Kernerman Dictionary News Number 11 July
Seminar on Computer-Mediated Lexicography, Castelló
The seminar on Computer-Mediated Lexicography was a three-day event held on 19-21 May 2003 at Universitat Jaume I (Castelló, Spain), and funded by the Fundació Caixa Castelló-Bancaixa. The aim of the seminar was to provide a space for discussion on how the latest developments in computerised dictionaries may challenge and change current dictionary practices in the language learning context, both in terms of content and technological advances.
Among the issues discussed, criteria to describe computer-mediated dictionaries according to the features that differentiate them from paper dictionaries was a major concern. This touches upon one important lexicographical aspect: dictionary typology, which in its computer-mediated side is undergoing significant changes. Evolution of the dictionary genre in this sense is remarkable, particularly in the case of online dictionaries. Dictionary typology is in need of a major revision that takes into account new computer-mediated products, and these may in turn be studied and analysed according to agreed criteria. Some criteria, such as genre boundaries, degrees of customisability and functionality were suggested and discussed during the seminar.
The issue of customisability was examined in relation to the teacher's and the student’s roles (by Krajka). On the one hand, it was suggested that students should decide which dictionary and look-up modes are suitable for their purposes and learning styles, thus promoting learner autonomy. On the other hand, the possibility for the teacher to decide on which customisation to use for a particular learner group could be of interest within syllabus design. These two proposals are not excluding, and in both cases computer-mediated dictionaries were seen as flexible tools, with all the advantages that flexibility could offer different language learning settings.
In this context, taking into consideration that each design allows for different possible uses, it should be said that although training in dictionary skills still largely depends on the teacher, now it also depends on the programme designer (which may be the teacher, or a computer expert, or both), and on how new features are to be implemented in order to be taught and learned.
It was also argued (by Tono) that the electronic dictionary interface may reduce difficulties posed by paper dictionary macrostructure, which seems to be the case for hand-held and CD dictionaries. Also, computers allow for a much easier tracking of users' look-up behaviour as well as of note-taking possibilities that appear mostly with CD dictionaries.
However, this is not the case for online dictionaries, some of which provide very complex designs that add new features to the traditional macrostructure, such as links to various databases, educational pages, new terms, simultaneous search in several reference works, links to topic-related pages, etc. Likewise, as pointed out by Luzón, online dictionaries have developed functionality features such as informational and interpersonal interactivity, which traditional dictionaries could not provide and which may turn dictionary consultation into a very complicated task.
In any case, it was clear that there is a need for both longitudinal and contrastive studies. Nesi’s proposal (2000:108) “to investigate the use, not of purpose-built value glosses for a few selected texts, but of flexible support for all texts in the form of independent electronic dictionaries,” could be extended to all kinds of computer-mediated dictionaries both for value and signification glosses as described by Roby (1999). Research is needed, I believe, not only in the use of actual dictionaries (as opposed to partial ones designed for specific tasks) but also in the promotion of dictionary-use skills as part of metacognitive learning strategies. In so doing, dictionaries should be considered as part of the learning process rather than as a learning tool for solving problems or a compensatory strategy.
Research on computerised dictionaries should also be concerned with those aspects that are typical in the new genres. For example, taking into account that sound files are included in most computer dictionaries, and that the majority of language learners find the sound option attractive, research should be carried out on how audio files are used – not only to know how a word is pronounced, but also to understand spoken texts. Here, including native, non-native or synthesized pronunciation (as suggested by Sobkowiak) is an interesting aspect to consider if dictionary users are to understand speakers from different nationalities.
It is a fact that the availability of computer-mediated dictionaries has brought dictionaries back into the classroom and has given them a more outstanding role, especially in the case of language-learning computer packages. For most (young) learners, the integration of dictionaries into the appealing world of computers has endowed them with a new attraction. This engaging new look appears to be leading to a more frequent enjoyable use and greater familiarity with the dictionary, while helping learners improve their vocabulary and language knowledge. Learners' motivation should be taken advantage of on the side of the teachers, while encouraging them to examine their students’ needs and the new ways to present them with lexical information.
Nesi, H. 2000. ‘On screen or in print: Students’ Use of a Learner’s Dictioanry on CD-ROM and in Book Form.’ In P. Howarth and R. Herington (eds), EAP Learning Technologies. Leeds University Press. pp. 106-114.Roby, W.B. 1999. ‘What’s in a gloss?’ Language Learning & Technology, 2.2. http://llt.msu.edu/vol2num2/roby
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