworthy manual of pedagogical lexicography.
This short volume contains four chapters along with a well-written preface by Jean Binon of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), and a moderately long introduction by the author himself. In brief, Chapter 1 deals with the history of dictionaries and the learner's need; Chapter 2 presents the review of the literature with reference to the questionnaires and the experiments conducted by earlier scholars; Chapter 3 highlights the some major issues related with the enterprise of foreign language lexicography; and Chapter 4 focuses on an integrated approach to foreign language lexicography proposed by the author. The volume ends with a concluding remark, a list of appendixes, a glossary of terms, a list of dictionaries, and an enumerated bibliography.
SYNOPSIS In the Introduction (Pp. 15-28), the author argues that the basic aim of foreign language lexicography is to help the learners with the task of 'decoding' and 'encoding' the information embedded with the entry words of a foreign language dictionary. In recent times he observes a reversal process in the approach where emphasis is mostly shifted from 'decoding' to 'encoding'. Whether this paradigm shift has done any good or bad to the target group is an unsolved issue, which requires extensive empirical exploration of the phenomenon. However, he is right when he opines that in order to adapt this new trend it is important to discover the precise needs of the dictionary users (p. 17). We also agree with him to suggest that due to the inadequacy of various innovative research techniques, we still lack proper understanding of the issue, therefore are not in a position to deliver any final verdict.
In 'objective and hypothesis' the author categorically mentions his motive behind this book: "to formulate suggestions to improve dictionaries for foreign language learners by means of qualitative research that analyses existing dictionaries, on one hand, and, on the other, the learner" (p. 18). This is a new approach, which makes us inquisitive to follow his path. In the next part, he refers to the issues like tests and questionnaires, which he proposes to use to achieving his goal. He also addresses the ideological issues integrated with lexicography, which refer to the role of dictionary in standardization of language, consolidation of national consciousness, symbolization of literacy, monitory of culture, and manifestation of distinction of linguistic communities (p. 23). However, I think, the idea of ideology in dictionary making is a highly controversial issue, which is mostly linked with a number of philosophical, ethnological, cultural, and sociopolitical factors (See Landau 2001, Ch. 7). Therefore, it needs careful analysis and introspection in a separate chapter at the end of the volume.
In Chapter 1 (Dictionaries, History and Learners' Needs, Pp. 29-54), the author draws our attention towards a small survey on the history of dictionaries along with the reference to the learner's, bilingual, and bilingualised dictionaries. The history presented here, though not exhaustive and elaborate, fulfils the purpose of the author in general and provides the readers with a short glimpse of the trade practiced for centuries. In this context, however, readers can refer to the work of Landau (2001) that deals with detailed history of dictionary creation and use to augment their knowledge about the field. The main contribution of this chapter lies in the attempt of the author for justifying the use of a dictionary (p. 31) in general as well as in drawing a fine line of distinction between the 'bilingual' and 'bilingualised' dictionaries. Also, the reference to the 'Longman Language Activator' shows how much the author is concerned with the aspect of 'encoding', an important criterion in learner's dictionary. However, the chapter does not refer to the learner's need although its title hints to address the issue.
In Chapter 2 (Review of Literature. Pp. 41-54), the author actually refers to some questionnaires and experiments conducted by some earlier lexicographers to find out the actual need of the learners while learning as well as expressing in foreign languages. In course of his analysis, he meticulously refers to the questionnaires designed and used by Tomaszczyk (1987) and Béjoint (1981) as well as to the criticisms raised by Hartmann (1987) and Bogaards (1988). Next, he discusses the pros and cons of the controlled experiments undertaken by Bensoussan, Sim, and Weiss (1984), Laufer (1992), and Laufer and Melamed (1994) to observe the 'impact of bilingual and monolingual dictionaries on reading comprehension through a multiple-choice EFL (English as Foreign Language) reading test' (p. 45). He has also used Atkins's (1996) model to evaluate the potentials of the new technologies adopted for foreign language lexicography. Furthermore, he deploys Nesi's (1996) results to refer to the limits of the methods of the natural sciences applied to dictionary research. Finally, he proposes for the generation of a new kind of dictionary in electronic form that will excel over the traditional printed dictionaries to serve better the target users in multidimensional ways never accomplished before. We agree that an electronic dictionary is far more efficient a tool than a printed dictionary for the language learners. Because, an electronic dictionary is endowed with some qualities (e.g. large storage capacity, easily portable, scope for regular augmentation, customization for specific needs, personalization by the users, new search features, hyperlinks, etc.) that can be effectively used by both the foreign and native language learners to achieve far better linguistic competence, the traditional lexicographer has ever dreamt of.
In Chapter 3 (Examples: The core of foreign language lexicography, Pp. 55-96) the author presents his own qualitative kind of research based on the issue of citing examples in learner's dictionary. No doubt, it is one of the central issues related with the work of dictionary making, therefore deserves special attention for its proper and useful representation. To achieve this goal, all examples are classified and analyzed according to their type, function, encoding, and decoding. The problem of collocation and syntax are also discussed with close reference to the examples used in learner's dictionary, where these issues are addressed with citation of lexical items and set phrases (e.g. road, take a stand, indulge, criteria, proposal, etc.) often used in various English dictionaries. The author draws a line of distinction between the 'authentic' (empirical) and the 'made-up' (intuitive) examples to show how a dictionary like COBUILD, which has used 'authentic' examples, can easily excel over other dictionaries that furnish mostly intuitively formed examples. The importance of corpus is duly acknowledged since corpus is considered a faithful resource for providing possible varieties of examples. Issues of example in bilingual dictionary (e.g. sequential ordering, literal vs. figurative, translatability, target users, etc.) are addressed with necessary citation taken from some well-known dictionaries. Thus, the author thoroughly examines a set of different dictionaries to find out that most of the dictionary makers have followed no clear policy for representing examples while others do not care to utilize these examples to their full extent.
In Chapter 4 (An integrated approach to foreign language lexicography, Pp. 97-160), the author presents a brief outline of a new kind of dictionary he postulates for others to develop for the foreign language learners. In this outline, he recommends some suggestions that can take into account the unprecedented capabilities of modern computers to de deployed for the purpose of enhancing linguistic efficiency of the dictionary users. First, he tries to make a distinction between the 'decoding' and 'encoding' part of the proposed dictionary. Then he considers both the activities from the point of view of beginners and advanced learners, respectively. In the course of his proposition, he halts at every stop to ventilate on the issues like morphology and multi-word units, idioms and collocations, polysemy, disambiguation of translation options in the 'decoding' process. In case of encoding, which is considered to be far more difficult task than decoding, the author discusses various issues like labels, synonyms, examples, and definitions, which the learners focus while learning a foreign language via the source language. In case of learning via the target language, the learners need to focus on finding out suitable word string from it definition, consideration of the register variations, changing from congruent to metaphoric, use of fixed expressions, formulas, etc. for achieving their goal. Finally, the author chalks out the path the learners should follow to learn to select lexical items to use them in their linguistics exercises. In sum, it should be appreciated that the suggestions he makes are not suitable for the dictionaries in electronic version only, but are equally useful for the dictionaries made in traditional printed form.
DISCUSSION In brief, the book deals with the problems of foreign language lexicography. It is concerned with the lack of adequacy between the current reference works and the learners' needs. These needs have been insufficiently investigated and this book suggests that the lack of substantial results in the area is due to a flawed research methodology. It is suggested that a qualitative type of research, instead of a quantitative one, should yield better results. A sample of this kind of qualitative analysis, carried out on dictionary examples, bears out that dictionaries would be more beneficial with a separation of the encoding and decoding parts. This hypothesis had already been suggested by some earlier researchers, but only at a theoretical level. A series of practical consequences of this separation are then considered and, as a result, recommendations are formulated for the compiling of dictionaries in the future. The recommendations are intended mainly to improve the encoding part of the dictionary.
The volume has some minor limitations. The final chapter should have been much well designed particularly when it deals with so many important issues of foreign language lexicography. It would have been better if 'decoding' and 'encoding' part have been dealt with in two separate chapters. Moreover, encoding part needed to be more elaborate since it is one of the most reliable ways of learning foreign languages and acquiring foreign language efficiency. Finally, the volume carries no index for the topics discussed in the book, and the size of the font used in the book is very small for fast reading. However, despite these limitations the value of the book cannot be ignored since it makes a contribution towards the improvement of dictionaries, which have some practical consequence in the field of (foreign) language learning, both in general and particular sense.
REFERENCES Atkins, B. T. S. 1996. Bilingual dictionaries: past, present and future. Proceedings of the 7th Euralex International Congress on Lexicography. Pp. 515-546.
Béjoint, H. 1981. The foreign student's use of monolingual English dictionaries: a study of language needs and reference skills. Applied Linguistics. 2(3): 207-222.
Béjoint, H. 2000. Modern Lexicography: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bensoussan, M., Sim, D., and Weiss, R. 1984. The effect of dictionary usage on EFL test performance compared to the student and teacher attitudes and expectations. Readings in a Foreign Language. 2: 15-32.
Bogaards, P. 1988. A propos de l 'usage du dictionnarie de langue étrangère. Cahiers de Lexicologie. 52:131-152.
Hartmann, R. R. K. 1987. Four perspectives on dictionary use: a critical review of research methods. In Cowie, A. Ed. The Dictionary and the language learner. (Papers from the Euralex Seminar at the University of Leeds). Pp. 121-135. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Landau, S. I. 2001. Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of Lexicography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laufer, B. 1992. Corpus-based versus lexicographic examples in comprehension and production of new words. In the Proceedings of the 5th Euralex International Congress on Lexicography. Vol. 2. Pp. 71-76.
Laufer, B. and Melamed, L. 1994. Monolingual, bilingual and 'bilingualised' dictionaries: which are more effective, for what and for whom? In Martin, W., et al. Eds. Proceedings of the 6th Euralex International Congress on Lexicography. Pp. 565-576.
Nesi, H. 1996. The role of illustrative examples in productive dictionary use. Dictionaries: The Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America. 17: 198-206.
Tomaszczyk, J. 1987. Foreign language learner's communication failure: implications for pedagogical lexicography. In Cowie, A. Ed. The Dictionary and the language learner. (Papers from the Euralex Seminar at the University of Leeds). Pp. 136-145. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of Corpus Linguistics and Language Technology at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes Corpus Linguistics, Lexicology, Lexical Semantics, and Lexicography. Presently he is working in the area of corpus generation in Indian languages, corpus-based lexicography, and lexical polysemy.