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The Warp and Woof of an Electronic Dictionary; or, Beyond the Full-Text Search Janice McAlpine "??e exciting potential of dictionaries in electronic form I cannot ignore, even though I am a rather unlikely exponent of new book technology. I will always be more comfortable with a paper dictionary, bound in cloth, whose pages I can riffle in my hands. The traditional dictionary is accessed directly by plopping it open on the desk. Entry to its contents is not mediated by unfamiliar search protocols and diousands of dollars worth of the very latest in electronic equipment. There is another reason I prefer the dictionary in traditional form, and, in this, I am empadiizing with dictionary compilers: the printed book represents a completed piece ofwork. Though the appearance , at long intervals, of successive editions of dictionaries may in fact belie continuous labor behind die scenes, there is still a certain irrevocability and finality about a work that has gone to press. That quality is completely absent from an electronic publication, certainly, from an online publication. No matter how rigorously an online publication has been prepared, once released, it becomes part of the ceaseless intercourse of the Internet. The cyber domain seems to demand that additions , corrections, and improvements be made immediately, simply because they can be effected immediately. Obviously, I have to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek in describing the plastic quality of electronic text as a negative feature, for, from the point of view of the user, a dictionary that can keep itself up to date is a definite boon. And electronic format has more to offer than ease in editing. Because an electronic text is protean in its configuration, any relevant bit of the whole document is always, potentially, at least, at the reader's Dictionaries:Journal oftheDictionary Society ofNorth America 24 (2003) The Warp and Woof of an Electronic Dictionary85 beck and call. This article will discuss how die expansiveness and nonlinearity of electronic text might be exploited to add new content and design features to dictionaries. The "warp" and "woof" referred to in the title of the paper are, literally, the threads strung lengthwise and from side to side on a loom. If we liken compiling an electronic dictionary text to weaving, then the tags and hyperlinks that a lexicographer can insert into dictionary entries are like the criss-crossing threads in a woven textile. Only when the textile is complete is it possible to see die whole pattern in a woven piece; similarly, only when die dictionary text is complete is it possible to trace all the hyperlinks the lexicographer has inserted. The main focus of this article will be on how expanded content and embedded links might improve a monolingual English dictionary for advanced learners, but I hope some of die discussion will also suggest possibilities for other types of dictionaries. Dictionaries in electronic form can yield additional information , all sorts of information diat could only be laboriously extracted from a print copy. For example, a linguist could conceivably search the pronunciations in an electronic English dictionary to make a systematic study of the stress patterns in English words; someone teaching language history could search etymologies and extract a list of vocabulary borrowed from French into English in the period 1100-1300; and someone interested in empirical syntax could search the grammatical labels in an unabridged dictionary as a starting point for a study of verbs in the lexicon that function both transitively and intransitively. To generalize , all the information traditionally lodged in an inalterable sequence of print entries can, in electronic form, be regrouped. In otiier words, all the "stored data" can be re-analyzed to produce "derived date" (Livingood [1996]). Simply by segmenting the information contained in a dictionary text into separately searchable fields (pronunciation , etymology, grammatical category, and so on) and by anticipating some of the interrogations that a user might want to make within each field, the lexicographer and dictionary publisher can go a long way toward exploiting the searchability of the e-dictionary (Ford 1996, 221) . Electronic form has, thus, enhanced what we can get out of dictionaries . But it has also altered the rules governing what can be put...


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