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Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary – Now and then

OALD 10th edition bookIn 2020, the 10th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, or OALD, was published. The origin of this dictionary can be traced back to the Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary (ISED), the world’s first fully-fledged English-English dictionary for English language learners. ISED was edited by A. S. Hornby and others, who were invited from the United Kingdom to engage in English education in Japan, and was published by Kaitakusha in 1942. 2022 marked the 80th anniversary of the ISED. During that time, as English was established as the international language of communication, the rivalry between different publishers has, together with the development of (applied) linguistics and lexicography, contributed to the ongoing evolution of monolingual dictionaries for language learners.

Since the mid-1990s, the quality of information has improved, and monolingual dictionaries have become easier to use. The key concepts are “corpus basis” and “user-friendliness”. To appreciate what kinds of changes have occurred, let’s compare the entries of acknowledge in the 4th edition (1989) and the 10th edition (2020) of OALD.

Firstly, compared to the 4th edition, the 10th edition is easier to read; it is printed in two colors with each definition written on a new line. The OALD has been printed in two colors since the 6th edition (2000). Furthermore, in the 10th edition, notice these symbols next to the headword: , , and . What do these symbols represent?

The Oxford 3000 and The Oxford 5000

The key symbol ( ) indicates that the word is from the Oxford 3000 wordlist. This is a list of 3000 words that students of English should learn first, and was introduced in the 7th edition (2005) and revised for the 10th edition. The words have been selected based on frequency and relevance for the user. Frequency of use is determined by the Oxford English Corpus (which contains more than 2 billion words), and relevance by a specially created corpus of secondary and adult English courses published by Oxford University Press. Also, every definition in the OALD is written using words from the Oxford 3000, making the definitions easier to understand.
The key symbol with a plus sign ( ) refers to words from the Oxford 5000, which was introduced in the 10th edition. This introduces an extra 2000 words for higher-level students to learn. The key symbols for the Oxford 3000 and 5000 are not just added to the headwords but also to the definitions.
*Find out more about the Oxford 3000and the Oxford 5000 wordlists.
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/wordlists/oxford3000-5000

Common European Frame of Reference (CEFR)

The Common European Frame of Reference divides foreign language competencies into six levels – A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. Words from the Oxford 3000 are labeled , and words from the Oxford 5000 are or .

The Oxford Phrasal Academic Lexicon (OPAL)

is an abbreviation for written, indicating that acknowledge is an important word in written academic English. Academic English is crucial for most users of the OALD, particularly those studying abroad or taking classes in English. Oxford University Press created The Oxford Phrasal Academic Lexicon (OPAL) from an analysis of two corpuses: Oxford Corpus of Academic English (which contains 71 million words) and British Academic Spoken English (which contains 1.2 million words). OPAL includes important words and phrases from both written and spoken academic English. In OALD10, words and phrases from the written academic English section of OPAL are signified by , and words and phrases from the spoken academic English section by . Words that are used in both written and spoken English are marked .
*Find out more about OPAL.
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/wordlists/opal

Grammar notation

Turning our attention to the 4th edition, we can see the first meaning of acknowledge contains these codes [Tn, Tf, Tw, Ca·n, Cn·t]. They indicate verb patterns. For example, [Tn] means transitive verb. Considering that this pattern was denoted by [VP6A] in the 3rd edition (1974), this is much easier to understand. Although a list of verb types could be found on the inside back cover of the 4th edition, referring to this each time was a real hassle. Though it takes up space, the grammar code is spelled out in the 10th edition (sb stands for somebody, and sth stands for something). In OALD10, these abbreviations, called “verb frames”, are written just before the corresponding example. The verb patterns and example sentences in OALD4 and OALD10 are summarized in the comparison table below. The clarity of the 10th edition is self-explanatory.

Shortcuts

Returning to OALD10, you’ll notice that each definition is preceded by a word or short phrase capitalized in blue and marked by a dot such as . These are called “shortcuts”, and they show the context or general meaning of each definition at a glance. When using a monolingual dictionary, selecting the appropriate meaning can be a daunting task. Therefore, from the 6th edition (2000) on, “shortcuts” or “subheadings of meaning” were introduced to help users navigate polysemous entries. Instead of scrutinizing definitions and examples one by one, users can quickly scan the shortcuts, select the relevant one, and then examine the meaning.

The influence of corpuses

Since the introduction of the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary in 1987, the use of corpuses has become an integral part of dictionary editing. Corpuses provide vital data on the frequency of usage for each word, and this influences every stage of lexicographic editing from identification and selection of headwords, through sense division and arrangement, identification of grammatical and lexical patterns, to the presentation of examples. Let’s look at how the entries of acknowledge are structured in OALD4 and OALD10. There are differences between the two, and the latter is based on frequency from corpus analysis.

As you can see from the comparison table above, the verb types Tw and Cn·t shown in OALD4 are not included in OALD10. Based on corpus analysis, the frequency may not have been high enough. Frequent patterns such as acknowledge the fact are highlighted in bold in the examples.

The most recent editions of English-English dictionaries contain accurate information, presented in a format which is easy to understand and use. OALD10 has been edited based on large corpuses and displays the most high-frequency words. Innovations, such as the integration of the Oxford 3000 and 5000 wordlists and OPAL, make it easier for users to identify core vocabulary, the Oxford 3000 also making definitions easier to understand. In addition, shortcuts and straightforward abbreviations of verb patterns make the latest edition even more user-friendly. Whilst in the past dictionaries were only available in print, now it’s easy to find online versions. In my next article, I will explore the effects of digitalization on dictionaries, particularly on the editorial processes and how people search for words.

Reference:
Yamada, Shigeru. 2020. OALD10 Katsuyo Gaido [Usage Guide]. Tokyo: Obunsha Publishing.
https://dic.obunsha.co.jp/oald10/dl_guide_book/OALD10_dic.pdf


Shigeru Yamada is a Professor at Waseda University, Tokyo. He is on the editorial advisory board of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America. He was a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Lexicography: Journal of ASIALEX. His specialization is EFL and bilingual lexicography. His recent publications include “Monolingual Learners’ Dictionaries – Past and Future” (The Bloomsbury Handbook of Lexicography, 2nd ed., Ch. 11, 2022).


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What’s Your OALD Story?

Animation of a crowd of people in the shape of a question markThe Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD) was first published in 1948. Since then, over 100 million English language learners have used OALD to develop their English skills for work and study, and that’s why it’s the world’s bestselling advanced-level dictionary for learners of English.

THE OALD COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED.

You can still tell us your OALD story using the comments box below, find others stories about the dictionary here, and use our teaching resources below to build your students’ vocabulary. Continue reading


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#IATEFL – Pronunciation to Go: learning to learn from the dictionary

Teacher helping dyslexic studentMark Hancock, co-author of the English Result series introduces his forthcoming IATEFL talk on the keys to developing students’ use of dictionaries and important features that can support independent learning.

Proverbial wisdom tells us that if you give someone a fish, they can eat for a day, but if you teach someone to fish, they can eat for a lifetime. It’s a message about the long-term value of learning new skills and becoming independent. A similar thing could be said about pronunciation and dictionaries. Each time you teach a learner to pronounce a word, their English benefits a little, but they remain dependent on you. If, however, you can show your learners how to teach themselves the pronunciation of a word using the dictionary, they can improve their own English independently for ever more.

The dictionary is an immense resource, containing information about all the English words a learner is ever likely to need. In learners’ dictionaries, pronunciation information has traditionally been provided using phonemic symbols based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Nowadays, however, with the advent of online dictionaries, there are also recordings of all the headwords, accessible at the click of an icon – a wonderful resource.

It is well worth helping your learners get familiar with the IPA symbols, even though there is now an audio option. It’s a great learning investment for the following reasons:

– A knowledge of the phonemic symbols enables you to ‘see inside’ the pronunciation of the word, like an x-ray. You can see exactly what sounds are in there – and what sounds are not. Furthermore, these x-rays help you to see similarities and differences between words. For instance, your student may not be able to hear the difference between hit and heat, but they will definitely be able to see that the transcription is different.

– The ear is not always a reliable source of information. You can hear the word calm, for instance, and believe that you are hearing an L because it’s there in the spelling. When you see in the phonetic transcription that there’s no /l/, it makes it official somehow.

– The audio recording is only the voice of one person at one time. You don’t know which features of their pronunciation are essential and which are just one-off idiosyncrasies. For example, if the speaker places a glottal stop after the /k/ in document, the learner doesn’t know if this is a feature that they need to copy, or just a feature of that individual’s speech. The transcription shows it not to be essential.

If you can help your learners to be comfortable in the company of phonemic symbols, you are doing them a lasting service, because it will give them a more complete access to the information in the dictionary. It’s not that they have to memorize all the symbols – many dictionaries have a running footer across all the pages with a key to them. So it’s just a case of them getting to know the symbols little by little, as they use them.

Stress information is also provided in the transcription, by a vertical dash like an apostrophe. This is superscript for primary stress and subscript for secondary stress. If a dictionary entry does not have a transcription of its own, then these stress marks are shown in the headword itself. It’s very important for learners to become familiar with this method of marking stress.

The dictionary also provides stress information beyond single word level, for compound words, phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions. Compare, for example, the different stress patterns in the following pairs:

compound nouns:               ‘roller blind – ve”netian ‘blind

phrasal verbs:                       “look ‘on (observe) – ‘look on (regard as)

idiomatic expressions:        ‘one of these days –  one of those ‘days.

Due to the limitations of the WordPress editor, we cannot display the stress markings correctly. The single mark should be subscript (secondary stress) and the double one should be superscript, but single (primary stress).

Encourage your learners to look out for these stress markings, and try reading out loud the example sentences in the dictionary using the stress as indicated.

We do of course need to recognize the limitations of dictionaries for pronunciation work at the level of connected speech. Dictionaries, by their nature, are more focused at word-level features. However, the 9th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary (OALD9) does take a step towards remedying this situation by providing pronunciation guidance for common spoken functional exponents. For instance, under the headword invite, there’s a box of exponents for inviting and responding to invitations, along with recordings of these, and even a short video of an interaction. The OALD9 also includes videos of students giving model answers in some typical speaking exam scenarios, and these exemplify some of the prosodic features of longer stretches of speech.


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Animal Talk: Animal-Related Adjectives In The English Language

photography day link imageThe names of animals are probably among the first things learned by a student of a language, yet knowing the names of animals doesn’t always help when it comes to their associated adjectives—in fact, sometimes it can be downright confusing. Continue reading


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All at Sea: Nautical metaphors in the English language

Oil painting of old naval ships

Image courtesy of Blirk.net

Ian Brookes is a freelance writer and editor based in Scotland. He has edited a number of dictionaries and has written books about spelling, writing, and punctuation. In this post, he looks at the origins of several nautical metaphors still used in English today.

Learning English might be easier if people would actually say what they mean. Unfortunately English-speakers often express ideas in terms of a metaphor rather than by a literal description. So when we talk about being ‘all at sea’, we do not literally mean that we are out in the ocean, but rather that we are unsure about what to do, as though we were drifting on the water without the reassurance of firm ground beneath our feet.

Metaphors can be difficult enough to decipher even when you are familiar with the objects of comparison. In many cases, however, metaphors refer to things that are rarely, if ever, encountered any more. We still talk about something that is briefly successful as a flash in the pan, even though this refers to an old type of gun in which gunpowder made a flash in a compartment called a ‘pan’ when it was primed before firing. The original point of the comparison is now forgotten, but the idiom survives.

The same is true of many words and expressions that originally referred to sailing. Great Britain is an island nation; in the days before air travel, mastery of the sea was essential to the nation’s defence and trade. In modern times ships play a less important role, and they tend to be powered by engines rather than sails. Yet many expressions derived from sailing remain embedded in the English language. Knowing this may shed light on some apparently obscure terms.

A flagship, for example, was the most important ship in a fleet, which carried the fleet’s admiral and flew his flag. In modern English, however, the word is more likely to be used as a metaphor, so a company’s flagship store is the one that has the most importance and prestige. A mainstay was originally a rope that supported the main mast of a ship, but now is a metaphor referring to any person or thing that provides crucial support, as in tourism is a mainstay of the economy.

The influence of sailing can also be seen in some idiomatic phrases. To sail close to the wind refers to the risky practice of attempting to fill a ship’s sails with wind without losing control of it. This phrase is now used as an idiom: if you tell someone that they are sailing close to the wind you are warning them that they are doing something that is dangerous or possibly illegal. To batten down the hatches literally refers to closing the entrances to the lower part of a ship when a storm is expected, but metaphorically refers to any preparation to withstand a period of difficulty. If a ship has run aground and is unable to return to the water, it is said to be high and dry, an expression we also use to refer to a person who is left in a difficult situation without any assistance.

Some similar phrases have now lost all their original associations with sailing. It may come as a surprise to learn that under way, meaning ‘in progress’, was originally a nautical phrase meaning ‘in motion’. Another example is by and large: to the old sailors, this meant ‘in all conditions’, whether sailing into the wind (sailing by) or with the wind (sailing large), but it is doubtful whether many current English speakers are aware of this when they use the phrase to mean ‘in general’.