SERGE VERLINDE is Professor of French for Specific Purposes (Business French, Legal French) and Director of the Leuven Language Institute at the University of Leuven, Belgium. His main research interests are corpus linguistics, pedagogical lexicography and CALL (Computer-assisted language learning). He is the co-author of the 'Dictionnaire d'apprentissage du français des affaires' (DAFA - Paris: Didier). Recently, he has developed web applications for learning and teaching French vocabulary: the 'Base lexicale du français' and 'Alfalex' ( He is currently working on online reading, translating and writing assistants for Dutch and French.

Lexicographers' 'have-tos' in the electronic dictionary age

The reference in the title to the article by Gilles-Maurice de Schryver (Lexicographers' dreams in the electronic dictionary age, 2003) speaks for itself. In the abstract to this article, de Schryver states that "achieving the wildest of those electronic-dictionary vistas has the potential to result in reference works beyond all recognition. This potential, alas, remains to be realised". Nearly 10 years on, it is useful to investigate which technical and content-related innovations we can reasonably expect to find in a modern electronic dictionary, with a particular focus on the access to lexicographic description and the interaction between user and dictionary.

In principle, given the current state of technology, the sky could / should be the limit. However, as shown in a recent article by Pastor and Alcina (2010) on search techniques in electronic dictionaries, this is by no means always the case: users continue to encounter unforeseen problems, even in simple searches.

If we start from the premise that electronic dictionaries should be as accessible as possible, it follows that, on the one hand, they should be designed to meet a number of strict criteria. The findings reported by Bank (2010), for instance, showed that principles such as user-friendliness and usability are crucial. They may even be more crucial than efforts to meet the users' supposed needs or to provide greater customization. On the other hand, the integration of lexical description in other (didactic) applications offers an excellent opportunity for dictionaries to play a more prominent role again.

The implementation of these principles in an electronic dictionary is illustrated by a number of practical examples.

C. Bank. 2010. Die Usability von Online-Wörterbüchern und elektronischen Sprachportalen. Magisterarbeit. Universität Hildesheim.
G.-M. de Schryver. 2003. Lexicographers' Dreams in the Electronic Dictionary Age. International Journal of Lexicography 16.2. 143-199.
V. Pastor & A. Alcina. Search Techniques in Electronic Dictionaries: A Classification for Translators. International Journal of Lexicography 23.3. 307-354.

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