Choice of Adequate Equivalents

One of the major problems in compiling translation dictionaries and other bilingual word-books is to provide adequate translation of vocabulary items or rather to choose an adequate equivalent in the target language.

According to Acad. L. V. Sčerba, translation dictionaries that do not give due attention to delimitation of word-meaning cannot ensure real mastery of foreign words. The compilation of such dictionaries must be based on systematic and detailed contrastive studies of the languages dealt with. Only this will enable the lexicographer to decide what parts of their vocabularies diverge and thus require special attention in translation.

Speaking of scientific methods in compiling translation dictionaries we pay a tribute to Prof. A. I. Smirnitsky and Prof. I. R. Galperin who following the principles of the Russian school of lexicographers (D. N. Ushakov, L. V. Sčerba, V. V. Vinogradov) made a valuable contribution to Soviet lexicography, particularly bilingual lexicography, and made useful innovations. The Russian-English Dictionary under Prof. Smirnitskys general direction and the New English-Russian Dictionary edited by Prof. I. R. Galperin differ from other word-books of their kind on account of wider and more profound information that is supplied both about the vocabulary items entered and their translations; more attention than usual is given to the way words are combined in speech, to their emotional and stylistic overtones, etc.

Conveying the meaning of a lexical unit in the target language is no easy task as the semantic structures of related words in different languages are never identical, which is observable in any pair of languages. The lack of isomorphism is not limited to the so-called culture-bound words only but also to most other lexical units.

The dictionary-maker is to give the most exact equivalent in the target language. Where there is no equivalent, to achieve maximum accuracy in rendering the meanings to be entered the compiler may either describe the meaning with an explanation, much similar to the definition of an explanatory dictionary but worded in the other language, or resort to transliteration. Very often enumeration of equivalents alone does not supply a complete picture of the semantic volume of this or that word, so a combination of different means of semantisation is necessary.

Setting of the Entry

Since different types of dictionaries differ in their aim, in the information they provide, in their size, etc., they of necessity differ in the structure and content of the entry.

The most complicated type of entry is that found in explanatory dictionaries. In explanatory dictionaries of the synchronic type the entry usually presents the following data: accepted spelling and pronunciation; grammatical characteristics including the indication of the part of speech of each entry word, the transitivity and intransitivity of verbs and irregular grammatical forms; definitions of meanings; modern currency; illustrative examples; derivatives; phraseology; etymology; sometimes also synonyms and antonyms.

A typical entry in diachronic explanatory dictionaries will have some specific features. Apart from the chronological arrangement of meanings and illustrative quotations to present the historical sense development, the etymology of the word is accorded an exhaustive treatment, besides a distinguishing feature of such reference books is the dates accompanying each word, word-meaning and quotation that indicate the time of its first registration or, if the word or one of its meanings is obsolete, the time of its last registration.

See, for example, the presentationof two meanings of the verb arrivein SOD (the sign + =obsolete, the dash before the date indicates the time of the last publication):

arrive...+3. To bring, convey 1667. 4. intr. To come to the end of a journey, to some definite place, upon the scene. Const. at, in, upon, + into, + to. ME. transf. Of things 1651.

It should be noted in passing that the dates that are often interpreted as the time of the words (or one of its meanings) appearance or disappearance in the language are in fact their earliest known occurrences, since the still earlier records might not have been examined by the staff collecting the material for the dictionary and the word might be current in oral speech a long time before it came to occur in print.

In other types of dictionaries the content and structure of the entry will be altogether different. Compare, for instance, the four entries for arrivetaken from a translation and a frequency dictionaries, from an etymological and pronouncing word-books:

The Dictionary edited by I. R. Galperin:

arrive[a'raiv] v 1. (at, in, upon) , ; to~ in London ; the police ~d upon the scene ; to ~ punctually [tardily, in good time] [ , ]; sold to ~ . ( , ); 2. (at) 1) (-.), ( -.); to ~ at understanding ; to ~ at a decision ; to ~ at a conclusion .

The General Service List by M. West:

arrive, v 532 (1) Arrive home, in London

Arrive at an age when ... 74%

(2) The parcel has arrived

The time has arrived when... 11%

(3) Arrive at a conclusion... 12%

(The count is to be read as follows: In a count of 5 million running words the word arriveoccurred 532 times. In 74% of these occurrences it had the first meaning, in 11% the second, etc.).

Oxford Etymological Dictionary:

arrive[ariv] + bring or come to shore, land XIII; come to the end of a journey, a goal, etc. XIV; + reach (a port, etc.) XVI; + come to pass XVII. OF. ariver (mod. arriver arive, happen) = Pr.aribar, Sp. arribar: Rom. *arripare come to land, f. ad AR+ripo shore (cf. RIVER). Formerly sometimes inflected+ arove, +ariven; cf. STRIVE.

Jones Dictionary:

arriv/e, -s, -ing, -ed; -al/s 'raiv, -z, iŋ, -d, -l/z arrogan/ce, -cy, -t/ly ærgen/s [-roug-, -rug-], -si, -t/li

ascertain, -s, -ing, -ed, -ment; -ableæs'tein [-s:'t-], -z, -iŋ, -d, -mnt; -bl

Sometimes the entries for the same word will look quite different in dictionaries of the same type. Thus the setting of the entry varies in different books of synonyms depending upon the practical needs of the intended users. Some word-books enumerate synonyms to each meaning of the head-word to help the user recall words close in meaning that may have been forgotten. Other word-books provide discriminating synonymies, i.e. they explain the difference in semantic structure, use and style, and show how each synonym is related to, yet differs from all the others in the same group.


Admission,n. 1. Admittance, introduction, access, entrance, initiation, entrée. 2. Allowance, avowal, concession, acknowledgement, assent, acceptance. (Soule R. A Dictionary of English Synonyms and Synonymous Expressions.)


ADMISSION,for being allowed to enter (usually a place), is the commonly used word, and it has today almost entirely displaced ADMITTANCE, which is now restricted to a few idiomatic uses, e.g. No admittance except on business".

(Collins V. H. The Choice of Words. A Book of Synonyms with Explanations)

Structure of the Dictionary

When the selection of the dictionary entries, the contents and structure of the entries, their order of arrangement etc. are decided upon, the lexicographer is to settle upon this or that structure of the dictionary.

In spite of the great variety of linguistic dictionaries their composition has many features in common. Nearly all of them may be roughly divided into three unequal parts.

Apart from the dictionary proper, that make up the bulk of the wordbook, every reference book contains some separate sections which are to help the user in handling it an Introduction and Guide to the use of the dictionary. This prefatory matter usually explains all the peculiarities of the word-book, it also contains a key to pronunciation, the list of abbreviations used and the like.

It is very important that the user of a dictionary should read this prefatory matter for this will enable him to know what is to be found in the word-book and what is not, will help him locate words quickly and easily, and derive the full amount of information the dictionary affords.

Appended to the dictionary proper there is some supplementary material valuable for language learners and language teachers. This material may be divided into one of linguistic nature, pertaining to vocabulary, its development and use, and the other pertaining to matters distinctly encyclopaedic.

Another grouping of dictionaries reflects the practice of teaching different aspects of speech. The word-books having as their goal the ability to read scientific and technical literature in a foreign language will need a vast word-list ensuring adequate comprehension of written speech. Teaching oral speech habits requires a dictionary that contains a selected list of active words explained from the point of view of their use.

Since learners of different linguistic background will have different pitfalls in mastering the same language, will need different directions for use, different restrictive remarks, each pair of languages requires its own dictionaries, dictionaries based on a contrastive study of the learners native tongue and the language to be learned.

In this connection it must be said that Hornbys dictionary, with all its merits and advantages, has an essential demerit it does not take into account the users linguistic background, so it cannot foresee and prevent the possible language problems of this or that national group of English learners.

Not long ago Soviet lexicographers came to the opinion that separate reference books are called for teachers and learners. As far as dictionaries of English go, perhaps the first attempts at producing dictionaries for teachers are the reference books Adjectival Collocations and Verbal Collocations.

Those are the main types of dictionaries considered necessary to ensure the process of foreign language teaching. As to the present state of learners lexicography, it may be characterised as just coming into being, as the already existing dictionaries are few in number and they do not make a system, rather some separate links of a system.

As to the information they provide they may be divided into two groups: those giving equal attention to the words semantic characteristics and the way it is used in speech (these may be called learners dictionaries proper) and those concentrating on detailed treatment of the words lexical and grammatical valency (dictionaries of collocations).

To learners dictionaries proper issued in English-speaking countries we may refer, for example, The Progressive English Dictionary and An English Readers Dictionary by A. S. Hornby and E. Parnwell designed for beginners, as well as Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English by A. S. Hornby and The New Horizon Ladder Dictionary of the English Language by J. R. Shaw with J. Shaw for more advanced students.

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English by A. Hornby has achieved international recognition as a most valuable practical reference book to English as a foreign language. It contains 50,000 units and is compiled on the basis of COD to meet the needs of advanced foreign learners of English and language teachers. It aims among other things at giving detailed information about the grammatical and partly lexical valency of words.

The New Horizon Ladder Dictionary includes 5000 of the most frequently used words in written English. It is called Ladder Dictionary because the words are divided in it into five levels or ladder rungs of approximately 1000 each, according to the frequency of their use (a figure in brackets attached to each word shows to which thousand the word belongs).

Compiled in our country is the English-Russian Dictionary of Most Commonly Used Words prepared by V. D. Arakin, H. M. Weiser and S. K. Folomkina under Prof. I. V. Rakhmanovs direction. This is a vocabulary minimum of 3250 words, typical word-groups and phraseological units selected for active mastery in Soviet secondary school.

The Learners English-Russian Dictionary by S. Folomkina and H. Weiser does not, strictly speaking, belong to the group of dictionaries under consideration, as it is designed for use by English-speaking students of the Russian language, but is helpful as well when learning English. It contains about 3500 words.

The word-books given above differ in many respects: they are either monolingual or polylingual, they provide different information, they differ in the kind of the intended user (learners of the English language who have reached different stages in the course of their studies, adults or children of different linguistic background English-speaking learners of Russian) and in aim (an aid to oral speech the development of reading and writing skills) and in other features. However these dictionaries have some traits in common that distinguish them from the word-books considered in the preceding sections. They all aim at teaching how to speak, write, etc., while the tendency in modern English lexicography is not to prescribe as to usage, but to record what is actually used by speakers.

Dictionaries of collocation contain words which freely combine with the given head-word. The few reference books of this kind known to us belong to the pen of foreign compilers. For example, A. Reums Dictionary of English Style is designed for the Germans, Kenkyushas New Dictionary of English Collocations is intended for the Japanese, Adjectival Collocations in Modern English by T. S. Gorelik and Verbal Collocations in Modern English by R. Ginzburg, S. Khidekel, E. Mednikova and A. Sankin are designed for Russian school teachers and students of English.

Each of the two dictionaries of collocations prepared by Soviet linguists presents the collocability of 375 words that are used in Soviet school text-books. The presentation of the words grammatical and lexical valency is based on identical principles.

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