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§ 15. Classification of Learner’s Dictionaries

Learner’s dictionaries may be classified in accordance with different principles, the main of which are: 1) the scope of the word-list and 2) the nature of the information afforded.

From the point of view of the scope (volume) of the word-list they fall into two groups. Those of the first group contain all lexical units that the prospective user may need, in the second group only the most essential and important words are selected. To the first group we can refer A. S. Hornby’s Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (50,000 lexical units) and M. West’s International Reader’s Dictionary (about 24,000 units); to the second group — A Grammar of English Words by H. Palmer (1,000 words), and The English-Russian Learner’s Dictionary by S. K. Folomkina and H. M. Weiser (3,500 units).

As to the information afforded by learner’s dictionaries lexicographers and methodologists seem to have agreed that there should be a whole series of them. There must be a group of dictionaries presenting different aspects of the vocabulary: showing mainly the semantic structure of words (explanatory), presenting the syntagmatic relations between words (dictionaries of collocations), providing information: about the word’s structure (derivational), supplying synonymous and antonymous words, etc.


Another grouping of dictionaries reflects the practice of teaching different aspects of speech. The word-books having as their goal the ability to read scientific and technical literature in a foreign language will need a vast word-list ensuring adequate comprehension of written speech. Teaching oral speech habits requires a dictionary that contains a selected list of active words explained from the point of view of their use.

Since learners of different linguistic background will have different pitfalls in mastering the same language, will need different directions for use, different restrictive remarks, each pair of languages requires its own dictionaries, dictionaries based on a contrastive study of the learner’s native tongue and the language to be learned.1

In this connection it must be said that Hornby’s dictionary, with all its merits and advantages, has an essential demerit — it does not take into account the user’s linguistic background, so it cannot foresee and prevent the possible language problems of this or that national group of English learners.

Not long ago Soviet lexicographers came to the opinion that separate reference books are called for teachers and learners. As far as dictionaries of English go, perhaps the first attempts at producing dictionaries for teachers are the reference books Adjectival Collocations and Verbal Collocations.

Those are the main types of dictionaries considered necessary to ensure the process of foreign language teaching. As to the present state of learner’s lexicography, it may be characterised as just coming into being, as the already existing dictionaries are few in number and they do not make a system, rather some separate links of a system.

As to the information they provide they may be divided into two groups: those giving equal attention to the word’s semantic characteristics and the way it is used in speech (these may be called learner’s dictionaries proper) and those concentrating on detailed treatment of the word’s lexical and grammatical valency (dictionaries of collocations).

To learner’s dictionaries proper issued in English-speaking countries we may refer, for example, The Progressive English Dictionary and An English Reader’s Dictionary by A. S. Hornby and E. С Parnwell designed for beginners, as well as Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English by A. S. Hornby and The New Horizon Ladder Dictionary of the English Language by J. R. Shaw with J. Shaw for more advanced students.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English by A. Hornby has achieved international recognition as a most valuable practical reference book to English as a foreign language. It contains 50,000 units and is compiled on the basis of COD to meet the needs of advanced foreign learners of English and language teachers. It aims among other things at giving detailed information about the grammatical and partly lexical valency of words.

1 We are now speaking about the nature of information, not the language it is couched in. Thus we may imagine several Anglo-Russian dictionaries, each designed for a separate group of learners with a different linguistic background.


The New Horizon Ladder Dictionary includes 5000 of the most frequently used words in written English. It is called Ladder Dictionary because the words are divided in it into five levels or ladder rungs of approximately 1000 each, according to the frequency of their use (a figure in brackets attached to each word shows to which thousand the word belongs).

Compiled in our country is the English-Russian Dictionary of Most Commonly Used Words prepared by V. D. Arakin, H. M. Weiser and S. K. Folomkina under Prof. I. V. Rakhmanov’s direction. This is a vocabulary minimum of 3250 words, typical word-groups and phraseological units selected for active mastery in Soviet secondary school.

The Learner’s English-Russian Dictionary by S. Folomkina and H. Weiser does not, strictly speaking, belong to the group of dictionaries under consideration, as it is designed for use by English-speaking students of the Russian language, but is helpful as well when learning English. It contains about 3500 words.

The word-books given above differ in many respects: they are either monolingual or polylingual, they provide different information, they differ in the kind of the intended user (learners of the English language who have reached different stages in the course of their studies, adults or children of different linguistic background — English-speaking learners of Russian) and in aim (an aid to oral speech — the development of reading and writing skills) and in other features. However these dictionaries have some traits in common that distinguish them from the word-books considered in the preceding sections. They all aim at teaching how to speak, write, etc., while the tendency in modern English lexicography is not to prescribe as to usage, but to record what is actually used by speakers.

Dictionaries of collocation contain words which freely combine with the given head-word. The few reference books of this kind known to us belong to the pen of foreign compilers. For example, A. Reum’s Dictionary of English Style is designed for the Germans, Kenkyusha’s New Dictionary of English Collocations is intended for the Japanese, Adjectival Collocations in Modern English by T. S. Gorelik and Verbal Collocations in Modern English by R. Ginzburg, S. Khidekel, E. Mednikova and A. Sankin are designed for Russian school teachers and students of English.

Each of the two dictionaries of collocations prepared by Soviet linguists presents the collocability of 375 words that are used in Soviet school text-books. The presentation of the word’s grammatical and lexical valency is based on identical principles.

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