Stefan Engelberg

What will we need dictionaries for (at all)?
The Internet, lexicography and the primacy of the user

Lexicography has seen two important developments during the last twenty years, a medial one and a conceptual one. Firstly, lexicography has switched from printed to electronic dictionaries. Secondly, metalexicography has brought the needs of the dictionary user to the fore of dictionary theory. It seems that internet lexicography is the jubilant culmination of these two developments: multimedia complement the text-laden content of traditional dictionaries; new access structures allow faster and far more diversified access to information; dictionaries can be combined into large digital information bases, etc.

However, most internet dictionaries still look very conventional: here and there an audio file, a frequency chart or an extra corpus example, but that is usually the end of the adventure. And more importantly, not only did lexicography change during the last twenty years, the rest of the world and in particular the internet did too. While some decades ago everybody who wanted to find out something about a word would have to consult a dictionary, nowadays, the Internet can itself be used by everybody as a large lexical resource. It is common now to google words in order to find out about their commonality, to rely on electronic spell checkers, or to turn to random texts on the Internet in order to see which preposition has to go with which particular verb. And this is only the beginning of the development of numerous methods that everybody can apply in order to explore the lexical richness found on the Internet – without using dictionaries!

The talk argues that we, as lexicographers, have to watch these developments carefully, because they will dispense with a lot of services that have been traditionally provided by dictionaries. On the one hand, we will have to integrate lexicography and non-lexicographic internet-based lexical exploring strategies, and on other hand, we will have to focus on strengths that cannot easily be replaced by (semi-)automatic big data exploration.

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