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Oct 2012

From paper to digital: transitioning the dictionary

The 4th international conference on the future of the dictionary, organized by the University of Montreal, was held on October 4th, 2012 at the National Library and Archives of Quebec (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec – BAnQ) in Montreal.
Conference Summary.
How are users and designers adapting to the digital revolution that transcends the barriers imposed by paper? How has the use of language and words changed with the Internet? Are paper dictionaries and electronic dictionaries used in the same way?  How have they transformed media and content? Will the word “dictionary” disappear? These were some of the issues addressed by experts in language and technology at the conference.
Among the conference presentations was a talk by Marie-Claude L’Homme, a Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Translation at the University of Montreal. “The real challenge for digital dictionaries is their need to manage richer and richer content.”
To get people to visit online dictionaries, she emphasizes the importance of having a better understanding of user needs in a digital context. “Online dictionaries are certainly ubiquitous on the web, but they offer very little nuance in terms of meaning.”
To provide quality content and a “friendlier” experience, online dictionaries need “interfaces that are simple and transparent, providing fast and direct access to different elements of enriched content, and presenting legible and attractive results in an appropriate context.”  It seems that our fields of usability and user experience have good days ahead 🙂
The use of paper and digital dictionaries are relatively similar (1). They are consulted first and foremost:
 1. to find out the spelling of a term 2. to understand the meaning and classification of a word 
3. to get examples of words in use
At a time when Google corrects our spelling, why seek a dictionary entry? What models underlie the digital dictionary? What is the dictionary of the future?
For Laurent Catach, Head of Digital Editions for Le Robert dictionaries, there is a paradigm shift with respect to content and use. The concept of volume no longer exists for online dictionaries (there is no limit to how many words can fit), the search function “interconnects” all entries, updates are more efficient, and interactive tools and features can couple text to multimedia (image bank, video, audio). In his presentation “The editorial content in digital dictionaries: progress and prospects”, he asks questions about “what content for what use? What sources? How many? What is the numerical model? What is the organization of this content?”
The dictionary is part of a reading ecosystem which needs structured content. The dictionary alone is not enough; we must now create a linguistic experience which couples all kinds of internal and external content which is reliable and safe: for example, pedagogical content (atlas, educational software), geolocation tools, etc. The dictionary becomes a “content aggregator.”
Meanwhile, Eric Brunelle, President of Druide Informatique, says the dictionary must adapt to new media including screen size and processing power. How can we customize the layout of content on each platform? According to Brunelle, 90% of the content of Druid is managed by common code to adapt effectively to MAC platforms, Windows, Linux, Phones & Tablets.

The dictionary was once an essential reference tool. Today it is just another convenience which needs to be more “integrated” into the future.

Learn more (articles in French):



(1) Cahier Spécial H – Le Devoir – Les samedis 29 et Dimanche 30 Septembre 2012. Édition Journée québécoise des dictionnaires. “À l’heure du numérique” de Michel Bélair.

Image source: http://www.henrylim.org/Dictionary.jpg

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