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THE IMAGE OF THE DICTIONARY FOR AMERICAN COLLEGE STUDENTS Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor In his paper on the use and evaluation of monolingual English dictionaries by British college students, Randolph Quirk writes: "Doubtless the dictionary has indeed less symbolic or emotional power in the UK than in America, but if so it is a matter of degree and not of kind; and the difference should not be exaggerated."1 We decided to give American College students a set of questions similar to those that Quirk asked the British students. We wanted to investigate the image of the dictionary among American students and to determine in what respects it differed from the image in the minds of British Students. Subjects We submitted our questionnaire to students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which is representative of the upper middle-range of state universities in the U.S. The questionnaire was completed during the 1977-78 academic year by a total of 240 undergraduates, 143 male and 96 female (the sex of one student was nor recorded); 83 of them were freshmen and sophomores, and 157 were juniors and seniors. All were native speakers of American English, most having lived in Wisconsin throughout their lives. As in the British survey, we asked the students to state their majors; 86 were in the humanities, 76 were in the sciences, and the remaining 78 were studying a variety of subjects, mostly Business Administration and Education. Questionnaire We summarize the relevant questions in a renumbered order to facilitate our subsequent comparisons with the results discussed in Quirk's paper. 31 32The Image of the Dictionary 1 . Ownership of a dictionary 2.Failure to find what was was wanted 3.Preference for a particular dictionary 4.Average frequency of use 5.Most usual reasons for use 6.Most usual reasons for use in the parental home 7.Use for synonyms and antonyms 8.Use of a thesaurus or book on synonyms and antonyms 9.Use for etymology 10.Use for pronunciation 1 1 . Use for information on parts of speech 12.Should dictionaries aim for completeness, including even well-known words? 13.Should dictionaries contain phrases and idioms? 14.Should dictionaries contain information on regional dialect words? 15.Should dictionaries contain slang words? 16.Should dictionaries contain British words? 17.Should dictionaries contain encyclopedic entries? 18.Should dictionaries contain information on pronunciation ? 19.Should dictionaries give style labels? 20.Should dictionaries have information on usage? 21.Should there be quotations from named famous authors to support the meaning and use of words? 22.Which dictionary owned? 23.Which dictionary preferred? 24.Why preferred? 25.Parents' ownership of a dictionary 26.Which dictionary owned by parents? 27.Should you consult a dictionary more often? 28.Comprehensibility of definitions 29.Adequacy of definitions in respect to own knowledge 30.Comprehensibility of pronunciation symbols 3 1 . Adequacy of pronunciation symbols 32.Suggestions for improving dictionaries Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 33 Results In part because these were examined in the British study, we searched for correlations between the responses to each question with respect to two parameters: the students' field of study and their self-report on the average frequency with which they consulted a dictionary (item 4 on the questionnaire). For the field of study, we looked only at the major divisions of humanities and sciences, the broad fields discussed in the British study. Our frequency question elicited responses indicating whether the average use was daily, weekly, monthly, or less than once a month. In addition, we investigated whether sex or the year of studies were factors affecting responses. We combined each two years into a set and contrasted lowerclassmen (freshmen and sophomores) with upperclassmen (juniors and seniors); we felt that the responses of the more advanced students might be different because they were engaged in specialized programs of study. Chi-square tests were performed on the data; a level of at least five percent (< .05) was considered significant.2 In the following discussion we note any significant correlations. In our presentation of the results, we have adopted the format in Quirk's paper. Ownership of a Dictionary [item 1] Almost all of the students owned a dictionary: 232 (97%) out of 240. Experience of Deficiency [2] Students were divided almost equally on whether they remembered any occasions on which they failed to find what they were looking for in a dictionary: of the 233 who responded, 120 recalled such a failure. As we might expect, upperclassmen tended to be more conscious of past deficiencies in dictionaries than lowerclassmen: 34The Image of the Dictionary Perceptions of Dictionary Deficiency Lowerclassmen Upperclassmen Deficient3090(p<.005) Not Deficient5063(p<.005) Upperclassmen are likely to have had longer experience in consulting dictionaries and are exposed more often to specialized vocabulary. Of the 96 specifications of deficiencies, the largest categories were shortcomings in definitions (40) and absence of words (32). Other problems mentioned more than once were failures to find spellings (14) and etymologies (5). Users' Discrimination [3] Of the 234 who responded to the question, only about a third (82) claimed to prefer a particular dictionary. Of the 56 dictionaries specified, those listed more than five times were Webster (23), Webster Collegiate (6), and American Heritage (9). Upperclassmen tended to be more discriminating (p< .05): Preference for a Particular Dictionary Lowerclassmen Upperclassmen Preference2161 No Preference6290 The more often students used a dictionary, the more they tended to prefer a particular dictionary (p < .05), as shown in this summary table: Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor35 Preference for a Particular Dictionary Weekly Users Not Weekly Users Preference6019 No Preference9456 Frequency of Use [4] Two-thirds of the students reported that they used a dictionary at least once a week (159 to 76): Daily52 Weekly107 Monthly63 Less Often13 Humanities students were far more likely to be addicted to the dictionary (p = .001): Frequency of Dictionary Use HumanitiesScience Weekly6030 Less often1529 Reasons for Dictionary Use [5]-[1 1] Many students reported more than one reason for their own use of the dictionary [5] and for its use in their parents' home [6]. In both instances, the dominant reasons were to find meanings and spellings: Primary Reasons for Dictionary Use MeaningsSpellingsOther uses Students 139 12067 Parental977952 Home 36The Image of the Dictionary Only three failed to give reasons for their own use, but as many as 51 did not mention reasons for the use of the dictionary in the parental home, either because they did not know or because they felt it was never used there. Indeed, 9 students explicitly said that no one uses the dictionary in the parental home, one believed it was there "for looks," and one reported "unknown." The "other uses" fall into the following minor categories: Other Reasons for Dictionary Use StudentsParental Home Word Games7 16 Pronunciation136 Usage8 2 Synonyms5 0 Etymology5 1 Children's Homework0 10 Writing Papers133 Writing Letters1 2 Other responses for student use comprise a miscellaneous vague assortment: "reading" (4), "class work" (2), "reference" (2), "increasing vocabulary" (1), "words" (1), "English" (1), "curiosity" (1), "miscellaneous reasons" (1). One student jocularly replied "nothing." Apart from those already mentioned in the above tables, the reasons for parental use were said to be "settling disputes" (5), "reference" (4), and "reading" (2). Some of the reasons give a motivation for using a dictionary (for example, to write papers or to settle disputes) without specifying the types of information most frequently sought. After the general questions on the reasons for using a dictionary, several items focused on possible specific reasons. When students were asked whether they had used—or had tried to use—a dictionary for synonyms and antonyms [7], only 34 (14<7o) reported having done so on frequent occasions: Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor37 Use of Dictionary for Synonyms and Antonyms Number ofPercent of StudentsStudents Often34(14%) Occasionally113(47%) Rarely or Never93(39%) Surprisingly few used the dictionary for this purpose; many turned to a more specialized work, a thesaurus or book on synonyms and antonyms [8]: Use of Other Work for Synonyms and Antonyms Number ofPercent of StudentsStudents Often 71(30%) Occasionally96(40%) Rarely or Never73(30%) Those with the dictionary habit were more inclined to use a thesaurus frequently (p< .01): Frequency of Thesaurus Use by Dictionary Users OftenOccasionally Rarely or Never Weekly Users556539 Infrequent152833 Users Humanities students tended to resort to a thesaurus more often than Science students (p = .005): 38 The Image of the Dictionary Frequency of Thesaurus Use OftenOccasionally Humanities Sciences 37 11 24 26 And women more than men (p = .001):' OftenOccasionally Men Women 31 39 58 38 Rarely or Never 17 23 Rarely or Never 54 19 The students showed little interest in consulting the dictionary for etymology [9]: Dictionary Use for Etemology Often Occasionally Rarely or Never Number of Students 19 82 139 Percent of Students (8%) (34%) (58%) Frequent users for this purpose were among the heavy dictionary users (p < .005): Weekly Users Infrequent Users Often 19 0 Occasionally 59 21 Rarely or Never 81 55 Humanities students were inclined to be more interested in etymology (p < .001): Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor39 OftenOccasionally Rarely or Never Humanities143727 Sciences3 1740 And so were women students (p< .005): OftenOccasionally Rarely or Never Men8 4095 Women114243 The difference was even more marked for year of study, only one lowerclassman reporting frequent use for etymology (p< .001): OftenOccasionally Rarely or Never Lowerclassmen1 2260 Upperclassmen186079 Students were somewhat more interested in pronunciation; even so, only a minority consulted the dictionary often for this purpose [10]: Dictionary Use for Pronunciation Number ofPercent of StudentsStudents Often 43(18%) Occasionally135(56%) Rarely or Never62(26%) This minority tended to be among the habitual dictionary users (p<.05): 40 The Image of the Dictionary Weekly Users Infrequent Users Often 36 7 Occasionally 90 40 Rarely or Never 33 29 Humanities students were also inclined to use the dictionary for pronunciation (p< .005): Humanities Sciences Often 17 6 Occasionally 50 31 Rarely or Never 11 23 The infrequent use of the dictionary for pronunciation was not due to problems in understanding the pronunciation symbols, since 195 (88%) of 221 responses indicated that the symbols were understandable (item 25). Few of the students reported that they consulted a dictionary frequently for information on parts of speech, for example whether a word can be an adjective [H]: Dictionary Use for Parts of Speech Often Occasionally Rarely or Never Number of Students 25 105 109 Percent of Students (10%) (44%) (46%) Again, those addicted to dictionaries were more inclined to do so (p<.05): Humanities Sciences OftenOccasionally Rarely or Never 124125 3 1937 Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 41 The Dictionary Image [12]-[26] Although some features were poorly represented among the reasons given for dictionary use, we should not assume that the students wanted them excluded from dictionaries. To assess their general view of what a dictionary should be like, items [12]-[21] asked them to indicate whether dictionaries should contain certain specified features normally found in American dictionaries. Most (202: 87% of 232 responses) wanted dictionaries to aim for completeness by including all well-known words, even words like throw [12]. On the other hand, the students were divided on whether the dictionary should contain common phrases and idioms such as take your time [13]; only 51% (119 to 116) were in favor of their inclusion. A majority of 72% (168 to 65) wanted regional dialect words [14], and an even larger majority of 84% (198 to 38) wanted slang words [15]. The students were generally tolerant toward specifically British words [16]; 65% (150 to 80) called for their inclusion. A similar majority of 63% (151 to 87) favored including encyclopedic entries, such as on Freud or Panama [17]. A very large majority (214: 89% of 239) wanted information on the pronunciation of words [18]. Most were concerned about the appropriate use of vocabulary: a majority of 68% (159 to 75) required style labels, such as very formal [19], and a larger majority of 75% (176 to 58) required information on usage, as in grammars or usage handbooks [20]. The majority (61%: 144 of 236), however, saw no need for dictionaries to bring quotations from named famous authors to support the meaning and use of words [21]. The dictionary's authority was presumably felt to be sufficient. For most of these responses there were no statistically significant differences between defined groups of students. For pronunciation, however, there was some association with both the field of study and the year of study, both 42The Image of the Dictionary humanities students and upperclassmen favoring inclusion of information on pronunciation (p < .05): Preference for Pronunciation Information Prefer InclusionPrefer Exclusion Humanities 752 Sciences519 Lowerclassmen6914 Upperclassmen14511 On dialect words, there was a tendency for humanities students to be more tolerant than science students (p < .05): Preference for Dialect Information Prefer Inclusion Prefer Exclusion Humanities6116 Sciences3522 And proportionally more women students than men students tended to want encyclopedic information (p< .05): Preference for Encyclopedic Information Prefer Inclusion Prefer Exclusion Men8160 Women7026 When asked which dictionary they owned [22], most students mentioned Webster (III) or Webster Collegiate (46). Others listed were American Heritage (15), Random House (9), and Funk & Wagnall (7). There was a dictionary in almost all their parents' home [25] (98%: 229 of 234 responses), again mainly one with the Webster imprint [26]: Webster (87), Webster Collegiate (24), Funk & Wagnall (10), Random House (8), and American Heritage (5). The Webster imprint covers a range of dictionaries of various sizes, including dictionaries sold by more than one publisher, and the general designation may be intended for Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 43 the Webster Collegiate. In any case, it is obvious that for the American public the Webster name is generally identified with the dictionary, a circumstance that undoubtedly contributed to the concern and hostility when it was thought that the Webster's Third New International Dictionary, the largest of the family of that name, had abandoned its role as arbiter of the language. Most of the students (54%: 130 of 239) thought they should consult a dictionary more often [27]. Of the 109 who explained why they felt that way, a clear majority (65) believed that they should have looked up meanings. The only other uses mentioned more than five times were spelling (25) and increasing vocabulary (17). From all these responses emerges a clear view of what most of the students want a dictionary to be like. It should define all words of the language and give their pronunciation, including words that some people might consider incorrect or improper (regional dialect and slang words) and words from outside the U.S. that they might encounter in their reading (British words). The dictionary should also provide information on the appropriate use of words by adding style labels and usage notes. The students were prepared to rely on the authority of the lexicographer, not requiring citations from other authors to validate the lexicographer's decisions. The dictionary was also viewed as a repository of encyclopedic information. Dictionaries that the students and their parents owned most commonly bore the Webster name, and dictionaries with that name were even more prominent on the list of those that students reported using frequently (see Appendix I). Deficiencies [28]-[30] Dictionaries did not always live up to the ideal in the minds of the students. Over half of the students reported at least occasional difficulty in understanding definitions [28]: 44The Image of the Dictionary Frequency of Difficulty with Definitions Number ofPercent of StudentsStudents Often 6 (2%) Occasionally 136(57%) Rarely or Never 98(41%) Even more of them indicated that they had found that the definitions occasionally gave them less information about the meaning of a word than they already knew [29]. Frequency of Finding Inadequate Definitions Number ofPercent of StudentsStudents Often 10(4%) Occasionally 147(62%) Rarely or Never 80(34%) On the other hand, most thought that the pronunciation symbols were understandable (88%: 195 of 221) [30] and adequate (89%: 196 of 220) [31]. We earlier noted that about half the students reported having failed on some occasion to find what they were looking for in a dictionary [2]. The largest number of deficiencies were then ascribed to shortcomings in definitions (40) and absences of words (32). Above all, the students expect a dictionary to be comprehensive in its entries and adequate in its definitions. Suggestions for Improvement [32] Immediately after the specific questions, students were asked to offer suggestions for improving dictionaries [32]. The responses are set out in Appendix II. Most suggestions Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 45 dealt with coverage (54) or meaning (27). Of those on coverage, the largest number (24) simply wanted dictionaries to be more comprehensive; the only specific request mentioned at least five times was for more encyclopedic information. The majority of suggestions dealing with meaning asked for the definitions to be more comprehensible (18). One interesting idea that lexicographers might consider is that there should be entries for commonly misspelled words; certainly it would be helpful for poor spellers if an appendix contained a list of common misspellings. Student Differences Differences Between Students in the U.S. Survey It comes as no surprise that habitual users of the dictionary tended to be among the minority who turned to it for information apart from meanings and spellings: word-finding, etymology, pronunciation, and parts of speech. They were proportionally more inclined to discriminate among dictionaries as well as to consult a thesaurus, the other reference book on which frequency of use was elicited. Significant differences were found between humanities and science students. Presumably because their studies were largely focused on the written work, humanities students tended to use the dictionary and the thesaurus more frequently and to consult them for the minority kinds of information (word-finding, etymology, pronunciation, and parts of speech). They also differed from science students in more often requesting the inclusion of dialect words and information on pronunciation. Upperclassmen, who might be expected to encounter more specialized vocabulary than lowerclassmen, tended to be more discriminating in their use of dictionaries and more of them reported failures to find information they were seeking. They also tended to use the dictionary more 46The Image of the Dictionary frequently for information on etymology and to favor the inclusion of information on pronunciation. There were a few differences between men and women. Women students tended to use the dictionary more often for word-finding and etymology and to favor the inclusion of encyclopedic information. They were also more likely to consult a thesaurus. Differences Between American and British Students We now turn to the respects in which the American (US) students differ from the British (UK) students that Quirk surveyed. In general, the evidence suggests that the dictionary has a higher status in the US than in the UK. More US students (97%) owned a dictionary than did UK students (87%), though almost all the parental homes in both the US (98%) and the UK (97%) had a dictionary. More importantly, US students use dictionaries far more frequently: USUK Weekly users159(68%)74(34%) Monthly users63 (27%)82 (37%) Infrequent users13(6%)64(29%) Like the UK students, the US students consulted the dictionary mainly for information on the meanings of words. But the US students seem to have greater problems with spelling; spelling is a more common reason that US students give for their own use of a dictionary (US 120, UK 58) and for their impression of its use in the parental home (US 79, UK 38). On the other hand, in parental homes playing word-games is a far less prominent reason for consulting dictionaries in the US than in the UK (US 16, UK 82). The two sets of students also differed in their responses to questions on certain specific uses. While only 14% of the US students reported that they often consulted the dictionary to Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 47 find words (synonyms and antonyms), 72% of the UK students said that they often did so. A strong minority of the UK students (42%) frequently turned to the dictionary for information on etymology, compared with only 8% of the US students. The difference is less striking for pronunciation, but again a larger minority of the UK students sought that information frequently (US 18%, UK 31%). On the other hand, both the US and the UK students were generally uninterested in information on parts of speech, only a small minority in both sets looking at a dictionary frequently for that purpose (US 10%, UK 12%). On the whole, while the UK students generally used dictionaries less than the US students, they tended to use them for a wider range of purposes. The US students were more insistent than the UK students that a dictionary should comprise all the words of the language: they favored more strongly the inclusion of well-known words (US 87%, UK 76%), most wanted regional dialect words (US 72%, UK 29%) and slang words (US 84%, UK 33%), and they were more willing to have British words than the UK students were to have American words (US 65%, UK 53%). But the US students tended to be more literal in their concept of a dictionary entry; they were less inclined to want common phrases and idioms (US 51%, UK 67%). A major difference between American and British dictionaries is that only the former normally have encyclopedic information. It is therefore not surprising that more of the US students expected a dictionary to include such information (US 63%, UK 44%). Both the US and the UK students generally felt no need for identified citations to support the authority of the lexicographer (US and UK 61%). Of course the students in the two countries differed on the dictionaries they owned or consulted or that were present in the parental home: dictionaries with the Webster name are the US equivalent of the Oxford family of dictionaries. Surprisingly, more of the UK students reported having experienced occasional difficulty in understanding 48The Image of the Dictionary definitions (US 59%, UK 74%); similarly, more of them have found that the dictionaries occasionally gave them less information about the meaning of a word than they already knew (US 66%, UK 80%). Perhaps American collegiate dictionaries tend to be clearer and more adequate in their definitions than their British counterparts. There may also tend to be differences in the comprehensibility of pronunciation symbols in dictionaries from the two countries, since far more of the US students found the symbols understandable (US 88%, UK 52%). Like UK students, the US students were asked to make suggestions for improving dictionaries. Two of the major categories of suggestions were the same—definition and coverage—but the US students were more interested in improving coverage (US 54%, UK 38%) than definitions (US 27%, UK 52%); very few of the US students wanted improvements in layout, a matter of concern for a sizable number of the UK students (US 4%, UK 36%). On the whole, the US students offered relatively fewer suggestions, presumably because they are more satisfied with their dictionaries. The differences between the responses in the surveys are striking enough to suggest that they represent general differences between the college students in the two countries, differences in how they use and view the dictionary. The contrast confirms the belief that the dictionary has a higher status, at least among college students, in the US than in the UK. Not only is the dictionary consulted more often in the US, but also less fault is found with it. Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor49 Appendix 1 Dictionaries Commonly Consulted by Students Students were asked to check one or more dictionaries they commonly consulted or to add other names. M Webster's Collegiate153 ) New World72 ( of 274 Second International23 Í Third International2 / American Heritage39 Funk and Wagnalls31 American College27 Random House (abridged)20 Random House (unabridged)1 OED23 Columbia House1 20,000 Words1 World Book1 Johnson's Dictionary of1 Technical Terms Appendix II Suggestionsfor the improvement ofdictionaries The following indicates the number of students giving each suggestion; 23 students stated that dictionaries didn't need improving. 1 . Definition a.need for clarity: make them easier to understand18 avoid defining word with same word 4 b.more on connotation1 c.more example sentences4 2.More coverage 50The Image of the Dictionary a.make them more comprehensive24 b.add: 1)more synonyms4 2)common foreign words3 3)more slang and idioms3 4)more legal terms1 5)more on usage1 6)more etymological information1 7)more encyclopedic information5 8)more famous quotes, cliches1 9)spellings for all forms of words1 10)all irregular verb conjugations1 c.make them more up-to-date3 3.Less coverage a.make them less comprehensive3 b.omit commonly used words1 c.omit encyclopedic information1 d.provide less etymological information 1 4.Improve layout a.need to improve layout3 b.better cross-referencing1 5.Specialization a.make them more specialized3 b.provide for different levels of style1 c.separate dictionary for spelling1 6.Prescription a. make them less prescriptive3 7.Pronunciation a. simplify treatment3 8.Spelling a. show commonly misspelled words1 9.Computerization a.computerize them1 b.include electronic indexes1 10.Price a. reduce cost4 Sidney Greenbaum, Charles F. Meyer, John Taylor 51 NOTES 1 "The Image of the Dictionary" in R. Quirk, The Linguist and the English Language (London: Edward Arnold 1974), 148-63. 2 We are grateful to Sue Larsen (Social Science Research Facility of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) for computational and statistical assistance. 3 In our analysis, women students were assigned to three broad fields of study: Humanities (42), Sciences (4), and Other (51) We specified the division into humanities and sciences for all students because that distinction was discussed in the Quirk study. The fact that few women specialized in the sciences may account in part for the associations between female-male differences and humanities-sciences differences. 4 We give bibliographical information on these dictionaries in the list of references. The first date is the year that the dictionary was first published; the second is the copyright date closest to 1978. We have not been able to trace Johnson 's Dictionary of Technical Terms. REFERENCES Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1963 (1977). Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933 (1970). The American College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1947 (1967). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. New York: American Heritage; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969 (1978). The Random House College Dictionary, rev. ed. New York: Random House, 1975. The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, unabridged ed. New York: Random House, 1966 (1973). 52The Image of the Dictionary The World Book Dictionary. Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1963, (1967). Twenty-Thousand Words Spelled and Divided for Quick Reference. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1973(1975). Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., unabridged. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1934(1959). Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd college ed. Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Co., 1951. The 1974 edition was published in Cleveland by W. Collins. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the American Language, unabridged. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1961 (1976). ...

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ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 31-52
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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