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half-finished dictionaries
Thread poster: Cor Stephan van Eijden
Cor Stephan van Eijden  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:07
Spanish to Dutch
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Jan 27, 2007

My personal experience is that, in general, dictionaries dedicate 50% of their total content to the first 30% of the alphabet. The other 50% is dedicated to the remaining 70% of the alphabet. Are authors of dictionaries getting tired half-way? Do you have the same experience?

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Selcuk Akyuz  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 09:07
Member (2006)
English to Turkish
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can you give us any examples Jan 27, 2007

for monolingual English dictionaries, if possible.

On the other hand one may say English lexicographers start with the word set.

[Edited at 2007-01-27 20:08]


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Cor Stephan van Eijden  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:07
Spanish to Dutch
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TOPIC STARTER
English dictionaries Jan 27, 2007

I don't have examples of bilingual English dictionaries but I do have a good example of a dictionary Spanish-Dutch-Spanish: Thieme's zakwoordenboek edited by: B.V. W.J. Thieme & Cie - Zutphen, The Netherlands.

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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:07
Member (2002)
German to English
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Yes, you are right, actually Jan 27, 2007

Collins English Dictionary, complete and unabridged, 6th edition, 2003, devotes just over 47% of the pages to the first third of the alphabet, namely to the end of the letter "I".

Astrid


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Selcuk Akyuz  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 09:07
Member (2006)
English to Turkish
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Jan 27, 2007

Well, it may be the case for some dictionaries written by only one author. It is a laborious work which sometimes lasts for long years. And the author or the publisher may decide to publish the work before it is excellent (an excellent dictionary!? ).

And sometimes the author is deceased but the dictionary is published. This is the case for many Turkish etymological dictionaries. Andreas Tietze was one of those great etymologists, and only the first volume of his work "A Historical and Etymological Dictionary of the Turkish of Turkey" is published.

However, we are not discussing incomplete dictionaries here.
Today many unabridged English dictionaries have more than 400.000 words. And these are prepared by many specialists. So we can say that these dictionaries are complete and include "all" words.

But many words have several meanings, and maybe some of them, those at the back pages of the dictionary, do not have long and satisfactory definitions or give sufficient quotations.


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Refugio
Local time: 23:07
Spanish to English
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Alphabetical prestige? Jan 28, 2007

As a first-grade teacher I realized one day, while lining the children up alphabetically for recess, that there was a strong correlation between the children's academic performance and their position in line. I wasn't sure why this was, but I tried an experiment. From then on, I had the children line up in reverse order, starting with Z, and made a conscious effort to pay more attention to the lower-performing students, calling on them more often and chatting with them outside of class. I recalled the research that showed that when teachers are told a child is gifted, that child begins to do better, regardless of previous abilities.

It was interesting to observe that the bottom of my class moved up, while the top of the class (already confident) stayed high. Could the alphabetic lineup have become some kind of status "pecking order", with the "leading" students, placed "closer" to the teacher in daily lineups, acquiring some kind of psychological advantage? From that time on, a greater percentage of my students achieved or exceeded grade-level proficiency than in previous years.

Maybe the dictionary effect isn't about writers getting tired. Perhaps dictionary compilers, or even languages themselves, simply accord more prestige to those words that "come first."

On the other hand, maybe the very organization of alphabet sounds gives precedence to phonemes that are more widely used in the language.

[Edited at 2007-01-28 16:57]


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 08:07
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
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Dictionary of Slovenian language... Jan 28, 2007

i.e. the reference compilation (ed. Slovenian academy of arts and sciences 2001) has 405 pp for A-I, and 1094 for the rest. Should be cca 1:2 (given equal frequencies), and its actually 405:1094 i.e. 1 to 2.5

Now, I do not think the academy was in any rush - they've been doing this as long as I remember -, So it must (also) be a objective / natural frequency of starting characters(*) They are all created equal, only some of them seem to be more equal.

Regarding the publisher, there's nothing easier then doing chi square test on the distribution to see if the author has slackened towards the end. Plus they must have this kind of specs written into the contract...

smo

(*) Have you noticed the objective / natural frequency of prices ending on x,95 or x,99;)? That's what I meant...


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:07
Member
French to English
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Natural frequency effect Feb 1, 2007

Cor Stephan van Eijden wrote:

My personal experience is that, in general, dictionaries dedicate 50% of their total content to the first 30% of the alphabet.


In the case of English, I think this is not entirely unexpected; 'e' is said to be the commonest letter, and I'm sure that is at least in part reflected in its frequency as an initial letter.

In the first 1/3 of the alphabet, we also have a and i (included in very common Latin and Greek prefixes), b (quite common in Germanic prefixes), and none of the "odd" letters that have a much lower frequency in the later 2/3 of the alphabet, like j, q, v, w, x, y, and z

Given that our modern alphabet broadly follows the ancient Greek order, I find it hard to believe that there is any correlation between popularity of phonemes and position in the alphabet, unless there are more similarities between modern English and ancient Greek than I'd realized up till now!

I feel sure I read somewhere only recently that lexicographers routinely start at the letter 'm' specifically to avoid this very problem.

[Edited at 2007-02-01 22:56]


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Tony M  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:07
Member
French to English
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Fascinating, merits some real research! Feb 1, 2007

Ruth Henderson wrote:

It was interesting to observe that the bottom of my class moved up, while the top of the class (already confident) stayed high.


Your empirical observations are amazing, Ruth! I'd love to see some real research done into this sort of phenomenon; it kind of backs up some of my own instinctive feelings. I know that (as someone right in the middle of the alphabet) I often felt disadvantaged, as being quite low down the "picking" order.


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