CLB's dictionary survey

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Tue Aug 15 01:41:09 UTC 2000

Sorry if I seem to be making short work of a long letter with many ideas
that most testing experts might find useful.

Two points I would like to make are, first, that I sort of agree with
Lynne that most of those surveys or questionnaires that we are asked to
fill out choosing alternatives like "never / occasionally / sometimes /
often" as when we have purchased a new car don't serve any useful
purpose as far as I can see. They seem too abstract.

Secondly, the most telling observation I gathered in 1967 when my
employer sent me on a "fact-finding tour" of the Canadian dictionary
market was the following from one Prof. Richard H. J. Monk which I have
quoted again and again since then and bears repetition, I think.

"After 17 years of teaching in the schools of British Columbia and 11 at
a university, I have yet to find a student who can make intelligent use
of vowel systems or pronunciation keys as they appear in most

Some of those who have written here on this subject have come close to
the above observation of Dr. Monk, but nothing like the above for its
practical insight, brevity, and forthrightness. It has stuck in my mind
and proven quite true and accurate all these years.

Tracking dictionary use in classrooms was what I did with the help of
English teachers in the U.S. in the early 80's. But it was an informal
survey and something more thorough, systematic, and more positive than
Monk's observation may be what is called for at this time.


THOMAS M. PAIKEDAY, lexicographer since 1964
Latest work: "The User's Webster," Lexicography, Inc., 2000
ISBN 0-920865-03-8 / utpbooks at
Lynne Murphy wrote:
> Thinking more about dictionary surveys...
> I've read various studies based on surveys, and I have to admit that when
> I read them, I doubt their usefulness.  (They're better than nothing,
> but...)  If someone asked me what I do when I use a dictionary, I doubt
> that what I remembered doing would be the same as what I actually do.  For
> instance, if you asked me if I use the dictionary for pronunciations
> never/occasionally/sometimes/often, I'd really be doing no better than
> guessing, I think.

[. . . .]

 I'd be particularly
> interested in tracking dictionary use in classrooms...
> Lynne

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