Kernerman Dictionary News • Number 12 • July 2004

Some Lexicographic Concepts Stemming from a French Training in Lexicology
Parts 2 and 3

Jean Pruvost

 Jean Provost is the Vice-President of Université de Cergy-Pontoise, where he teaches linguistics, lexicology and lexicography, directs the laboratory of the CNRS [National Centre for Sceintific Research] (Metadif, UMR 8127) that is devoted to dictionaries and their history, and organizes the annual international dictionary conference, La Journée des dictionnaires, a meeting point for lexicologists, lexicographers and dictionarists. He is the author of Dictionnaires et nouvelles technologies [Dictionaries and New Technologies], for which he received the international linguistics prize Logos in 2000, and of two titles in the Que sais-je? [What Do I Know?] series, one on French language dictionaries, the other on neologisms (with Jean-François Sablayrolles), as well as of numerous articles. Professor Pruvost co-directs, with Bernard Quemada, two collections at Éditions Honoré Champion (Études de lexicologie, lexicographie et dictionnairique; Lexica), serves on several editorial boards (Cahiers de lexicologie; Études de linguistique appliquée; International Journal of Lexicography), and presides the Association des Sciences du Langage.

Part One of this contribution appeared in Kernerman Dictionary News, Number 11, July 2003


This article was translated from French. For the full French manuscript:

Related short article “Lexiculture and the EFL Dictionary” by Anthony P. Cowie, Number 12, July 2004:

I am most obliged to Anthony Cowie for his dedicated and competent assistance with the English language version. Inaccuracies that might concern any aspect of the translation are my own. IJK

2. Lexiculture: a forgotten but essential lexical component


To distinguish, as we have already done, lexicographie (theoretical lexicography) from dictionnairique (practical dictionary-making), is to ensure we do not confuse a lexicographical phase, devoted to research and focused on words, with a practical phase, devoted to developing the product, and focused on the user – the word having been well determined semantically. We are then located in the sphere of methodology with, as we have noted, many more consequences than would be expected if we did not take account of this useful distinction.

To be interested in lexiculture – a term and concept peculiar to Robert Galisson and referring to everyday culture shared by all and stored in words, over and above their semantic definition – is to take account of a particular and fundamental dimension of the vocabulary that, alas, is often lacking in lexicographie as well as in dictionnarique. Actually, within theoretical lexicography, lexiculture is either ignored altogether, or it is neglected, save by a few – too few – language-teaching specialists. And in practical dictionary-making, lexiculture is most often absent, for want of being the focus of studies in lexicography, cropping up only when an example contains in addition to the usage of the word some extralinguistic detail. And yet, as we must emphasize straightaway, the lexiculture that we shall attempt to define here forms in our opinion an integral part of the complete definition of a word. Indeed, it proves to be indispensable for the foreign learner, or for ensuring that the native speaker gains a perfect understanding of words, over a long period of time.


2.1. A concept launched by Robert Galisson and originating in the learning of French as a foreign language

The specific educational backgrounds of certain leading lights in lexicology can lead to particularly original and rich conceptions for lexicography. Thus, Robert Galisson was first trained as a school-teacher, then quickly acquired a doctorate in lexicology, after a short period spent as a teacher of French literature in the technical sector. As a young academic, he then became interested in the training of foreign students of French. Having become a renowned lexicologist and a professor at the Sorbonne, he was entrusted by Bernard Quemada with the editorship of the scholarly journal Études de linguistique appliquée (Didier érudition; Les Belles Lettres), which has appeared in 120 issues in thirty years, and whose very sub-title is enlightening: “Journal of the didactology of language-cultures”. Having supervised more than 600 theses, Galisson is today the holder of honorary doctorates from numerous foreign universities and enjoys a wide reputation in the worlds of lexicology and didactics.

His influence among researchers in the field known in France as FLE – that is, the teaching and learning of “le français langue étrangère” (French as a Foreign Language) – is considerable in Europe and in the Mediterranean world. His fame is based on the innovative nature of the ideas he has put forward and which I will review quickly here in so far as, in my view, they directly concern our lexicographic activities.

It is important to point out that the particular position adopted by Galisson, who describes himself – among other things – as a didactologist-lexicologist, is rooted in the difficulties encountered by non-native speakers of the French language when attempting to acquire it. Close observation of obstacles to the effective learning of vocabulary has effectively given a new dimension to Galisson’s approach to defining the word. He has ascertained, in fact, that for perfect comprehension of a conversation or a written text, the classical, semantic, definition of the word is inadequate. In order to be perfectly defined, indeed, a word should be presented in all its descriptive dimensions, with all its lexicultural weight, and so therefore not only with its lexical components but also with the cultural components appropriate to the country that has coloured its usage.

Robert Galisson has developed a number of concepts in didactics, but the founding concept that it is essential to preserve for lexicography is the one he first designated in 1987, in Études de linguistique appliquée, under the name of “lexiculture”, and then rebaptized in 1996, in the same journal, as “lexicultural pragmatics”. In fact, all the researchers have retained the first term, lexiculture, which I will try to present here in all its richness.


2.2. Beyond the semantic definition: the lexicultural definition

As a first approach, and to put it simply, if we are dealing with lexiculture it is important as regards the information given about a word, not to limit oneself to the meaning conveyed by the traditional type of definition. The sense given in the traditional definition corresponds only to a single aspect of the word, that which relates to its standard usage and its syntactic functions – to what Robert Galisson has called “culture savante” (learned culture).

In other words, one does not have a full knowledge of the word in all its vividness and cultural diffusion, if one contents oneself with the single meaning that the lexicographer has tried to capture within the dictionary definition, whatever formal shape it may take – classical definition, distributional definition, or whatever. Actually, one has not really grasped the popular flavour of a word, that is to say the echoes it evokes and conveys within the linguistic community, if one limits oneself simply to a narrow semantic analysis of its content. Of course, a semantic analysis will provide, for example, a precise list of all the “semes” (the smallest units of meaning) which define that content. But it will lack something at least as important, which is everything that speakers of the same language attach implicitly to this word, within the framework of the “common culture”, even though this does not form part of the semantic definition of the word in the strict sense. It is this implicit knowledge, shared by all adult speakers of a linguistic community, that Galisson calls lexiculture. Lexiculture actually represents for a given word everything contained in its “added value”, an added value that everybody is familiar with and which, however, is almost always absent from dictionaries that are assumed to reflect the complete significance of the word.

Some examples are called for. When words such as accordéon, muguet (lily of the valley) and écureuil (squirrel) are used in France, the image that one has of the word and of its functioning in the language conveys much more than its definition. For example, accordéon as it is presented in dictionaries is generally reduced to a quick definition, such as: “a musical instrument with a bellows and metallic reeds” (Le Petit Robert) or, in a fuller definition, “a portable musical instrument, with keys and buttons, whose metal reeds are set in vibration by a bellows” (Le Petit Larousse 2004). These definitions are certainly precise, especially the second one, but they nevertheless remain disembodied with regard to the connotations that every French speaker has in mind when the instrument is mentioned. In fact, another type of definition exists, one that we shall call lexicultural, implicit and pragmatic, and which is stored in the mind of each French speaker. This kind of definition, which is relevant to the living history of the country and to people’s experience of the accordion, comes as a supplement to that provided in dictionaries, limited by tradition to denotative meaning, which is supposedly objective. Yet no less objective are the implicit references of the word. The connotations are certainly there, where the accordion is concerned, in a more or less identical form, for every French speaker.

What in fact are the lexicultural features of accordéon? First of all, the word brings immediately to mind a popular instrument, the “poor man’s piano”, which is never or seldom taught in a conservatory. Every French person knows that traditionally it is not children from well-to-do families who learn to play the accordion. Then, it is an instrument whose sound is perceived as joyful, making one think immediately of the atmosphere of the “guinguettes” (small restaurants with music and dancing), and of what are known as “bals musettes” (popular dancehalls), those Saturday night dancehalls where to an accordion accompaniment one can dance tangos and walzes, but not as a rule rock’n’roll. It is associated especially with dancing on July 14 (the French national day). Then, thirdly, as soon as accordéon mentioned, a name immediately appears on all French lips: that of Yvette Horner. She is, in fact, the incarnation of the warm-hearted woman of the working classes who has become the queen of this instrument, with numerous well-known refrains and a simple and popular type of humour that make of her a symbolic figure. To such an extent that, in a certain sense, Yvette Horner forms part of the “natural” definition of accordéon, the “natural” definition being the one elicited from informants – who were not lexicographers – asked to provide the essential features of the word, linguistic as well as encyclopedic. Finally, within the framework of this same piece of research on the connotations of accordéon for a broad range of French speakers, another name was associated with the word for 75% of the persons consulted: that of President Giscard d’Estaing. Why such an association of ideas? It is actually enough to recall that during his first presidential election campaign, Giscard d’Estaing played the accordion in a village, an event which earned him countless amused comments in the press and many cartoons. His aristocratic style contrasted effectively with the “poor man’s piano”.

To sum up, one can provide a lexicultural definition of accordéon by recalling the essential lexicultural features of the word, defining in this way what Galisson called its “shared cultural content”. Thus, the accordion is for all French people synonymous with a popular instrument, and dancing to accordion music. It is also associated with the image of Yvette Horner, and for 75% of the informants with Giscard d’Estaing. Yet, when examined more closely, these essential features of the lexicultural definition of the word accordéon are almost always absent from our dictionaries. The definition of the word therefore lacks all that gives it its deepest resonance.

From time to time, though rarely, one of these lexicultural features is, of course, recaptured in the example that follows the definition. But this is very far from being indicated systematically and Yvette Horner or Giscard d’Estaing are of course never cited, although their names are immediately associated with the accordion in the minds of French people. It goes without saying that limiting an entry to a semantic definition of the word is incomplete. Not to indicate in fact the lexicultural aspects can leave a terrible gap, especially for the non-native speaker, who needs to decipher the allusions, the implicit references of a word encountered in conversation, in a newspaper, in a novel, etc.

Not all the words used in a linguistic community for which the lexicographer is the legitimate analyst necessarily carry a common cultural load; and yet, when we look at them more closely, adding a lexicultural definition is essential for many. To give just a few more examples, a word such as muguet (lily of the valley) is in France bound to be associated with May 1, Labour Day for which this flower actually represents the symbol. It is sold on this day and no other: to buy a lily of the valley on May 15 or April 15 makes no sense for a French person. In any case, it would not be on sale at the florist’s… Also, to define the lily of the valley as “liliacus with small white flowers giving off a sweet and pleasant smell” is indeed very interesting – here we are in the world of “learned culture” – but not to add in an example or in an encyclopedic expansion that we are concerned with a symbolic flower sold on May 1 in the streets, in all the shops, in the metro, etc, is to overlook the heart of the matter. The lexicultural component must be mentioned here to avoid presenting the reader of the dictionary with a definition of the word that is very far from complete.

In the same way and to give a final example, the word écureuil (squirrel) is defined in France as in other countries as an “arboreal (= tree-dwelling) rodent with fur … and a bushy tail, feeding mostly on seeds and fruit”. But, it is quite right that most French lexicographers specify, in the manner of the Petit Larousse illustré, that its fur is “generally reddish (in France)”, 95% of the French population ignoring in fact that a squirrel can have grey fur. But then come elements that are not found in our dictionaries but that also form part of the lexicultural component of the word for a French person. First, without being unduly anthropomorphic, it is important to say that the squirrel is the object of much affection among French people. We are always happy to catch sight of one in the garden; it is a symbol of liveliness and grace. However, for my friends in Québec, and in more and more countries, the image is reversed: it appears dangerous, and comparable almost to the rat, which causes so much damage in people’s attics. This lexicultural feature should thus be specified. Finally, and above all, for the French, the squirrel represents the symbol of savings because it has been chosen as the extremely popular emblem of the Savings Bank. There is hardly a young French person who has not received the gift of a savings account booklet bearing this image.

So, a politician taking part in an election campaign who was to declare today: “I am not the type to play the accordion; I would rather offer you a sprig of lily of the valley and talk to you about real work, and awaken in you the dormant squirrel and its piggy bank”, will be understood by all Frenchmen. However, no dictionary would enable a foreigner to understand that message. And if in the twenty-second century the Savings Bank no longer exists, May 1 is no longer celebrated, and Giscard d’Estaing’s accordion is forgotten, there will no longer be anyone able to translate this message, and no dictionary will be able to help.


2.3. Some lexicographic and dictionaric perspectives

2.3.1. The lexicultural anchorage points

Essentially, in the fields that interest us – lexicographie (theoretical lexicography) and dictionnairique (practical dictionary-making) – it is words listed as dictionary entries that are our primary concern in lexiculture. If we are aiming not to obscure the lexicultural dimension in dictionaries, it is in fact those words that are to be treated first. Other lexical elements, often positioned in the body of entries, are nevertheless to be taken account of, as they too show themselves to be privileged bearers of the “shared cultural content”, the lexiculture.

Over and above the words which comprise the entry-list, one will note first of all those longer expressions that have been delexicalized, unfrozen and reshaped, called by Robert Galisson “verbocultural palimpsests”. They include, for example, the titles of films and novels, and famous pieces of poetry, which everyone in a given linguistic community knows and which, by changing a word, can be re-utilized to create an amusing or eloquent effect. Such is the case with “My kingdom for a horse!”, the famous exclamation of Richard III, that could be ironically transformed into “My kingdom for a good book!” Now here, few dictionaries give guidance: the expressions that serve as moulds are not really listed. In the domain of lexicography, there is a lack of research based on large corpora that would enable us to determine the frequencies of use – to identify for instance what are, over a decade, the lexicalized expressions that are most often taken up and reshaped to create a new effect.

“Verbocultural palimpsests” clearly belong to lexiculture and one can appreciate how difficult it is for the lexicographer cum dictionary-maker to find precise criteria for recording them. A paralyzing concern with clearly defined objectivity and with the permanence of what is recorded leads one to be very cautious in this area, which is nevertheless perfectly linguistic. The French in fact are constantly resorting to these devices: everybody is aware that a famous song or the title of a film that has been very successful in France can be memorized by an entire linguistic community in the space of a few decades and, by being “unfrozen”, serve as a model for other formulas. A French singer, Alain Souchon, has for example launched the expression “Allô, Maman, bobo” (Hey, Mum, it hurts), “bobo” being baby-talk for “it hurts”. Such a well-known expression has often served as a matrix for numerous captions in newspapers, articles, and so on. “Allô, Maman, canicule…” (Hey, Mum, it’s a real scorcher…) can appear in the press whenever the weather is scorching hot. In the same way, “The fabulous destiny of Amélie Poulain”, the title of a highly successful film, serves as a mould for numerous other expressions. Readers will have noticed that since September 2002 there have been dozens of titles promoting this or that character, or this or that product, after the pattern of “the fabulous destiny ofx, y or z”.

The phenomenon is not new, all linguists have noted its development, and in nearly all languages this process of linguistic creativity is actually very active. One must admit that there is really no dictionary reflecting all this. However, for some of these expressions, it would be good if they were to appear in a “lexical” dictionary, since their lexicultural nature is shared by an entire linguistic community. Thus, the French expression “Métro, boulot, dodo” (Metro, work, sleep), illustrating one of the tiring and restrictive aspects of Parisian life for people who daily travel to work there, has undeniably served as a mould for over twenty years for numerous other expressions, e.g. “Métro, boulot, promo” as a headline in Le Point of 8 August 2003, p.15. Although it is generally not listed in dictionaries, the expression “Métro, boulot, dodo”, because of its frequency of repetition, surely deserves to appear there, as it has, so to speak, entered the language.

Also eminently lexicultural are proverbs, which, in different languages, do not always have equivalents, or convey different images. It is known for example that the English expression “if pigs had wings (they might fly)” corresponds in French to another amusing image “when hens have teeth”, and that here there are a number of images clearly susceptible to various reshapings: “when chickens have teeth”, “when hens have no cockerel”, etc. But it should be acknowledged here that, as a rule, dictionaries devote a good deal of space to proverbs. We notice for instance that, in the Petit Larousse illustré, they enjoy a special place in the pink pages that separate the part devoted to the language from that devoted to proper names. Very sensibly, too, since the beginning of the 21st century, Larousse have also added in the same place Historical phrases such as “Rally around my white plumes”, or “Paris is well worth a mass”, uttered by Henry IV, or again “After us the flood” attributed to Louis XV, all historical phrases well known as means of saying, respectively, “follow me, in honour”, “one should know how to make concessions”, or also “let’s think about ourselves first”. This is taking effectively into account a part of the lexiculture.

Another domain is represented by the brand names that are increasingly in evidence in all the languages of countries where consumption is high. A certain number of brand names can become common nouns that dictionaries cannot avoid treating, such as, in French, for example, “frigidaire” for a refrigerator, “mobylette” for a moped, “bottin” for a telephone directory, etc. Now, a good number of brands become associated with slogans that everyone knows, and they in a certain way pass into the language, being picked up with a wink by speakers who are used to hearing them. “Because I’m worth it”, associated with a pretty actress and a brand of hair lotion is recognized by every French person, as is the expression, “It moves…”, indicating that something is very strong by reference to a brand of mustard for which it is the slogan. The addition of the word “grandmother” to “make good coffee”, because of a pleasant advertisement that links the product to the reassuring grandma image, is also currently familiar in France. Now, these are facts about the language, with a life-span exceeding a decade in some cases, which no dictionary takes note of – except for the one compiled by Robert Galisson, which is unfortunately difficult to obtain, the Dictionnaire des noms de marque (Dictionary of brand names), published by the CNRS (the National Centre for Scientific Research). It goes without saying that we need to consider seriously whether certain of these items should be included in the general-purpose dictionary.

Indeed, everything that at the level of discourse arises from the common culture, and is integrated into it by the entire linguistic community – which does not hesitate to use it, whether by adapting it or employing it as is – deserves, in one way or another, to be included in the dictionary.


2.3.2. Dictionaries with a lexicultural dimension?

Reflexes for the lexicographer to develop: investigation and the oral corpus

Here one enters the experimental domain, and it may well be the case that the first step should be to transform in part the attitudes and practices of the lexicographer. Actually, the lexicographer can be characterized in general by the linguistic and philological competence he or she has acquired in training and by the working experience accumulated year by year. He or she puts this knowledge and this experience at the service of the community in order to compile entries based upon a close observation of the language. To do this, he or she has recourse to a corpus which, most often, is written and consists of texts drawn from works of literature, from the general and specialized press, and most recently, from the Internet. This corpus serves above all to provide the lexical documentation which enables one to pin-point good examples and, at the same time, possible new meanings and neologisms.

But if as lexicographers we wish to introduce a lexicultural dimension into our entries, we need to “listen” more than we do today to the radio, “watch and listen to” the television, by all means follow cultural developments, the high culture, but also and especially popular, everyday culture. Thus, songs, films and advertisements should form an integral part of the corpora. To take just one domain that is eminently lexicultural, that of the popular song. In France we need to take account in our dictionaries of phrases that have become well-established in the collective memory for many decades: “Auprès de mon arbre (Near my tree), “Une jolie fleur dans une peau de vache” (A pretty flower in the hide of a cow) for Brassens, “C’est un jardin extraordinaire” (It’s an extraordinary garden) for Trenet, “Les portes du pénitencier” (The prison gates), “Qu’est-ce qu’elle a, ma gueule?” (What’s wrong with my face?), “Allumez le feu” (Light the fire) for Hallyday, “Laisse béton (tomber)” (Drop it), “Mon beauf (beau-frère)” (My brother-in-law), “C’est la mer qui fait l’homme” (It’s the sea that makes the man) for Renaud, etc.

It is important then to note down as one goes along, with a watchful eye, everything that happens by way of lexiculture establishing itself in the minds of a linguistic community. The impact of current affairs, of cultural life, of advertising, should then be assessed in terms of the deep impression it makes on each person; statistical investigations will be needed to evaluate this impact. And, just as neologisms of form and meaning are always difficult to record with certainty as to their lifespan in the language, so lexicultural features, once they are identified, should be followed attentively for as long as they survive. Some will disappear quite quickly, but others will gain cultural permanence: the lexicographer needs to be an attentive and eclectic observer.

The truth is that practically no lexicultural features are introduced today into our dictionaries; they are present only in a random, patchy and subjective manner. Precise investigations, with constant reference to the oral corpus and daily attentiveness to the common culture, such are the new attitudes that should be added to those of the observer of the language in action. Let us admit it: here is a new task that demands much effort and that, if it is to take concrete form in dictionaries, requires also new methods.


The dictionary example: usage but also lexiculture

Whether we are concerned with citations or invented examples, it is obvious that dictionary examples are most often chosen or made up to throw light on the usage of the word that they contextualize. Syntactic function generally prevails over the encyclopedic nature of the information. However, when the example has an encyclopedic dimension, the reference is almost always to “learned” culture. For the tiger, one will always be informed about “the growling tiger” or “the tigress with her young”, but one will never find “to put a tiger in your tank”, which matches an advertising slogan which was so successful that it became established in people’s minds without them even remembering precisely what brand of engine oil it was designed to promote.

It can indeed appear difficult to integrate advertising material into a dictionary. Legal problems of course arise. It is nonetheless true that if all French people have this connotation in mind, it should appear in one form or another, and examples represent without doubt one possible means of entry to the dictionary for lexiculture. Examples drawn from the news media, from reviews, or from advertising are therefore not to be ruled out.

For the entry devoted to cicada, to give as an example – as is the case in the Petit Robert (1st edition, 1967) and the Grand Robert (1st edition, 1964) – “The cicada sucks the sap of plants: the male emits a piercing sound”, is certainly interesting on the encyclopedic level, but it would be appropriate to add another, lexicultural, example, which relates the cicada to the ant, in reference to the fable known by all French people, where the cicada is made to appear carefree and lacking in forethought whereas the ant is inclined to be thrifty. Everyone has in fact memorized the lines of La Fontaine: “The cicada, having sung all summer, found itself at a loss, when the north wind began to blow”. Not to include it, is to treat lexiculture with disdain and not properly meet the needs of the non-native speaker. Paul Robert certainly wanted to carry the work of Littré further, yet distinguish himself from it with citations drawn from the 19th and the 20th centuries, but sometimes, the lexiculture dates back to the 17th century!


Lexicultural development: the insert, the hypertext, etc.

It is not always possible to add a lexicultural example. For the word “apostrophe”, one will find for example “the apostrophe of Ciceron to Catilina” that skilfully combines the use of the word with a scholarly reference, yet missing from the entry is a reference to a television programme that all French people know – “Apostrophe”. This weekly programme, which in fact hosted the writers of the most recently published books and symbolized discussion of books, left an impression in everyone’s memory. It forms part of everyday French culture. In reality, in order to enlighten a foreign reader or a reader of the 22nd century, a lexicultural type of comment should be added to the definition of the word “apostrophe”, to point out that a weekly televised discussion programme was so named, with more than a thousand broadcasts spread over twenty years. In this way it is possible to understand a comment made the other day on a café terrace, when, faced by an impassioned discussion launched by three customers about a novel, the waiter said to them: “You are playing Apostrophe!”

A dictionary format that is suitable for promoting lexiculture is in fact already in existence. In the language part of the Petit Larousse illustré, after the different meanings of the word have been listed, we are actually often offered a small encyclopedic expansion of the subject treated, an expansion that clarifies the word and the concept it represents. For example, for the word engrais (fertilizer), an encyclopedic comment follows about the nature of fertilizers, but also about their function. One appreciates how here, at the end of the expansion, is mentioned the “environmental damage” caused by fertilizers, “especially through the pollution of underground streams”. In fact, one is already in the domain of lexiculture, to the extent that the notion of fertilizers, highly favourable in the years 1960-1970, has little by little been devalued by negative connotations regarding pollution. The word fertilizer no longer carries the same “cultural charge” that it did in 1960.

So, then, the route is fully mapped out: if in these encyclopedic expansions more space is allotted to lexiculture, one can benefit from a complete explanation of the word, with all its resonances. Let us suggest then that we add a lexicultural expansion systematically to all the words that need it: accordéon, pétanque (a game of boules associated first with the south of France), dauphin (an untouchable fish, symbol of animal intelligence), renard (cunning, as in the wolf and the fox, etc.), not forgetting words brought to life by advertising, by songs, by radio or television programmes: the cow (“that laughs”, one of our most known cream cheeses for over half a century), the écureuil (and the Savings Bank), bobo (“Hey, mum, it hurts”), the loft (associated from now on with the televised programme devoted to those youngsters who are filmed coninuously and eliminated day by day by viewers), the weather (hardly separable from the televised report corresponding to it: “watch the weather”), etc.

Clearly, it is just as easy to add a lexicultural expansion to a paper dictionary as to one in electronic form, where hypertext can be very welcome. With regard to paper dictionaries, the margins on the right and left can also accommodate this type of lexicultural commentary, as has been done in part, quite effectively, in the Larousse Super Major targeted at pupils between the ages of 9 and 12.

Lexiculture is introduced through examples and at the heart of a specific expansion, and it will certainly be appreciated by native speakers, who like to verify what they have rather confusingly memorized, and by non-native speakers, who need this information to penetrate the kind of complicity that surrounds the use of a word by speakers of the same foreign language.


Lexicographic and dictionary-making sieves, annexes: the antechamber of security

It has been pointed out how, in the latest versions of the Petit Larousse illustré, the pink pages have been made to include “Historical words”, a device which is both extremely useful and also meaningful regarding general, everyday culture and a better understanding of the language, because, in order to express his thoughts, a French dictionary user will resort to this section. With these appendices, known under the name of “pink pages” and devoted first to Latin phrases, then to proverbs, a dictionary like the Petit Larousse benefits from a subtle tool that, in practical dictionary terms, is very efficient. We might add that, in the 2004 edition, the fact that fifteen pages of “New words” have been built in, combined with cartoons, and “an artist’s views”, really opens up the way to lexiculture. Very flexibly, it introduces, for example, a new meaning in French of the word “collègue”, designating a friend, a mate, engaged in the same enterprise, or another new word, “pêchu”, “someone who is in form”, in very good health, according to the familiar French expression, “il a la pêche” (He’s feeling great).

In the same spirit, we need to draw attention also to the blue pages in the Dictionnaire Hachette that, at the end of the book, are devoted to “New words of living French”. To protect themselves from the very brief life-span of a certain number of new words, the lexicographers have listed here all the recent words that, if their usage is confirmed, will be integrated into the dictionary columns of the next edition. This practice, which is nearly ten years old, seems interesting because it allows more flexibility to the lexicographers, who no longer find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to include or exclude. The lexicographers have with this appendix a compromise voice, a sort of sieve, an antechamber of security that makes less onerous their task of being well-informed observers, watchdogs posted at the gate of the dictionary to welcome or turn away the new arrivals.

This flexible practice of appendices outside the dictionary text, and this use of the sieve, of the antechamber, for certain concepts whose durability is not yet assured, seem to us very much to the point. As regards lexiculture, it is necessary in fact to distinguish between what is already very well established (the accordéon and the “popular dancehall”) and what is more recent (the title of this or that novel or film, or indeed a recent expression from a politician, for example, the one coined by Jean-Pierre Rafarin when speaking of “France from above and France from below”), without forgetting the brand names and a certain number of advertising slogans, forming part of the lexiculture of the year, of which certain elements will enter the language and others will disappear. So by giving flexibility to the lexicographer, room for manoeuvre is created.

It should be added that it is in principle up to the lexicographer to take account objectively of everything that has an impact on the language of his contemporaries. Yet, even if he subscribes to the (disputable) tradition of giving priority to the written over the spoken language, lexicultural features operate strongly in everyone’s speech and the silent recognition of a shared language among persons of the same tongue and the same common culture is found constantly in literary texts as in the press. As has already been stated, a certain number of these features remain active for several decades, not to say permanently, others last only a few years. And yet, if the lexicographer must imperatively note down everything that is lasting, why should he not also feel compelled to offer to everyone this lexical memory that would ensure that nothing in the language could be lost?

It is in dictionaries that we should record such expressions as “France from above” and “France from below” if we are to expect that in half a century from now all the numerous articles could be understood that took this expression more than a year ago, and adapted it to form: “the music from above, the music from below”, “the pollution from above, the pollution from below”, and so on.

I feel inclined to conclude this plea for the introduction of lexiculture into dictionaries by using this formula: let us avoid imagining, in fact thinking, that there will be “dictionaries from above”, for learned culture, and “dictionaries from below”, for everyday culture.

Our dictionaries are in fact designed for everyone and there can be no doubt that the immense talent of lexicographers as expressed in dictionaries can find in lexiculture both a linguistic theme and a new inspiration. In any case, we should not be worried: theoretical lexicography and practical dictionary-making belong to a useful, generous and triumphant genre. These pages offer an excellent forum for making that welcome expansion still more widely appreciated.



3. The triple dictionaric investigation: the dictionary as a corpus


As regards theoretical lexicographie and practical dictionarique (dictionary-making), it is Bernard Quemada to whom we must attribute this distinction. Recognizing him as at one and the same time a lexicologist, lexicographer and metalexicographer of the highest reputation in France, French researchers realize how indebted they are to him for the revival of our disciplines and for the extraordinary links that he has always been able to forge between, on one hand, tradition – history – and, on the other hand, modernism – the future. I have the good fortune of having studied under his guidance and of working at his side today.

As regards lexiculture, it is Robert Galisson whom the invention and elaboration of the concept should be attributed to, as well as its dissemination. It is his reputation and a shared passion for teaching vocabulary that first brought us together. I also have also had the great privilege of working at his side within the framework of the journal Études de linguistique appliquée.

As for the triple dictionaric investigation, it is an approach which I implemented during some research I was asked to carry out on the topic of “the norm”, an approach tested on one word and which seemed to me capable of benefiting from being more widely known about and tested on two counts.


3.1. Two beneficiaries: the reader and the lexicographer

It seems in fact that, on the one hand, anyone seeking to exploit a dictionary as richly as possible for a word, for a given concept, may be surprised by the richness of the results obtained by the triple dictionaric investigation, while on the other hand, for a lexicographer, this triple investigation seems capable of bringing about a marked improvement in the coherence of our dictionaries.

In fact, the initial research I was asked to do into the concept and definition of the word norme (= norm, standard) has proved in itself to be very rich in thought, because the norm represents, on one hand, what is unconsciously fitted in by everyone and, on the other hand, what is consciously circulated in the specific works that collect and diffuse it, notably dictionaries. The dictionary represents in fact both the place of memory, and thus the description of a language at a given moment, and the place of arbitration where readers come to be reassured as to the precise meaning of a word – that is the norm.

How do dictionaries define the “norm”, a concept that, when all is said and done, runs through the whole dictionary as soon as we are concerned with defining a word? And how is the word norme used in the dictionary, beyond the actual entry that is devoted to the word? It was while I was researching exhaustively all information about the word norme provided by a corpus of dictionaries, that the idea emerged of the triple dictionaric investigation. What this really means is X-raying our dictionaries in such manner that they provide more information than the lexicographer believes he has obtained from them.

First of all, the prime objective of the triple dictionaric investigation is to implement a method that allows us to bring to light from dictionaries information about the looked-up word that goes farther than simply the entry devoted to the word whose meanings and usages one is searching for. In this way the researcher who wishes to determine as exhaustively as possible a word or a notion, can make the most of the dictionary.

Then, the second perspective that is held out is perhaps that of offering a means of verifying the quality of the entry with regard to a consistency to be established in the dictionary, and thus possibly of improving the quality of the said entry and of all those related to it. No doubt lexicographers will be surprised to discover, besides, through the triple investigation the unconscious riches that they bring to the process and which merit full exploitation.

Whereas the first two approaches, lexicographie and dictionarique on the one hand, lexiculture on the other, seem able to benefit from immediate applications, the third approach, the triple dictionaric investigation, depends rather more on experimentation being set up.


3.2. The first dictionaric investigation

The first approach inherent in this triple dictionaric investigation can appear childish as it is part of current practice among lexicographers, yet it is necessary to describe it for dictionary users and thus show how much the consultation of a single dictionary is restrictive. The first dictionaric investigation therefore naturally consists of reading and analyzing in several dictionaries the entries corresponding to the word whose different senses are being looked up. To be fully effective, this reading should bring together two dictionaries of a similar size.

Simple comparison in this respect of two reputable reference dictionaries for readers of the French language, in this case, the Petit Larousse and the Petit Robert, helps us to understand that, for example, the entry norme represents already at this stage the obvious result of an interpretation of language and speech. An explicit interpretation of the word, differing from one dictionary to the other, is displayed through the structure of the entry, with its different senses and sub-senses, with its defining developments and exemplification. Here emerges in fact a first interpretation, all in all the visible side of the dictionary.

Thus a comparative analysis of the word norme in the Petit Robert and Petit Larousse, in the 1994 editions that we selected, turns out to be particularly enlightening. Not being the object of a homonymic grouping in either dictionary, the entry “norm” looks like a very interesting case of “polysemy”, if one takes into account the high number of its meanings, six in the Petit Robert, four in the Petit Larousse. On closer inspection, the light thrown on the word and its interpretation, which we refuse to perceive as an entity cut up into four or six senses, is quite different from one dictionary to the other.

In the Petit Robert, a point is made of a meaning that is peculiar to linguistics (“Ling.”). This is described in fourth position and represents “that which, in speech, in discourse, corresponds to general usage (opposed in the one case to system, in the other to discourse)”. Apart from the fact that neither in the entry for system, nor in the entry for discourse, do we find the notion of norm, the brackets thus remaining mysterious for the non-linguist (and even for the linguist), the editorial team thus thought fit to determine a specific sense in the domain of linguistics, which is not the case in the Petit Larousse. In the latter, it is for the sense given at the head of the entry, the general meaning, to include the one pertaining to linguistics: “Usual condition, conforming to the established rule”, a definition that is quite close to that given in second place by the Petit Robert: “Usual condition, conforming to the majority of cases”. In the Petit Robert in fact comes first the sense marked (“Liter.”): “Concrete type or abstract expression of what should be”, which does not appear, actually, as an archisememe.

As for the Petit Larousse, it begins by giving three meanings pertaining to the general language, the first sense already mentioned and, in second place, that corresponding to “criterion, principle to which are referred all judgements of a moral or aesthetic nature”. The third sense, although preceded by the sign “Techn.” remains in fact multifunctional and is presented in general terms: “Rule setting the conditions for the fulfilment of a process, of the execution of an object or the development of a product in order to unify its use or assure its interchangeability”. The examples (“ISO norm”, “norm of productivity”) are present in order to locate this sense in the technical world. The last to appear, with a non-restrictive development, is “norm” in the algebraic sense of the term, the “norm in a vector space”. Contrary to the dichotomy – very French and in part arbitrary – that we recognize between a language dictionary and an encyclopedic dictionary, the definitions given by the Petit Larousse are in reality very close to those that could be given by a language dictionary, such as the Dictionnaire de l’Académie.

As for the Petit Robert, in fact, a single sense, the second, is devoid of any label. The polysemy is deliberately treated as an integral part of the special-purpose vocabulary with its identifying labels: literary (“Liter.”), technological (“Technol.”), linguistic (“Ling.”), legal (“Leg.”), mathematical (“Math.”). The general look corresponding to that of the Petit Larousse gives way here to a look that subdivides the domains of usage, in an almost distributionalist manner with, in addition, examples of usage peculiar to a dictionary that situates description mainly on the level of the language as system, although the fourth and fifth senses are desperately short of examples.

One can go father in the comparison and note from the different organization of its senses that the Petit Larousse is positioned more on the side of the general language, with definitions that allow us to understand better the specialized senses, which are placed second, whereas the Petit Robert does not give a general definition from the outset and takes account of the variable definitions from one special-purpose language to another, in an order that is unclear to the reader. Here, then, there are two ways to pinpoint the norm regarding precisely the word “norm”.

This first investigation has definitely enabled us to ascertain that the polysemous treatment provided by the two dictionaries can, for example, swing between two perspectives, the one installing the description of the word first in the general language and the other mixing special language and general language in an order whose hierarchy does not seem important. This first type of investigation, based on the comparison of dictionaries, naturally gains by being extended to the largest number of dictionaries possible: beyond the different perspectives revealed by reading each one, we can equally bring out, of course, the common features, in a sense, common denominators. Likewise the information can also be combined.


3.3. The second dictionaric investigation

A second approach takes the form of locating all the entries in the dictionary that contain the word norme. These entries thus make it necessary for the lexicographer to use the word whose definition one has just looked up in the relevant entry. Are any of us very clear here? Admittedly, this tracking is by no means easy unless we benefit from access to an electronic version, which is the case with the Petit Larousse and the Petit Robert.

One can then launch an investigation of the entire dictionary as a corpus, noting down all the occurrences of the word, in this case the word norme, and thus identifying all the entries involved in its use for the theoretical or practical lexicographer. Over and above words of the same family, we find appearing in this way a network of entries that have in common the use of the word in the development of their meanings or in their exemplification.

One finds oneself, then, in a context which provides an implicit interpretation of one norm though it is actually called on to clarify another. One thus discovers a second network that forms part of the indirectly visible face of the looked-up word – a face which is however well represented in the body of the dictionary. The computerization of the dictionary that makes possible this complete and rapid radiography opens the door to numerous entries that would have never been consulted, with the exception of a very small number that are the subject of an analogic cross-reference in the definition of the word. A comparison of the Petit Larousse and the Petit Robert is equally revealing of a different hidden side. In this way, the characteristics of this or that work can be thrown into relief, quite apart from the illumination provided by the accumulation of two updated networks.

This is how one can bring to light a certain dictionary tomodensitometry (we prefer this form to the better known “scanning”) of a word. In X-raying the whole of the Petit Larousse and Petit Robert in order to shed light on entries that make use for example of the word norme, we cause an image to appear that allows us also to assess indirectly what the word represents and ipso facto the norm in general, once it is no longer under direct scrutiny within the entry that corresponds to it. Thus one finds in the Petit Robert 77 occurrences of the word norme(s) divided almost equally between the singular (40) and the plural (37), against 31 in the Petit Larousse.

By tracking the use of the word norme(s) in the discourse of the Petit Robert or the Petit Larousse, we are naturally also throwing much more light on the notion of norm as it exists confusedly in the minds of the linguistic community, such are the differences of approach between one dictionary and another. To throw into relief our interest in this second type of investigation, let us give here in broad outline the results obtained for each of the two dictionaries.

In the Petit Robert, one notes for example six major themes with, on the one hand, four themes associated with a particular specialist domain (linguistics and writing; mathematics, science and economics; law and politics; special professional fields); and on the other hand, two themes that correspond to values that will be qualified as divisible by non-specialists. These last two themes are defined, first of all, by an opposition between a norm to which one assimilates and one to which one is opposed and, then, by philosophy and sociology.

What then is the network of entries that accommodates in the Petit Robert “norme” in the singular and in the plural? Roughly, in specialized domains, the singular is dominant: it is suitable for “linguistics” with accent, difference, language, and for “mathematics” with the entries devoted to space, intensity, module, etc. When, however, notions of measure or of the economy are involved, all the uses are plural: the antisysmic, parasysmic, dimensional norms of an object; the “norms of dimension” in the entry cut; the “norms of the group standard” in the entry standard, etc. But in the sector pertaining to the human sciences, between philosophy, sociology and value, the word norme is found only in the plural with the entries depersonalize, model, chance, logic, voluntarism, but also value and taste. Is it by chance that, once we are concerned with a reflection on values in the domain of the human sciences, “the” norm fades to the benefit of, in a certain way, its negative, that is the plural. The “norms” actually kill the “norm”… Without becoming involved in risky interpretation, it is still possible to note here a convergence that is, without exception, quite disturbing. The norm has in fact something of the instinctive: it crumbles away and is reduced when installed in the domain of thought. The dictionary thus hides without realizing it a distinction that the language instils and which a complete radiography scan reveals to us.

What are the entries affected by the idea of norme in the Petit Larousse? In the body of the Petit Larousse, the distinction between singular and plural is no longer insisted on: the use of the word norme is in fact always singular, which is somewhat in keeping with an entry which, for the word norme, does not offer homonymic grouping for a sense that is not clear cut as regards the use of the word in the singular or plural. If one puts aside utilitarianism, that could be linked to a praxis choice of the norm, one can distinguish in fact between two big thematic networks, each very consistent. One is defined by the specialist vocabularies, with the entries VHS, DHR, standard (ISO), orthonormal, yield, unit, while the other is characterized by the same contrast between notions of assimilation to the norm, and on the other hand those of difference from, or opposition to it. Thus, the assimilation side involves the entries conform, adjust, standard, standardize, purism, good, juice, or more precisely one of its extensions, “pure juice”, to which adds the whole series of normal, normalize, normality, normativity, norm. As for the difference or opposition side, it is distinguished by the use of the word norm in the entries slide, deviance, deviant, gap, error, excessive, anomalous, anomaly, abnormal.

Such a scan is enlightening as regards the comparison that may be made with that of the Petit Robert: the entries that call into play the word norme are in fact very different.

Which are the ones that are common to the Petit Larousse and Petit Robert, apart from words of the same family? One can only retain with certainty deviant, deviance and gap, on the one hand, and conform (conformism in the Petit Robert), on the other. That is really very few, and it is all the more interesting for broadening one’s view of the dictionaric field of the norm. On the one hand, the common concepts appear to be reinforced in their importance, on the other hand, the different entries take on, all the more strongly, distinct tones, which no doubt contribute to the specific tonality of each dictionary. One will note, among other details in the Petit Larousse, the presence of acronyms and, in so doing, the desire to offer some space to the new technologies.

One comment is called for: the second dictionaric investigation gives an image of the word that, especially in the case of the Petit Robert, seems to have escaped the notice of lexicographers, at the moment of editing an entry dedicated to a chosen word. Somehow, the lexicographer has associated, without realizing it, a group of entries with the word “norm”, thus establishing a network around the word – a network forgotten at the moment of compiling the entry devoted to the word.


3.4. The third dictionaric investigation: a dictionaric concordancial radiography

The third approach is one which corresponds to the analysis of the different uses of the word norme throughout the dictionary: it is concerned with establishing a concordance of the occurrences of the word in a corpus consisting of all the entries in the dictionary where the looked-up word is to be be found. Thus appears the dictionaric uses of the word, as distinct from the entry that is devoted to it, revealing through the “cotexts” of this word (“cotext” meaning the syntagmatic or phrasal environment of the word and “context” the conceptual environment). The cotext indicates what precedes and what follows the word, the palette of usages, of uses, needed for a better definition of its semantic and syntactic nature. The agents of the norm that dictionaries act as thus deliver without knowing it a semantic and syntactic illustration of the word which nicely rounds off the entry devoted to the word.

Then too, a comparaison between two dictionaries, in this case the Petit Robert and the Petit Larousse, is particularly illuminating: the concordances are not in fact identical, revealing as they do both convergences and differentiated choices. If we continue here our comparaison between the two dictionaries, it is in order to show clearly that the third type of dictionaric investigation is just as revealing of perceptible differences between one dictionary and another. The accumulation of the two sets of information is bound to offer through its complementarity an enriched image of the concept that one seeks to determine.

We will not present in full here the exhaustive analyses we have made of the dictionaric concordances of the word norme(s) in the Petit Larousse and the Petit Robert. Let us state simply that having established the full account of all the uses of the word throughout each dictionary, three distinct fields are clearly distinguished in the phrases in which the word is found – and we are thinking mainly of example sentences. First, we have what precedes the word, second, what follows the word, and finally, what is presented in a semantic relationship of synonymy, analogy or antonymy.

As regards what precedes the word norme, the concordance established for the Petit Robert is specific. Either, in fact, one moves away from the norm (“deviate from the norm”, “stray from the norm”), or one moves closer to it (“conform to the norm”, “satisfy the norm”), or else one defines it (“specify the norms”, “constitute a norm”) or finally applies it (“implement a norm”). One point must be recognized: beyond the noting down of the concordance field of the word norm, with all that it will contribute to the framing of a complete definition, the norm is defined nearly as much by what is opposed to it than by what is comparable to it. It is in any case, throughout the language itself, an evident area of debate.

Examining the material/data which follows the word norme(s), three sub-groups stand out. In the first sub-group, the norm is qualified by the field of specific application (the “norm of production” in the entry standard, the “judicial norms” in the entry legislation). In the second sub-group are gathered, by contrast, fields that concern society in general, and culture in general (the “norm of aesthetics, intellectual activity, morals, society”, the “norm of culture” in the entry deculturation). Then, a final sub-group is characterized by the taking up of a position, making a judgement of value, in relation to norms (“norms of good sense” in the entry honest, “norms of truth” in the entry logic, “norms of delicacy” in the entry taste).

Finally, apart from those elements that occur on either side of it, and help to define the word syntagmatically in the body of the dictionary, we need to take account of the relations of synonymy, analogy and antonymy which the word norme, for instance, contracts throughout the different entries in which it is found. It is very interesting in this way to discover synonyms included in various entries which are not usually found in the entry for norme itself. Such is the case with the synonym majority (entry conform), habit (entry skid), real, ideal, ethical, law, precept, prescription, principle, standard, etc. There we find so many interesting pieces of information about the word that are absent from the entry that defines it. As for antonyms, one notes the entry deformity indicating the word norme as its antonym.

With regard to the Petit Larousse, and to the context that precedes the word, it is possible to discern from the outset a first type of use characterized by the notion of distance (“departing from the norm”, “a breach of the norm”, “contrary to or different from the norm”), which corresponds to 38% of the contextual total situated to the left of the keyword in the concordance. A second type of occurrence corresponds clearly to the symmetrical attitude that consists of comparing something to the norm, with expressions like “according to the norm” (entry abusive), “meet the demands of a norm” (entry conform), which represent 41% of the total. A third type of occurrence is defined in relation to the norm in action, where one “establishes a norm” (normative) or else the language is “set up as a norm” (purism), or again where it concerns “production assessed in relation to a norm” (yield) or “a philosophical doctrine that makes of usefulness the principle and the norm” (utilitarianism), just as one can “bring something back to a norm” (standardize). This last group corresponds to about 21% of the total of contexts situated to the left of the word.

Upwards of the word norme, i.e. to its left one will discern first of all the norm determined by a technological domain, with for example the “norm of encoding a sign of telecommunication” (standard), the “norm for video material” (VHS), the “norm of production” (standard), the “broadcasting norm” (DAB), the “norm 180” (ISO), etc. Then one observes in a second sub-group, the norm that is “ideal and intangible” (purism), the norm “of every individual or social action” (utilitarianism). Finally, there remains the “given” norm (deviant).

If the “left” and “right” uses of the word are less numerous in the Petit Larousse, one has to agree that, by contrast, where the relations of synonomy, analogy and antonomy are concerned, the editors of the Petit Larousse assign to contextual synonomy and analogy a relatively more important place than do the authors of the Petit Robert. The most frequent association remains the association of “norm” and “rule”, which is repeated six times (in the entries: conform, deviant, error, anomalous, abnormal, norm), of which one is in the plural (in the entry error). It is then “model” that is cited twice (anomaly, standardize); with “standard” (standardize), “type” (standard), “fixed framework” (derivative), “unit of measure” (yield) benefiting from one occurrence. The norm is also compared with “ethics” (good). Finally, the norm benefits from only two qualifiers: “authentic” and “orthodox” (juice: sub-entry pure juice).

One notes here that, without realizing it, the lexicographers of the Petit Robert treat the word “norm” differently according to its use in the singular or the plural, and that the authors of the Petit Larousse offer, beyond a similar synonymic link to “rule”, to “model”, to “standard”, new openings such as “fixed framework”, “type”, “unit of measure”, and also “ethics”.

The third investigation indeed reveals the linguistic richness of the dictionaries, a richness that is unsuspected when consulting the entry devoted to the word one is looking up. A comparable consultation of two dictionaries shows in addition at which point the uses of a word are both numerous and enlightening, with coherences that, paradoxically, escape the lexicographer at the moment that the given entry is written. Without his knowing it, through the uses he has already made of the word in other entries, a kind of consistency takes shape that may or may not be found in the entry itself. The third type of investigation is actually as useful for the lexicographer as for the person consulting the dictionary.


3.5 The triple investigation: offering the hidden dictionary

At the end of the third type of investigation, the consultation of the dictionary has become very operative: the visible side and the hidden side of the word are in fact then seen to be complementary. The explicit aspect, that is the entry that is open and offered for consultation, is completed by the implicit uses of the word throughout the whole body of the dictionary.

The second type of investigation enables us to observe the creation of a network of entries which lexicographers, with few exceptions are not aware of. Even when the analogical network is indicated in the entry of the word being referred to, one notes that systematic investigation of the various entries where the word is used provides a network, a system, which is much larger and more clarifying. Whereas the second type of investigation is of a semantic and associative order, the third investigation adds to it the pertinent syntactic aspects and the uses of the word in context, while continuing to throw light on the semantic analysis of the word. The looked-up word is indeed all the more interesting to trace in that third way, since it is being used in a situation, outside its own entry, at a stage when it enters the linguistic awareness of the lexicographer as he or she attempts to define this or that other notion. One can easily understand how a word thus forced in this way into different dictionary nooks and crannies, in uses made for it by the lexicographer outside the entry that directly concerns it, can reflect an entire semantic and semasiologic network which it is very useful to bring to light.

There is thus a hidden image of each word in the actual uses of this word outside the entry devoted to it. The dictionary is in reality a bearer of information formerly unexploitable in the paper dictionary, but which today becomes accessible in the dictionary in electronic form. The different researches that can be undertaken still remain however quite tedious for the reader, especially if one intends to preserve a structured trace of it. Also, if one might make a suggestion, in the computer era of the hypertext. Why should there not be, for each entry of a dictionary in electronic form, a monograph, prepared by the lexicographer-dictionary-maker, about “the uses of the word in the dictionary”? No doubt there are tools and developments that will be particularly rewarding for both the reader and the author, who is subject to the constraints of increased consistency. The publisher will object that it is of course easy for the metalexicographer to advocate a policy of “always more”, but is this concept not at the very essence of competition?

The three-fold investigation outlined here acts as a touchstone at the level of the dictionary but the effect is obviously reinforced at the level of the word if one proceeds in a comparative manner between two dictionaries. This operational setting allows one in effect to reveal in them the particular perspectives, the conscious and the unconscious ones.

To go on a journey of discovery of lost analogies, of usages nested at the heart of the entries that are different from the one devoted to the looked-up word, to find the hidden dictionary thanks to the successive radiographies, is in reality to offer an extremely rich image of the words, it’s to rediscover the full message of the privileged interpreters who are the authors of dictionaries. Through a corpus so meticulously produced as is for example a dictionary such as the Petit Larousse or Petit Robert, to thus work out completely the usage of the word beyond the entry that is devoted to it, this is also to make lexicographical work out of a dictionaric object.

Will the triple dictionaric investigation not be a sort of open sesame, a magic formula, aimed at opening the cavern onto the treasures concealed inside a dictionary? One can count on the dictionary authors to offer us the caverns that are ever richer; they will know how to provide all the keys and the treasures. I am immensely grateful to Kernerman Dictionary News for offering us the opportunity to summon up the existence of these keys.






Le Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française. 1964. Paul Robert (ed.). Paris: Société du Nouveau Littré. 5 volumes,

Le Dictionnaire Hachette 2004, Noms communs et Noms propres. 2003. Editor-in-Chief: Jean-Pierre Mevel. Paris: Librairie Hachette.

Dictionnaire des noms de marques courants, Essais de lexiculture ordinaire. 1998. Robert Galisson et Jean-Claude André. Paris: INaLF, CNRS, Didier érudition.

Le Petit Larousse illustré 2004, Mots de la langue, Noms propres, Chronologie, Planches visuelles. 2003. General Director: Philippe Merlet, Editorial Directors: Yves Garnier, Mady Vinciguerra. Paris: Libraire Larousse.

Le Petit Robert, Dictionnaire et alphabétique de la langue française. 1967. Paul Robert (ed.), revision directed by A. Rey and J. Rey-Debove. Paris: Société du Nouveau Littré.


Books and articles

Galisson, R. 1999. ‘La pragmatique lexiculturelle pour accéder autrement, à une autre culture par une autre culture, par un autre lexique’. In Études de linguistique appliquée (ÉLA), Revue de didactologie des langues-cultures. Paris: Didier érudition. N° 116, octobre-décembre 1999, pp. 477-496.

Pruvost, J. 2000. Dictionnaires et nouvelles technologies. Collection ‘Écritures électroniques’. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Pruvost, J. 2002. ‘À la recherche de la norme: sa représentation lexicographique et dictionnairique chez Larousse et Robert et la triple investigation’. In La représentation de la norme dans les pratiques terminologiques et lexicographiques, Langues et sociétés n° 39. Montréal: Office de la langue française, Québec, pp. 139-170.

Pruvost J. and J.-F. Sablayrolles. 2003. Les néologismes. Paris: Collection ‘Que sais-je?’, n° 3674, Presses Universitaires de France.



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