Friday, April 15, 2005

Varieties and Variations

The dictionary-loving part of me romped out this morning to do a presentation for Oxford University Press for the launch of the new Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Did my product endorsement bit up on stage, stressing all the unique selling points of the 7th edition.

I have no problem wearing the hat of dictionary advocacy - and the OALD is an excellent product, forced by an increasingly competitive market to continually reinvent and improve itself. (Bet you didn't know, incidentally, that all profits from the dictionary are ploughed into training scholarships for English language teachers.)

I learned when I was doing my agony-aunty-for-the-English-language bit for the Mind Our English page for The Star that most folks had problems with grammar points that could be both quickly and easily solved by reference to a good dictionary. The fact that they were willing to write e-mails to us and wait days if not weeks for a reply, frankly baffled me. "Buy a good learners' dictionary," I wrote at the end of almost every reply. Teach a man to fish ...

Am especially happy to see that so much vocabulary in the new OALD has been taken from other Englishes besides the big two ... and particularly that some Malaysianisms have made it into the dictionary. English is a world language and Malaysian English speakers own it as much as anyone. Malaysian English vocabulary differs somewhat from standard British English. Different is not wrong. And when such variations are acknowledged by the world's most scholarly publisher of dictionaries, it can only boost the confidence of local users. (I would actually like to see Oxford go even further and produce a fully localised English dictionary, but I guess the economics will always preclude that.)

When Chief Editor of the OALD, Sally Wehmeier, came to Malaysia last year she talked about how Oxford has lexicographers around the world working to chart developments in local varieties of English. I mentioned "handphone" to her as a local usage that should go into the dictionary because it is so widely used in Asia - and isn't it much nicer sounding than than "mobile" (beloved of Brits and antipodeans) and more descriptive than "cellphone" of American usage?

The word "bungalow" in British English means a single-storey house, but in this part of the world the word refers to "a large house, sometimes on more than one level", according to the dictionary. I'm really happy to see this. Shortly after I came to live here, I found myself expending vast quatities of red ink marking "double-storey bungalow" wrong wrong wrong in an end-of-year exam ... only to find that everyone in the English department sided with the kids and not with the supposed-expert Brit. My attempt to swim against the tide didn't last long. I'm quite proud of the fact now that I live in a double-storey bungalow house ... especially now that the word has Oxford's endorsement!


Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon,

Enjoyed your piece on dictionaries. What's a good dictionary for grammar reference. You know, for times when you just need a lil reminder or confirmation?


bibliobibuli said...

I'd say go with an advanced learners' dictionary such as the OALD I decribe here. I think is ahead of competitors for comprehensiveness and ease of use at the moment. But other advanced learner dictionaries are puit out by Cambridge, Longman, Macmillan and Collins (my second choice).There's a ton of grammar info. in every entry and what a shame that most users don't realise it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot Sharon. Will definitely check it out. Borders has a comprehensive selection of reference books!


bibliobibuli said...

I gotta get over there, Oshun.

(BTW did you know that there is a Nigerian goddess called Oshun?)

Anonymous said...

Yes but it's not my real name, just an online nickname. I used to call myself Lilith :) Just fascinated with goddesses...

The OALD is not available in Borders. I have a thing for dictionaries. There's something sexy about them.

I have been meaning to ask someone this question: does grammar rules change all the time?

I'm trying to get my hands on eats, shoots and leaves. Read an excerpt on Amazon... It's clever

bibliobibuli said...

So your are naming yourself after the Yoruba goddess! Do you know, I have actually been to her shrine in Oshogbo and met her priestess? Perhaps it is a story I should tell.

The new OALD will probably not be in the shops for a few days more becasue it was only launched on Friday and the previous edition will have disappeared from the shelves. Be patient!

Yes, I think dictionaries are sexy too. And the people who write them are sexy lexies (lexicographers!

I haven't read "Eats Shoots and Leaves" yet, but must. Saw it somewhere the other day ... MPH 1 Utama I think.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you must tell the story!

I got myself a copy of the OALD from MPH. It's great! Thanks for the recommendation.

*Impatiently waiting for the story...*