reciprocity for bilingual dictionaries?

Richard A. Spears raspears.pipo at XEMAPS.COM
Wed Jan 15 20:48:30 UTC 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Sokolowski"
<psokolowski at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM>
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 9:36 AM
Subject: reciprocity for bilingual dictionaries?

> To what extent is reciprocity desirable?

No one knows. It may be a good selling point, but
teachers and students
may not understand the principle. Advanced and
professional users
will likely be using a large monolingual dictionary.

You are referring to two-way bilingual dictionaries
(both directions in one volume),  I think.
European bilingual dictionaries are typical not
two-way. That is, there is a Spanish > English
volume and an English > Spanish volume. European
are sometimes licensed to publishers in other nations
who combine two volumes into one,
thus giving the semblance of a two-way bilingual
dictionary. Rarely are the two
components coordinated in a way that makes them
reciprocal because they weren't
made that way to begin with.

The beginner probably cannot benefit from a
finely-honed reciprocity and the
advanced user or professional may not require it.

> To what extent is reciprocity feasible?

It's might be feasible to simulate reciprocity fairly
depending on what you assume the user
already knows about both languages. If you just look at
the individual words involved,
it might be doable. If you really want to capture all
the idiomatic uses surrounding
each of the words--in both languages--it becomes less
feasible. A beginner's dictionary
can easily grow huge if every word is defined in every
sense on both sides. I've worked on
a few (two with Frank Abate) where one side of a
bilingual dictionary was flipped to provide
the basis of the other side of the dictionary. Then
both sides were "tuned" to each other.
There were only about 1,700 words on each side,

> What's the historical pattern in bilingual

Is there just one pattern? There are a few practices,
and I think they
depend on the level of the potential user. Starting
from scratch is not the norm
in bilingual dictionaries. How does a dictionary maker
know how far to go
in making absolute reciprocity a feature? You know the


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