CLB's dictionary survey

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Thu Aug 10 14:24:02 UTC 2000

> From: Barnhart at (Barnhart)>
> Lynne, your thoughts are very good.  I'd like to work on some form of
> tracking.  I think a classroom or library setting is more likely to be
> useful than home studies.  Perhaps a collaborative effort by ADS, DSNA,
> Euralex, and the American Library Association (and Britisth Library
> Association) would be fundable.  College classrooms are the obvious
> place.  However, high school libraries might be useful, too.  Perhaps
> we could do something through the Dictionary Companion.

Libraries are a good idea--school libraries would be most manageable,
since they have a limited clientele, and so it would be easy to instruct
people to fill out the forms.

I don't think dictionaries are used all that much in college
classrooms--I've always required that students buy a dictionary, but not
that they lug it to class, and no classrooms I've taught in have a
dictionary in situ.  If we did school classrooms, perhaps it could be
done within a few school districts across a number of grades.

Of course, if I'm involved it does bring up the transatlantic question,
but since I'm on the DSNA schools taskforce, I don't see any reason not
to focus at this point on the US (if it's a schools survey), and then do
a second study in the UK.  Seems like it would be easier to keep things
in one country at a time.

So, I see a number of possible tracking studies here:
- cross-grade within schools (classrooms and libraries)
- college-level (send students home with worksheets, and possibly also do
 libraries;  would be tracking a number of individuals through a semester
or year)
- public libraries (tracks what the dictionaries are used for, but not
what individual variation there is in dictionary use)
- household use?  (Nielsen families for dictionaries?)

More variables:
- what country/ies (US first, UK next?)
- what dictionaries (e.g., would all schools in the study have the same
dictionary series, or would we try for equal numbers of different series?
 I vote for many different--try to get underwriting from the different
- what about electronic dictionaries? do we also need to track these to
see to what degree they are displacing print dictionaries, and whether
some dictionary-uses are favored for print vs electronic?

More funding thoughts:
- state and federal education departments;  this might be the kind of
thing that one could get a big govt grant for (if it's a school study,
that is).
- from publishers: maybe one way to get school participation would be to
get that school dictionary upgrades;  or a way to get individual
participation would be to 'pay' them with reference books (earn a
thesaurus by using the dictionary!).

Has a study like this been done for learner dictionaries?  I'm thinking
that there's probably been a lot done by the ESL dictionary makers (esp
in UK).  Such things might provide models.  I might've seen something
like this in the Longman dictionary newsletter-journal thing.

So much more fun to work on a future project than a present one.  Back to


Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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