Is everything a “dictionary”? Exploring users’ views of online language resources


University students of modern languages and translation seem to believe that whatever online resource provides them with bi- or multilingual equivalents is a “dictionary”. The creators of such resources, on their part, often exploit this misguided perception, presenting as “dictionaries” what are in fact resources of very different kinds and serving different purposes. Given the ubiquity and ease of access of these resources, presenting students with a critical overview of what is available online in terms of dictionaries, termbanks, multilingual concordancers and machine translation systems is arguably a necessary, if somewhat neglected, element of modern languages and translation curricula. Students’ preferences, however, should not be ignored. The resources students favour are not always created on the basis of sound lexicographic principles, but they are likely to possess features that users increasingly find important or desirable, e.g. the possibility to access a large number of authentic examples, the combination of mono- and bilingual content, and user interfaces adaptable to different devices. Dictionary makers and publishers have not remained insensitive to users’ preferences, but the significant innovations they have introduced in their products have often passed unnoticed, and dictionary user behaviour seems not to have changed much. This paper elaborates on such considerations and relates them to the results of a survey conducted on a group of 250 dictionary users, the vast majority of whom were students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programmes in foreign languages and translation. Results indicate that users rely heavily on digital resources, often lumping them together under the label of “dictionary”, but they are generally not fully aware of the innovative features that have been introduced in works of a lexicographic nature.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v49p31

Keywords: dictionaries; online dictionaries; dictionary features; dictionary users; language resources


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