Despite the fact the word “dictionary” is limited to the average person as a tool for word search, a dictionary is a compilation of known words in alphabetical order with meanings attached to it. Before we delve into the uses, let us explore and debunk some misconceptions about the dictionary.
Firstly, there is the myth of perfection. It is wrong to think any dictionary is free of mistakes. They were written by humans called lexicographers. Humans are bound to make mistakes even though they are not obvious mistakes. No dictionary is infallible. Over the years, many corrections and updates are made to dictionaries, and this is observed in the editions released for hard copy dictionaries updates released for dictionary applications.
Secondly, dictionaries are NOT comprehensive in their collection of words. It is wrong to think a word doesn’t exist because it is not found in an edition or a particular dictionary. New editions need to be made which serves to produce updated meanings, discarding of obsolete words, improve articulation/spelling and addition of new words among many other purposes (that we may not cover in one post unless we release a new edition). An
example is the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 3rd Edition which has 52,000 words and phrases whereas the 6th Edition of Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English has 230,000 words, phrases and meaning, 165,000 corpus- based example sentences, Longman 9,000 keywords, 65,000 collocation (extra 147 online) and online access for print dictionary. Words can also be deducted from the dictionary (aerodrome, alienism, brabble, frigorific were deducted from the Longman Dictionary). Words have to be in circulation for a while, have a clear indication of their meaning and such indication would be widely accepted among the speakers of a language before they are considered for dictionary inclusion. For example, the word “selfie” has evolved to earn dictionary recognition, however, not all lexicographers have included it in their collections yet.
Next, there is uniqueness in the presentation of dictionaries. It should be understood that no two dictionaries have the same writing pattern or style. For example, Longman Business Dictionary defines education as “the process of learning, for example at schools and universities, and the process by which your mind develops through doing this” while Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines education as a process of “teaching, training and learning, especially in schools, colleges or universities to improve knowledge and develop skills”. Both general and special dictionaries have different patterns including citing examples. Regardless of the useful information, a dictionary would give, it is not to be read like books but to be consulted primarily.
Lastly, dictionaries should be consulted by language users when they come across strange or new words to confirm the status and usage of the word. If you come across a new word or just want to improve your vocabulary, your best bet is to consult a dictionary. However, do not be disappointed if you do not find the word. Also, it is wise
to consult different dictionaries or editions of the same one to improve upon your understanding of words and how to apply them appropriately.
GENERAL AND SPECIFIC DICTIONARIES
Dictionaries can be classified into two; the general dictionary and the special dictionary. A general dictionary treats all uses of dictionaries with limited emphasis on the different parts. An example of such is the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Special dictionary, on the other hand, deals with a particular use of the dictionary an
example is the Longman Business English Dictionary.
USES OF THE DICTIONARY
The most common use of the dictionary is to check the spelling of words. Some dictionaries give the variant spellings of a word such as the American and British variants. “fulfil” and “fulfil” for example are variants of the same word. Some dictionaries will use codes such as AME to note the American variant of words.
Dictionaries provide information on the class of words. With every meaning of a word, there is an indication of whether the word is applicable as a noun, verb, adjective or another part of speech.
Transcription and Stress pattern. The dictionary helps with the pronunciation of words through the representation of words as sounds (this act of representing words as sounds is called transcription). The transcribed words are put in-between slashes. Within this transcription, stress marks (‘) are deployed. When the stress mark is above the line, it represents primary stress while the one below the line indicates secondary stress. The position of the stress Mark differs sometimes depending on the word class and pronunciation. The dictionary also indicates the word class and also part of the speech of a word. A word can function in more than one class. Sometimes pronunciation may change, causing the words to fall in a different class example Read /ri:d/verb, Read /r£d/ adjective.
The origin of a word (Etymology) has become a common inclusion in the dictionary. The etymology of a word may serve as a guide on how the word should be pronounced. Some dictionaries provide information on the evolution of a word until it attained its current form. The dictionary provides information on the sense relation of a word (synonym and antonym). This usually comes towards the end of every entry. It supplies idiomatic senses in which a word can be used and also gives its possible meaning. Usage is also an important inclusion in dictionaries. For every meaning of a word, most dictionaries provide examples for which the word (in each sense) is to be appropriately
In summary, dictionaries are primarily used to find the meaning of words. In addition, however, they contain other information as follows:
Transcription (pronunciation guide)
Word class (part of speech)
Spelling and pronunciation variations
Examples of use
Antonyms, synonyms and idiomatic senses of application
In conclusion, dictionaries help in reading and writing, improve vocabulary, gives appropriate syllable break down in a word (the knowledge of syllabification schools us in where to split a word at the end of a line during writing, typing or pronunciation) among many other benefits. Dictionaries are essential tools (electronic or manual) for effective communication and should be consulted often.