Dictionary 101

The publication that includes a wide series of words and terms arranged in alphabetical form and whose purpose is to consult is known as a dictionary. This compilation usually includes various types of information about each word, such as its meaning (what it means), its etymological history, the way it is written and how it is pronounced. It should be noted, however, that a dictionary does not always present all this information.

Among the various types of dictionary, the most common is that of language. These general dictionaries explain, precisely and briefly, the meaning of words. However, there are others, such as etymological dictionaries , synonyms and antonyms, languages, specialized (for example, computing or medicine), doubts and grammar (order grammatical structures), among others.

One of the best known dictionaries is that of the Royal Spanish Academy, which is prepared by the body in charge of ruling the rules that govern the Spanish language.

A dictionary is a publication that includes terms arranged alphabetically.

Dictionary vs. encyclopedia

An encyclopedia can be associated with a dictionary, in that it is structured in a similar way, placing the words alphabetically and offering knowledge about them; however, it is important to point out that they are not exactly the same, since an encyclopedia offers very detailed information about a concept or topic, while dictionaries present little data.

For example, while a dictionary systematically explains the meanings of words, an encyclopedia provides additional information about them, analyzing them from a particular perspective (medical, sociological, etc).

Within generative grammar, on the other hand, the term dictionary refers to the lexical incorporation (of words, their pronunciation and meaning) that every speaker of a language possesses. It also receives the name of lexicon.

History of these publications

Originally, the dictionary was an alphabetical compilation of the lexical elements of a language that were accompanied by its definition. Currently it can be a reference book of a particular subject where the words are grouped alphabetically but are collected with a purpose. For example, the Medical Dictionary, consists of a catalog that offers knowledge about those words that have a place in the science of medicine and serves so that those who study or work in this area can consult on specific topics from a scientific perspective. It serves to know the usefulness of certain medications, elements, or even acquire knowledge about treatments for certain diseases.

The term used to define the same during the High Middle Ages, was glossarium; in the Late Middle Ages it was changed to vocabularium and dictionarium; and slowly it was transformed until arriving at the current denomination: dictionary. Although the words vocabulary, glossary and lexicon can be used as dictionary synonyms, there are clear differences between them.

General dictionaries present the meaning of the different terms.

Dictionary, glossary, lexicon and vocabulary

A glossary is a catalog of little-known words or words that have fallen into disuse or that belong to the same discipline.

The set of words that make up a language is called a lexicon, as well as the words belonging to the repertoire of voices of an author, such as “Góngora’s lexicon”, for example.

For its part, vocabulary refers to the inventory that brings together a set of words, generally few, which are accompanied by reduced explanations. It is used at the end of a work to add the meaning of certain words; For example, in the work of Cortázar, the meanings are usually attached to porteño terms so that any Spanish-speaker can understand them.

Classification according to type

According to the nature of the words and the methodology they include, they can be of two types: diachronic dictionaries and synchronous dictionaries.

Diachronic dictionaries analyze the development of the lexicons of a given language over a period of time. They can be historical (they study the evolutionary phases that concern the meaning and use of a word) or etymological (they analyze the phonetic and semantic changes of a lexicon from its origins. They usually group the words that derive from the same etymology)

Synchronous dictionaries collect the lexicon of a certain language in a specific period of time. They can be: monolingual (words of a single language with their respective meanings), multilingual (establish equivalences between terms of two or more languages), encyclopedic (words of a language with their meanings and articles related to them to complement the knowledge about each one), technical or scientific (meaning of the words of a certain scientific discipline) or abbreviations (Acronyms, acronyms and formal abbreviations of certain terms of a language).

Other meanings related to the term dictionary

A biographical dictionary alphabetically gathers the lives of certain people related by carrying out the same activity. For example, a biographical dictionary of classical authors offers knowledge about the biography of those writers whose work is popular and is considered fundamental to world literature.

A dictionary of synonyms and antonyms is a book that offers words in alphabetical order with terms that have the same and opposite meaning, in a given language.

A dictionary of doubts collects terms and expressions that no longer mean the same as before, so their meaning collected in a dictionary of the language is outdated.

In a grammar dictionary, grammatical structures are ordered, with examples of correct and incorrect usage.

In short, a dictionary is a reference book where the characteristics of the words of a certain subject are explained in an orderly manner and it is used to learn the meaning of the words or expand knowledge of the lexicon of a particular area.

Some sentences where the term is present: «I don’t know if that word is written with S or Z: I’m going to look in the dictionary», «When I was a boy, I liked to read the dictionary and learn new concepts», «I’m going to give Juan a legal dictionary, so he can use it when he starts his degree».

Finally, it should be noted that the science dedicated to developing the contents of dictionaries is called lexicography. In any case, it should be noted that the data presented usually varies according to the type of dictionary. The work is generally published in printed book form, although electronic versions also exist.


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