Kernerman Dictionary News • Number 15 • July 2007

Arleta Adamska-Sałaciak

Meaning and the Bilingual Dictionary: The Case of English and Polish



Polish Studies in English Language and Literature 18
Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 2006
231 pp.
ISBN 3-361-55320-X


Meaning and the Bilingual Dictionary is a detailed study of bilingual lexicography carried out by Arleta Adamska-Sałaciak, a practising lexicographer who has been involved in the creation of a number of Polish-English and English-Polish dictionaries. All the issues discussed in the book focus on the lexicographic treatment of meaning. Besides an introduction and a list of references, the reader will find four main chapters.


Chapter One deals with the nature of bilingual dictionaries, their relationship to foreign language learning, and the typology of bilingual dictionaries. Starting from Sčerba’s typology focusing on the active-passive dichotomy, the author tries to see how the latter’s theoretical proposals translate into current lexicographic practice. She discusses the 4 major functions generally assigned to bilingual dictionaries: reception in L2; reception in L2 + production in L1; production in L2; reception in L1 + production in L2.


Chapter Two deals with the presentation of meaning in bilingual dictionaries. Starting from the late John Sinclair’s 2004 motto that meaning is the only thing that is ultimately worth bothering about in language, the author shows how recent advances in corpus linguistics and in cognitive linguistics have impacted the field of bilingual lexicography. She deals with the crucial questions that any lexicographer needs to answer before starting a new dictionary project: should the lexicographer favor lumping or splitting strategies? Should sense divisions be based upon the source language or the target language? The various mechanisms traditionally used to account for sense discrimination are examined in minute details and abundantly illustrated with real examples derived from existing dictionaries. Collocates, labels, typical objects or subjects, variants and synonyms are discussed at length, together with the metalanguage and sense ordering issues. Should etymology be the basic criterion for ordering senses, or should other criteria, such as frequency of use or even part of speech, be used to decide which senses to list first? To each of these questions, Arleta Adamska-Sałaciak provides very clear answers, based upon her experience with Polish-English dictionaries, but also drawing on monolingual and bilingual dictionaries dealing with other languages.


Chapter Three focuses on the relation between the source language item and the target language item. Levels and degrees of equivalence are discussed, as well as the status of glosses, which are useful when a target language item is less well-known in the target-language culture than the corresponding source-language item in the source-language culture. The author very convincingly demonstrates that automatically generating an L2-L1 dictionary on the basis of an L1-L2 dictionary which one reverses without any human editorial work will produce disastrous results. Even if this is something which lexicographers are usually well aware of, the author’s demonstration is worth reading and is illustrated with real examples. The author’s inevitable conclusion is that full symmetry of the two dictionary sides is neither possible nor desirable.


Chapter Four deals with the question whether usage should be illustrated with an example or explained. If it is true that users rely on examples more than on stylistic labels, it may be preferable to resort to illustrative examples. The question then becomes: what is a good example and where does it come from? Should examples be coined by lexicographers, should they be derived from a corpus and, if they are, to what extent can they be manipulated and edited for the benefit of the user? Invented examples tend to sometimes be over-informative and may not illustrate typical usage. Unmodified authentic examples tend to be longer. The author’s conclusion is that, whenever possible, corpora should be used in the preparation of dictionary examples, bearing in mind that an example created by a competent lexicographer who has access to corpus data may work just as well, and sometimes even better, than raw corpus-based examples. The chapter ends with a useful and interesting discussion of potential “geopolitical” issues raised by the inclusion of material that is deemed to be offensive. Inappropriate and potentially objectionable material (derogatory references to race, religion, nationalities, sexual preferences, etc.) should be removed before a dictionary goes to print, since, as is pointed out by the author, dictionaries are perceived as more socially responsible than was the case 30 years ago.


In this book, Arleta Adamska-Sałaciak, who is the head of the Department of Lexicology and Lexicography at the School of English of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, has succeeded in creating a beautifully-written essay on bilingual dictionaries, clearly based upon her experience with several bilingual dictionary projects and full of common-sense recommendations and judicious analyses. I definitely enjoyed reading that refreshing essay.



Thierry Fontenelle

Microsoft Natural Language Group