- A Test of the Proposed Framework for Reviewing Online Dictionaries:M-W.com, Dictionary.com, Macmillandictionary.com, Dictionary.cambridge.org, and Oxforddictictionaries.com
Using the first five of the eight sets of criteria for reviewing online dictionaries proposed by Enid Pearsons and Wendalyn Nichols in the accompanying article (“Toward a Framework for Reviewing Online Dictionaries”), I compared the following six online dictionary websites with reference to the amount and type of information provided, the presentation, and the access structure:
I started off my review by consulting the following distinct terms in each dictionary:
talk (a polysemous content word with more than one part of speech)
about (a polysemous function word with more than one part of speech)
lucrative (a word with derivatives)
while away (a phrasal verb) [End Page 211]
big data (a recent compound noun from IT)
MBO (management buyout, an abbreviation from business English)
otaku (a recent word from subculture)
literally (to check usage information)
*acomodation (accommodation, to check response to a misspelled word)
The perspective from which I evaluated the online dictionaries is inevitably that of the Japanese teacher/learner of English. I am not a member of the intended audience of every dictionary under review. Considering the nature of online dictionaries, however, the user–content mismatch is not infrequent. I do not claim to have done justice to each dictionary with my limited comparison; rather, as requested, my focus was on testing the proposed criteria and thereby contributing to their refinement. Although I tried to be impartial, my opinions may be perceived to be subjective, anecdotal, and prejudiced by the practices common in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) dictionaries to which I am used. Nonetheless, I hope that some of my observations will serve to shed some light on e-dictionaries.
The dictionary website reviews are presented sequentially below, followed by a table showing my comparative evaluation of the online dictionaries according to the first five sets of criteria proposed by Pearsons and Nichols. For each review, “header” information is provided (site name and URL, audience, variety of English, dictionary content subsets, and so on); this is followed by a brief summary review of the site. An additional table shows the results of my consultations of each site using the terms listed above.
Two points to note: First, my remarks are not intended to be systematic, but rather to provide a sense of the characteristics of each dictionary site. Second, it should also be noted that the way an online dictionary appears to the user can vary according to which browser one is using.
Site name and URL: Cambridge Dictionaries Online (US), www.dictionary.cambridge.org
Audience: Learners of English
Variety: British English and American English
Dictionary content subsets: British advanced, intermediate, and beginner; American intermediate and beginner [End Page 212]
Other available content: British thesaurus; Spanish bilingual dictionary; English-Turkish dictionary; Business dictionary; word of the day, blog, new words
Access model: Free with ads
Platforms: Website; mobile app on all major platforms for selected titles, not whole site
One of the characteristics of Cambridge’s EFL dictionaries is related to the unique policy “one meaning, one entry,” introduced by the Cambridge International Dictionary of English (1995). Each sense of a polysemous item was given a “headword” status, headed by a “guideword” (a semantic indicator) to facilitate the user’s navigation of the long entry. Many of the problems associated with the application of the policy to the dictionary’s electronic version have been solved in the present version of the advanced British English online dictionary. For example, after “talk” is typed in the search box, the most common use of the word (the verb, ‘say words’) is shown; on the right-hand side, under the heading “More results for ‘talk,’” the list of the Guidewords and phrases (labeled “All”) is provided (with the “Phrasal Verbs” and “Idioms” lists collapsed). Now the guidewords in the list come with parts of speech, and a maximum of six items are shown in each list initially. This is a great improvement—browsability and searchability reconciled—from the former version where...