Topic: dictionary for natural language

topics > communication > Group: natural language

meaning and truth

abstraction as part of language
implicit links
meaning by use
pidgin and creole languages
semantic networks
thesaurus and information retrieval
word processing
words defined by words
words in natural languages


A dictionary captures the meaning of words as they are used in a language. Dictionaries are fairly recent invention. For example, the first modern English dictionary was published in 1721. This supports the notion that dictionaries record information that is already implicit in the language.

A dictionary consists of words, glosses for each meaning of a word, pointers to related words, pronunciation and historical references. Dictionaries and thesauri are the models for Thesa. Hypertext has many similarities.

A dictionary is based on quotations taken from written material. The quotations are sorted by headword and then by meaning. Editors write definitions from the quotations for a particular sense of a word.

The philosophy behind a dictionary is that the meaning of a word is through its uses. A good example is Ziff's work on defining "good".

Words have multiple senses. Zipf's law relates word frequency to the number of senses. Context is used to disambiguate a word sense. (cbb 5/94)

Subtopic: stability vs. change up

Quote: constancy and stability has a lasting advantage over the slow improvements of gradual correction [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: commerce corrupts the language through frequent contact with strangers; eventually becomes a mingled dialect, a jargon [»johnS_1755, OK]

Subtopic: dictionary through use up

Quote: although a lexicographer attempts to embalm a language, words and phrases change their meaning [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: words must be sought where they are used; many quotations merely prove the existence of words [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: such is the exuberance of signification which many words have obtained, that it is scarcely possible to collect all their senses [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: English has adopted words in every generation from every distant region [»johnS_1747, OK]
Quote: words are always changing; words are not fundamental, immutable atoms of our speech [»johnS_1747, OK]

Subtopic: dictionary as normalization up

Quote: Johnson found disorder, confusion, adulterations in English without established principles or authorities [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: I wish that words might be permanent, like the things which they denote
Quote: a dictionary preserves the purity of a language and defines its meanings [»johnS_1747, OK]
Quote: in language, change is an evil unless evident advantage [»johnS_1747, OK]
Quote: maintain purity of language by tracing every word to its original [»johnS_1747, OK]

Subtopic: disambiguation up

Quote: developing a lexicon for disambiguation is expensive; e.g., 8 person-years for 5,000 words [»krovR4_1992]
Quote: equivocation is using the same word in different ways in the same conversation; reflects difficulty of dynamic scoping [»maclBJ_1987]
Quote: people can often disambiguate words with only a few words of context, and frequently, only one word is needed [»krovR4_1992]
Quote: collocation and syntax identified the senses of "danger" in approximately 70% of the examined cases [»krovR4_1992]

Subtopic: word definition up

Quote: nothing can be defined but by words too plain to admit a definition [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: examples of the use of words solve the difficulties and defects of defining words [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: a few examples of Johnson's definitions and quotations [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: description of turning quotation slips into dictionary entries: sort, subdivide into senses, define and arrange chronologically [»murrKM_1977]

Subtopic: dictionary as hypertext up

Quote: a dictionary or encyclopedia is a manual Hypertext; i.e., a graph of textual nodes joined by referential links [»conkJ9_1987]
Quote: Thesa tries to capture the semi-permanent aspect of dictionaries; no word for this kind of information [»cbb_1980, OK]
Quote: a dictionary entry conveys implicit information through the relative sizes and arrangement of its parts [»raymDR7_1988]

Subtopic: Johnson's dictionary up

Quote: initially, Johnson's quotations were to edify as well as illustrate the use of words; had to expunge the bulk of quotations [»johnS_1755, OK]
Quote: to make a word list, read and record the words, record spoken words, or copy from another dictionary [»wincS_1998]
Quote: the value of a work must be estimated by its use; a dictionary must be useful to all
Quote: a dictionary should include all words, even well-known animals and those of particular professions

Subtopic: Oxford English Dictionary up

Quote: the goal of the Oxford English Dictionary is to trace the life history of every word over the last 700 years [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: the OED entry for 'set' takes almost half a megabyte; some entries have hundreds of quotations [»raymDR7_1988]
Quote: statistics on the history and size of the Oxford English Dictionary and Supplement [»raymDR7_1988]

Subtopic: quotation slips up

Quote: Johnson collected quotes on slips of paper to illustrate the meaning of words and demonstrate their subtle shadings of sense
Quote: Johnson's 1755 dictionary contained 118,000 illustrative quotations for 43,500 headwords
Quote: quotations form the source of OED entries; editors arrange quotation slips on a desktop looking for patterns [»raymDR7_1988]
Quote: OED editors must arrange thousands of quotation slips while computerized systems handle tens of slips
Quote: Murray started with 2.5 million quotation slips from Furnivall and added another million from the British Commonwealth and America [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: Murray initially organized and instructed the readers; wrote 30-40 letters a day, e.g., 4 page answer to query [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: Murray's children sorted quotation slips--half a sheet of notepaper with a catchword in the top left corner [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: Murray and sub-editors spread out all the senses of a word to determine the word's logical chain of development [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: Murray's Scriptorium was a simple shed lined with a 1000 pigeon holes and later converted to shelves [»murrKM_1977]
Quote: Murray faced severe problems with space and meeting schedules: some words took most of a day, 'do' took half a year, died in 1915 with 'Turndown' completed [»murrKM_1977]

Subtopic: dictionary not needed up

Quote: for most of its history, English was learned without a dictionary; e.g., Shakespeare and Elizabethan society

Related Topics up

Group: meaning and truth   (18 topics, 634 quotes)
Group: naming   (32 topics, 789 quotes)

Topic: abstraction as part of language (18 items)
Topic: definition (17 items)
Topic: implicit links (1 item)
Topic: namespace (19 items)
Topic: meaning by use (58 items)
Topic: pidgin and creole languages (31 items)
Topic: semantic networks (42 items)
Topic: thesaurus and information retrieval (29 items)
Topic: word processing (13 items)
Topic: words defined by words (25 items)
Topic: words in natural languages (40 items)
Topic: writing
(32 items)

Updated barberCB 7/05
Copyright © 2002-2008 by C. Bradford Barber. All rights reserved.
Thesa is a trademark of C. Bradford Barber.