A letter to the teachers of English: 45How to use adictionary effectively (1) [Archives:2004/716/Education]

March 1 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
I am planning to write a couple of letters on this important subject. Sometime ago, I received a mail from one of the readers, a teacher I suppose, questioning the validity of some of the expressions in my letters. While I welcome such responses from the readers, I would like to request my readers to refer to a good and new dictionary, if you don't find my expressions acceptable to you, because a good and current dictionary is the ultimate authority for us to end our 'quarrels', if there is any.
If you notice, I have stressed the words 'good and new'; yes, it is important to buy a new dictionary every ten years at least. Once, when I asked the teacher participants on a course if they have dictionaries, most of them said yes; when I checked their dictionaries, most of them were what their parents were using about 25 or 30 years before. When I told them why we have to go in for a new dictionary periodically, they realized their mistakes and bought new dictionaries.
Why do dictionaries become outdated? Simply because language is alive and keeps changing due to the changing needs of the people who use it; new words are added, words go out of use, pronunciation of the words changes, meaning changes; for example, the word 'nice', I understand, meant 'silly' in Shakespeare's time, would you believe it? Similarly the pronunciation of the word 'deity' has undergone a change. New words being added is common in all languages, mainly due to the scientific and technological innovations and the language users' efforts to keep pace with them. You will all agree that computers and their peripherals have brought in many new words in all the languages; if the users find it difficult to form a new word, they borrow a suitable word from a foreign language and start using it till perhaps a new word is formed in their language. We are aware of the new words added to our mother tongues over the past few years. Of course these changes take place over a long period of time; new words are not added every fortnight! It has taken about five to six hundred years for the change in the meaning of the word 'nice'. Good dictionaries take these changes into account. If we don't change our dictionaries periodically, we may not be able to be aware of these changes at all.
Now, something about dictionaries. There are different dictionaries for different purposes. There are technical dictionaries for different fields of science, for example, medical dictionaries, agricultural dictionaries, aeronautic dictionaries, dictionaries of linguistics etc. These are exclusively for the use of people in the fields concerned, and may not be of much use to us, unless we want to refer to some scientific or technical or linguistic terms. Similarly, there are monolingual, bilingual and trilingual dictionaries. What we need is a good monolingual or a bilingual dictionary, preferably a monolingual one. If you can afford a second one, go in for a bilingual dictionary. What is a good dictionary? The minimum we expect in a good dictionary is that it has a good number of words, with the meanings of each word explained in simple words, with the grammatical explanation of the word, wherever necessary, and with the help to pronounce the words correctly. If you can afford, you can have a dictionary of idioms. Schools can buy the dictionary with pictorial representations for words for the benefit of younger learners. More about using the dictionaries later.
Yours fraternally,