Logos Multilingual Portal

4 - The dictionary

"The clearly printed page resolved itself into an object which appeared to his waking perception like part of an actual printed page seen through a small hole in a sheet of paper, but at a distance too great to permit of its being read"1.

Full-text search versus traditional search. When you have the electronic version of a dictionary, two kinds of search are possible: the traditional search, in which you have the alphabetical list of entries in the dic-tionary and the full text search in which you search the occurrence of a string (or word) in all the text of the dictionary, therefore also in the definitions of the entries different from the one more directly connected to it.

Here is an example. Let us suppose that an English translator finds the Italian text "tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino". The translators tries to look for the word "lardo" on a bilingual English-Italian dictionary. Through traditional search he finds this result:


nm (alim)

1 lard

palla di lardo (fig) lard-bladder, tub of lard, mountain of flesh

nuotare nel lardo to live off the fat of the land

2 (= strutto) lard, dripping.

This entry is not very helpful to the trans-lator, who then tries to search the word "zam-pino".



1 (fig) claw, clutch, paw, hand

avere lo zampino dappertutto to *have a finger in every pie; vedere lo zampino di qn in qs to *see sb's hand in st

chi ci ha messo lo zampino? who has had a hand in it? qui c'è lo zampino del diavolo the Devil has had a hand in this

2 (culin) trotter.

Neither this entry is very helpful to the translator. Let us see now how the full-text search works. The translators clicks on the search windows on the "simple search" words and chooses instead "full-text search", and in the full-text search field inserts the word "zam-pino". The search result is the reference to five entries:

finger, hand, trotter, gatta, zampino.

As you see, there are entries of the Eng-lish-Italian part of the dictionaries and entries of the Italian-English part. The translator soon discovers that probably the most interesting entry is "gatta", because it contains both the word "gatta" and the word "zampino". Clicking on "gatta", it appears:


nf (zool) cat, she-cat, female cat

una brutta gatta da pelare a hard/a tough nut to crack

avere le proprie gatte da pelare to *have enough to worry about; comprare la gatta nel sacco to *buy a pig in a poke; fare la gattina to *be kittenish, to play the kitten

qui gatta ci cova I can smell a rat; tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino curiosity killed the cat, sooner or later you'll get caught, a pitcher goes so often to the well that in the end it is broken; la gatta frettolosa fece i gattini ciechi more haste, less speed.

From the example the usefulness of the full-text search is evident: a dictionary on CD-ROM is not a mere reproduction of the paper edition, it is a electronically-consultable corpus.

Another element that emerges from the example is that if the translator should choose to translate the Italian proverb the sentence "a pitcher goes so often to the well that in the end it is broken", the sense would be rather modi-fied and, whenever the context would foresee a reference to legs, cats or lard, this would be missing.

Moreover, we must discount that the bi-lingual dictionary chooses the translatant in the place of the translator, without ex-plaining in any way how the subjective inter-pretation of a word by the dictionary author has led to that translatant. Let us see this example:



1 (= sorte) fate, destiny, fortune

2 (= sorte favorevole) luck, (good) fortune;

(= successo) success, fortunes (pl)

3 (= ricchezza) fortune, wealth;

(= grossa somma) fortune, bomb, mint

4 (mar) gale, storm


1 U sorte, ventura, fato, caso, fortuna

2 C al pl fortune, sorti, vicende

3 C (= wealth) fortuna, patrimonio, ricchezza

4 S (= mint/bomb, fig) fortuna, grossa somma, capitale

The translator must necessarily accept one of the interpretations of the dictionary's author that, as we see, have an equal sign (=)next to them, as if to erroneously imply the equivalence of some words. If a translator is looking for a sense of the word "fortune" that doesn't coincide with "sorte", "wealth", "mint", in this entry she doesn't find anything interesting. A bilingual dictionary doesn't give overtly a first-grade interpretation (explanation, para-phrase), instead, it gives a second-degree in-terpretation, implying having read the word, chosen one of the many interpretations and, what is more, having interpreted the in-terpretation - for this reason I call it sec-ond-degree interpretation - in the form of a translating word.

The monolingual dictionary is rather dif-ferent because, albeit it gives some interpreta-tion, of a subjective character of course, of the sense of a word, it does so without proposing "equivalents" or "synonyms", or if it does, that is done accompanying them with a paraphrase, an explanation or definition. Let us take the ex-ample of the same entry in a monolingual dic-tionary:

for[tune 7fCr4)!n8


5ME < OFr < L fortuna, chance, fate, fortune < fors, chance: see FORTUITOUS6

1 the supposed power thought of as bringing good or bad to people; luck; chance; fate: often personified

2 what happens or is going to happen to one; one's lot, good or bad, esp. one's future lot

3 good luck; success; prosperity

4 a large quantity of money or possessions; wealth; riches

a small fortune a very high price or cost

tell someone's fortune to profess to tell what is going to happen in someone's life, as by palmistry, cards, etc.



As you see, the intralingual definition is much more detailed and limits itself to a first-degree interpretation. Not to speak of the fact that even in the monolingual dictionary you can use full-text search. In our case, if you search "for-tune", you get 61 entries:







fino a wish

This means that there are sixty one co-texts of "fortune" in sixty-two utterances, from which you can get a still more precise idea of the possible meanings of this word, based not on a definition, rather on its linguistic context. It is a question that we will see in detail in the unit devoted to corpora.


Bibliographical references

FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Borin-ghieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.

FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & company, 1913.

GURALNIK BERNARD, Webster's New World Dictionary & Thesaurus. Accent Software International. Macmillan, 1997.

PICCHI FERNANDO Grande dizionario in-glese-italiano italiano-inglese, Milano, Hoepli, 1999, ISBN 88-203-2710-4.

1 Freud 1900: 34.