English Dictionaries and E-Books

By Blake, Paul | Information Today, December 1998 | Go to article overview

English Dictionaries and E-Books


Blake, Paul, Information Today


Paul Blake is editor of Learned Information Europe, Ltd.'s information industry newspaper Information World Review. His e-mail address is paulb@vnu.co.uk.

Electronic consumer publishing has not moved completely to the Web

Conventional wisdom is that electronic consumer publishing has moved away from CD-ROM and off-line media to the Internet. However, two new developments signal that the Web is far from becoming completely dominant. In the first, U.K. publisher Bloomsbury Publishing (http://www.bloomsbury.com) has announced a venture with Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com) that will result in what is claimed to be the world's first English dictionary on CD-ROM to be derived from a single database of world English. It will cover English as it is spoken in different countries around the globe. Meanwhile, four hardware developers are hoping to reinvent the concept of the electronic book.

More Than Words

The Microsoft Encarta World English Dictionary is expected to be released in both electronic and print forms next August. According to the two partners, it will feature more than 3 million words, contributed by more than 250 lexicographers working in 10 countries. The venture will also be the first time that Microsoft has applied its Encarta brand to the print world. The dictionary is also said to mark the beginning of a long-term relationship between the two companies to develop content for print and electronic reference works.

Bloomsbury Publishing's activities are split into two parts: trade publishing and reference publishing. Probably the best-known division is the trade business, which last year accounted for two-thirds of its turnover. It has been successful in identifying authors who have become household names, such as Joanna Trollope and John Irving. It covers a range of fiction and nonfiction works, and its titles include The English Patient and The Piano, both of which became hit films.

However, it is probably the company's shift into the reference publishing sector that has begun to interest investors most, After heavy investment in creating databases, the company can now publish on a variety of formats, including CD-ROM, the Internet, and paper. Bloomsbury says it will work more in the future with strategic partners to broaden the scope of the databases and electronic products. It expects that reference publishing will account for 50 percent of its sales by 2000.

The project to build the Encarta World English Dictionary has been underway in secret for over 4 years. Nigel Newton, chairman and chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, first wrote to Bill Gates in 1991 with a proposal for the project. At its heart is a specially built corpus of World English--compiled by a 250-person team--that provides hundreds of examples of how a word is used.

Newton said: "We view English as the first global language since Latin. There are 375 million speakers of English where English is a native language, and as many again where English is a second language. Over 80 percent of information stored in the world's computers is in English, and nearly 85 percent of Internet home pages are in English. Unlike other dictionaries, this one will cross cultural and geographical barriers for the verbal user.

"We consider such a dictionary necessary, because the influences on language today have become so diverse. We watch Hollywood movies [and] Australian television soaps. We read Canadian novels," Newton continued. "The language of the Internet itself is a worldwide form of English. There are so many global influences on English that it's clear that the time has come for a dictionary that defines English as a global language. The Encarta World English Dictionary is the first dictionary to be written in both main varieties of English--British and American at the same time. The database is, in fact, bilingual."

With the English language in all its variants changing so rapidly, one of the main selling points of the CD-ROM, says Newton, will be its ability to stay up-to-date. …

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