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It’s Dictionary Day Today!

By Memrise Blog

What is a dictionary?

Dictionaries are books containing a collection of words in a certain language listed in alphabetical order with their definitions or translations into other languages. Monolingual dictionaries are mainly used to define the meaning of words and teach native speakers their proper spelling, while bilingual dictionaries present language learners with the translation of a certain word into another language.

Shortest history of the dictionary

The oldest dictionary was discovered in Syria, as we know it now. It was a bilingual dictionary displayed on clay tablets translating Sumerian words into Akkadian, which is dated to have been made around 2300 BCE. Some languages originally only took note of “harder” words, not keeping track of the full vocabulary that made up their language. It is important to note that dictionaries have played an important part in the way languages have been developed and preserved.

Why is it relevant? It’s Dictionary Day today!

October 16th is the birthday of Noah Webster, the father of the modern English dictionary, which is why we take this day every year to celebrate the achievements and contributors of lexicographers from around the world.

Fun facts about the Oxford English Dictionary

Until recently, the word with the most definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary was ‘set’. The current winner is ‘run’.

Tolkien’s first job after the first World War was the letter ‘W’ for the Oxford English Dictionary.

The words; cat cafe (noun) and beer o’clock (noun) have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary this past summer.

Online or the good old traditional book?

The way we use dictionaries today is changing rapidly. More and more people access online dictionaries on their devices instead of opening the good old dictionary from the bookshelf. Unfortunately, the printing and creation of traditional dictionaries is very costly and is also a long process. It is a lot faster for users to consult online dictionaries, than to lookup a word in a book. Nonetheless, dictionaries give a clear definition of each word, include synonyms and example sentences, while for example google translate is generated by mathematical algorithms, which is not aware of the context of the words, just the individual meanings of them all. The result can be robotic or simply wrong, it relies on the searcher to have enough knowledge of the target language to correct the translation and input it into the system for future searches.

Is Google Translate the new dictionary?

Many criticize Google Translate, however, more and more use it on a daily basis. Check out these stats and figures of how Google Translate is breaking down language barriers around the world; Google Translate serves 200 million people with a billion translations a day. Even though the Internet is very much English-centric, 92% of Google Translate’s users are from outside of the United States. The service provides translations into 71 languages, no matter which pair you choose, you will be able to get a translation. The amount of text that is translated by Google daily is more than the content of one million books together.

It is clear that the future of dictionaries lies in the digital world.