Dictionary POS

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Wed Jan 16 01:53:13 UTC 2008

Utility does not always mean providing more information or ever more subtle
distinctions. Often, utility means providing the quick answer that suffices
90% of the time.

A case in point is Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. It's my
favorite usage manual and you can spend an hour or more on the intricacies
of a single entry. But if you just need a quick answer on whether to use
"that" or "which" in a particular sentence, it is exactly the wrong source
to consult. Very often less is more.

And if one uses terminology for which 98% of English language speakers are
unfamiliar, then one is drastically reducing the potential user base, not
expanding it. The imprecise but familiar is often superior to the precise
but arcane.

Furthermore, categorization, especially as one gets more and more precise in
one's distinctions, is too often subjective and subject to the whims of the
categorizer. Plus, works with very precise categorizations need more
frequent updating as new subtleties of usage arise.

And even electronic works that have few practical space limitations still
have limits on editorial time.

Perhaps what you need is an ESL glossary of the 1000 or so most common words
that has the more precise labels.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
LanDi Liu
Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 9:50 AM
Subject: Re: Dictionary POS

Why not?  It's becoming more and more possible.  The way I see it,
dictionaries are evolving and are being influenced by corpus linguistics.
Also, dictionaries come in different sizes, so a smaller dictionary doesn't
have to include every usage, but could have a certain usage frequency as a
threshold.  The OED does a pretty good job at giving nearly airtight usage
indications by virtue of its example sentences.  Collins COBUILD does it
more concisely with pattern notations.  Also, more and more dictionaries are
taking advantage of non-paper editions that aren't limited in space.

You're right, it is interesting.  I can't see any reason for dictionaries
not to increase their usefulness by taking advantage of technological
development and linguistic perspective.  Also, who are dictionaries for?  I
think any dictionary publisher wants to maximize its user base.  Adding
dimensions of usefulness certainly can help this happen.

On Tue, 15 Jan 2008 10:57:46 -0600, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU>

>This is interesting.  Is it the task of the dictionary to give airtight (or
nearly airtight) indications for how every individual word should be used?
Is this even possible?  There is great complexity in everyday speech.
>Gerald Cohen
>From: American Dialect Society on behalf of LanDi Liu
>Sent: Tue 1/15/2008 2:33 AM
>My students of course don't make mistakes like that, because I teach them
>determiners and how to use them.  But from my personal experience learning
>Chinese, if I can find the part of speech for a word listed in a Chinese
>dictionary (most of them don't list them), I still have very little idea
>to use the word.  For example, it may say a word is a verb, but I have no
>idea if it is transitive or intransitive.  Example sentences can help, but
>they seldom list all of the possibilities.  Often, even when there are many
>ways to use a word, all of the example sentences illustrate only one way.
>So if I was not a native speaker of English and I looked up "some", while I
>might avoid constructing sentences like the examples I gave, calling "some"
>an adjective bears the implication that it can be used like other
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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