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Dictionary from Uruk , around 600 BC BC, with a systematization of the signs

A dictionary is a reference work that records words or other linguistic units in a list, usually sorted alphabetically , and assigns explanatory information or linguistic equivalents to each entry ( lemma ).

A dictionary in the narrower sense is used to look up linguistic information, while the expression in the broader meaning also includes other reference works structured according to keywords with primarily relevant information as well as mixed forms of both types.


Multi-volume dictionary

The term dictionary in German is a loan translation of the Greek word lexikon (biblion), influenced by Dutch (woordenboek ) : "Words concerning book". It is a compound term that was formed from a foreign word in that all components of the foreign word were individually translated into German. Until the 17th century the terms lexicon and dictionary were preferred; then Dictionarium resigned in favor of the newly introduced dictionary (also word book ) translation ; the term lexicon was retained. Since the introduction of the word, the meaning of dictionary in common parlance has mostly narrowed to "language dictionary", while the meaning of lexicon has tended to narrow to "subject dictionary", with lexicon often also being used as a synonym for "encyclopedia". As a result, the dictionary on the one hand and the lexicon or encyclopedia on the other hand often appear as opposing terms.

In technical language, especially in lexicography (dictionary research), dictionary is retained in its broader meaning as a generic term for all types of reference works with a structure according to keywords. Likewise, the term lexicon will continue to be used in technical contexts in its broader meaning, i.e. including linguistic lexicographical works, and in linguistics also specifically for the inventory of the lexemes of a speaker or a language community.

Dictionary - non-fiction dictionary - encyclopedic dictionary


A dictionary in the narrower sense (also a language dictionary ) serves to convey linguistic knowledge. His selection of lemmas ( morphemes , lexemes , phrases and phraseologisms ) should cover the vocabulary of an individual language or a sub- vocabulary of this language (such as a dialect , sociolect or idiolect ). The assigned information is primarily linguistic information relating to the spelling, pronunciation and grammatical properties such as part of speech, gender and inflection of the lemma, its origin, meaning, usage and translatability. They are in the form of explanatory information or by assigning comparable units from the same language as in a dictionary of synonyms and a rhyming dictionary , or from one or more other languages in a translation dictionary shown. Factual information on the realities identified by the words can also be included if this is necessary to explain the meaning of the word or the history of the word, but it is not an end in itself. Proper names (people and places) are usually not explained in a language dictionary, with the exception of reference works on name research and place name research ( onomastics and toponomastics ).

A new approach is not to translate individual words, but only sentences (“sentence book”). The search for individual words is done using an electronic search engine that presents the word in the context of a sentence; an example of this is Tatoeba .

In the case of a non-fiction dictionary (also real dictionary , real lexicon, real encyclopedia ) , on the other hand, the focus is on conveying technical and world knowledge instead of language knowledge (see encyclopedia ). The lemma is not the object of linguistic information as an element of a vocabulary, but describes the subject of the factual information as a thematic keyword. Linguistic properties of the lemma are not included or only to the extent that it serves the understanding of the thing designated by the lemma. The selection of lemmas in a subject dictionary usually also includes proper names and serves to cover and structure a certain subject or knowledge area, which can be a special subject or, if required, also include all available knowledge about the world.

An encyclopedic dictionary (also linguistic and non-fictional dictionary, integrated dictionary ), in Germany since the 1930s also occasionally called all-book and, depending on the type, widespread in France, puts linguistic and subject-related lexicographical information on an equal footing and aims to fulfill the basic functions of both types of dictionary. Otherwise, the types of linguistic and non- specialist dictionaries often appear in mixed form, especially in the area of specialist lexicons , where specialist dictionaries often also have an inherent part of specialist information, or specialist specialist dictionaries additionally integrate linguistic information on the lemma and its translatability.


General dictionaries ( universal dictionary ) offer comprehensive information on the general vocabulary of the contemporary language (example: Duden universal dictionary). Other types of dictionaries can be distinguished from them, which set different priorities in the selection of lemmas or the information provided:

Typology in terms of content

First Italian dictionary from the Accademia della Crusca (1612)
  • Lemmatype-oriented special dictionaries list only a selected part of the vocabulary .
    • Dictionaries with a pragmatically limited selection of lemmas list parts of the vocabulary that are pragmatically marked. This includes, among other things, colloquial language dictionaries, neologism dictionaries, foreign dictionaries, swear dictionaries.
    • Dictionaries with limited lemma selection. These include loan dictionaries, inherited dictionaries and dictionaries of lost words. The criterion for selecting the lemma is a conspicuous word history.
    • Dictionaries with semantically restricted selection of lemmas. This includes name dictionaries and dictionaries that are dedicated to certain semantic fields.
    • Dictionaries with formally restricted selection of lemmas. The selection criterion here is the form of the lemma symbol. This includes morpheme dictionaries, word family dictionaries and abbreviation dictionaries.
  • User group-oriented dictionaries are dictionaries whose selection of lemmas and information are tailored to specific users. This includes the learner's dictionaries , the primary school dictionaries and the children's dictionaries.
  • Language variety-oriented dictionaries list the vocabulary of individual language varieties . This includes special language dictionaries in various groups, dialect dictionaries and specialist dictionaries.
  • Finally, there are some types of textual dictionaries. The subject of the description coincides with the dictionary base. This type of dictionary includes the author's dictionaries, author-meaning dictionaries, work dictionaries and reference point dictionaries.
  • Translation dictionaries mediate between the vocabulary of two or more languages. They are divided according to the same criteria as general dictionaries, e.g. into general and technical translation dictionaries .

Typology under formal aspects

  • Printed dictionaries ( Print dictionaries , of Engl. Print , "pressure") are dictionaries, the method letterpress be prepared. Until the end of the 20th century , they were the only form of publication for dictionaries. Special forms are:
    • the concise dictionary , which was originally designed to be available (at hand) to the user as a constant reference work at the workplace. In some cases it developed into an extensive work, including several volumes.
    • The pocket dictionary was originally supposed to be able to be carried in a pocket and therefore tries to offer a maximum of information in a small format.
    • The large dictionary is the most extensive language dictionary, some of which appears in several volumes. The type was created at the beginning of the 1960s by the Langenscheidt publishing house by reissuing extensive dictionaries that had already been introduced under this name. The first of its kind was probably the German-Greek dictionary by Hermann Menge, which appeared in 1960 under this title. Other publishers followed, so that the number of these dictionaries rose rapidly.
  • Since the 1980s, dictionaries have also been distributed in digital form ( electronic publication ). A distinction must be made here between whether the data is duplicated or whether it is in a central memory.
    • An electronic dictionary is a dictionary that is put on reproducible electronic data carriers, primarily CD-ROM and DVD, and distributed.
    • Online dictionaries are digitally recorded reference works that are stored on a central data storage device and can only be queried online via the Internet, and in some cases also edited.

Structure of dictionaries and dictionary articles

A dictionary usually consists of external texts and the dictionary .

  • The lemmas are listed in the dictionary
  • The external texts include everything that is outside of the actual dictionary, for example introduction , user instructions (list of abbreviations, etc.) and inflection tables .
  • If the external texts are in front of the dictionary, then one speaks of the opening credits (English front matter ), they are followed by the trailer (English back matter )

In the dictionary, a distinction is made between macrostructure and microstructure :

The macrostructure means the selection of the lemmas, their arrangement and the arrangement of the external texts. One of the most important macrostructural decisions is how the lemmas should be arranged. In most dictionaries this is done alphabetically .

How the individual dictionary entry is organized, i. H. the arrangement of the word information is part of the microstructure.

Alphabetical sorting

There are different options in the alphabetical order:

  • Alphabetical smooth or strictly alphabetically: The arrangement of the lemma is done - as the name suggests - strictly alphabetically. This means that there is a separate approach in the dictionary for each keyword (except for variants of a lemma that follow one another directly in the alphabet such as "Epitaph" and "Epitaphium").
  • Niche alphabet : First of all, like strictly alphabetical. However, if several words are listed for a word family , they appear as sublemmas separated from the main lemma.
  • Nestalphabetisch: Here the alphabetical structure can be broken, in that a sublemma can also consist of an inflected form or a compound word . Dictionaries with a nest alphabet are based partly on the defining word and partly on the basic word .

Example of a phrase in different order:

smooth alphabetical niche alphabetical nestalphabetisch
top, roof top, roof top, roof
Attic -ground -ground
Roofing felt -cardboard -cardboard
Badger Badger - rafters
Badger den -construction -chair
Badger hair brush -hair brush Badger
Rafters Roof: rafters -construction
Roof truss -chair -hair brush

The niche and nest alphabetical arrangement are particularly space-saving, which is an important factor for printed dictionaries. The smooth alphabet sorting is considered to be the most user-friendly, because each keyword is on a separate line and opens its own entry. In this respect, the niche alphabetical arrangement represents a compromise. It groups lemmas without breaking the alphabetical order. Based on the different editions of the Duden Large Dictionary , one can observe the various forms of arrangement: While the six-volume large dictionary still formed nests, these are replaced by niches in the second, eight-volume edition, and the ten-volume edition from 1999 follows a smooth alphabetical approach. Nested-alphabetical dictionaries with an arrangement according to the basic word are sometimes used in scientific lexicography because, for example, the word wagon and its combinations, i.e. a whole word family , defined in more detail with a defining word , can be worked out simultaneously and looked up by the user in the same volume. Examples of such dictionaries are the Bavarian dictionary , the Swiss idioticon and the dictionary of Bavarian dialects in Austria .

  • With a declining or rear dictionary to sort alphabetically by the end of the word is carried forth.

Non-alphabetical sort

  • In languages ​​that do not use an alphabet, the sorting takes place according to other criteria, for example in Chinese based on radicals (class heads) and the number and shape of the strokes.

Further macrostructural considerations concern the selection of the lemmas and the range of data , i.e. what information should be provided for certain parts of speech , for example.

The microstructure, on the other hand, is understood to be the specific information that is made about a lemma. In most language dictionaries, this information is characterized by text compression (abbreviations, paraphrases, etc.) in order to summarize as much information as possible in as little space as possible. In non-fictional dictionaries, however, texts of very different lengths are offered. In many cases, the articles are preceded by definitions, followed by information in continuous prose . In the text or at the end of the text, cross-references are made to other articles that are related to the content of the text. At the end of the article - especially in the case of encyclopedias and conversational lexicons - many references are given.

Dictionary usage

Dictionaries are intended to help users close lexical knowledge gaps , so they must be structured in such a way that information can be looked up quickly and specifically. Both monolingual and multilingual dictionaries require two requirements from the user:

  1. The systematic understanding of the dictionary.
  2. To assign the corresponding lemma to the lexeme sought using the systematics .

The dictionary use research - or dictionary didactics - deals with user expectations of dictionaries ( "What questions are answered in what dictionary?") And examines the conditions for successful dictionary use. The findings flow into the creation of new dictionaries or into existing dictionaries that are transferred to other media.

Haß-Zumkehr (2001) provides a detailed overview of German dictionaries and lexicography .

See also



  • Stefan Engelberg, Lothar Lemnitzer: Lexicography and dictionary use. Stauffenburg, Tübingen 2004², ISBN 3-86057-285-7 .
  • Thomas Herbst, Michael Klotz: Lexicography. An introduction. Schöningh, Paderborn 2003, ISBN 3-8252-8263-5 .
  • Michael Schlaefer: Lexicology and Lexicography. An introduction using the example of German dictionaries. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-503-06143-6 .

Selected specialist literature

  • Henning Bergenholtz, Sven Tarp: The modern lexicographical functional theory. Contribution to the discussion on new and old paradigms that understand dictionaries as objects of daily use . In: Lexikographica. International Yearbook for Lexicography 18/2002, pp. 253–263.
  • Csaba Földes: What is a large dictionary? On the problem of the size classes of language lexicons . In: Jarmo Korhonen (Ed.): From mono- to bilingual lexicography for German. Lang, Frankfurt a. M./Berlin/Bern/Bruxelles/New York / Oxford / Vienna 2001 (Finnish contributions to German studies; 6), pp. 31–42 ( online ).
  • Ulrike Haß-Zumkehr: German dictionaries - focus of language and cultural history. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, ISBN 3-11-014885-4 .
  • Franz Josef Hausmann a. a. (Ed.): Dictionaries: An international handbook on lexicography . de Gruyter, Berlin a. a. 1989–1991 (=  handbooks for linguistics and communication studies. Volume 5), 3 parts.
  • Kirsten Hjort: Lexicon, dictionary, encyclopedia, conversation lexicon: attempt to clarify terms. In: Mutterssprache 77 (1967), pp. 353–365.
  • Werner Hupka: The three main types of lexicographic works and the problems of each classification. In: Ders .: Word and picture: The illustrations in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1989 (Lexicographica. Series Maior; 22), pp. 23-37.
  • Peter Kühn: German dictionaries. A systematic bibliography. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1977.
  • Sidney I. Landau: Dictionaries. The Art and Craft of Lexicography. 2nd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001.
  • Anja Lobenstein-Reichmann, Peter O. Müller (Hrsg.): Historical lexicography between tradition and innovation . de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2016 (=  Studia Linguistica Germanica. Volume 129).
  • Jörg Mildenberger: Anton Trutmann's 'Pharmacopoeia', Part II: Dictionary. I – V, Würzburg 1997 (=  Würzburg medical-historical research. Volume 56), ISBN 3-8260-1398-0 . Compare with Rainer Sutterer: Anton Trutmann's 'Pharmacopoeia', Part I: Text. Medical dissertation Bonn 1976.
  • Oskar Reichmann: Historical Lexicography. Ideas, realizations, reflections on examples from German, Dutch and English . de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2012 (= Studia linguistica Germanica. Volume 111).
  • Burkhard Schaeder: Germanistic Lexicography . Niemeyer, Tübingen 1987 (worth reading on the history of lexicography and dictionaries).
  • Burkhard Schaeder: Small bibliography of German dictionaries - systematically arranged: encyclopedias, specialist dictionaries, general language dictionaries, special language dictionaries . Siegen Institute for Languages ​​at Work, Siegen 2000.
  • Thomas Tinnefeld: Dictionary work in foreign language studies - a skills analysis . In: Fremdsprach und Hochschule (FuH) 34 (1992), pp. 14–37.
  • Thomas Tinnefeld: Suggestions for dictionary work at schools and universities. Part 1. In: Hispanorama 71/1995, pp. 139–141, Part 2 in: Hispanorama 72/1996, pp. 152–154, Part 3 in: Hispanorama 73/1996, pp. 152–155, Part 4 in: Hispanorama 74/1996, pp. 126-130.
  • Herbert Ernst Wiegand : Dictionary research: Studies on dictionary usage, theory, history, criticism and automation of lexicography. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000.
  • Wolfram Zaunmüller: Bibliographical Handbook of Language Dictionaries. an international directory of 5600 dictionaries from 1460–1958 for more than 500 languages ​​and dialects. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1958.

Web links

Wiktionary: Dictionary  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Fruitful Dictionary  - Learning and Teaching Materials
Wikisource: Dictionaries  - Sources and Full Texts
  • Dictionary network. Competence center for electronic cataloging and publication processes in the humanities at the University of Trier(metasearch in 29 German, partly historical dictionaries and reference works).;
  • Lexicography , Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (on the history of German-language lexicography with illustrations and article examples)
  • Dictionary portal at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences
  • DWDS The digital dictionary of the German language of the 20th century
  • FWB-online Early New High German Dictionary - The dictionary for the High German language from the 14th to 17th centuries

Individual evidence

  1. See Christ. Friedrich Reuss: Dictionarium botanicum, or botanical, Latin and German concise dictionary. 2 volumes, Leipzig 1781.
  2. on etymology and language change for lexicon see entry dictionary in DWB; Information on older research literature, ibid.
  3. a b for technical language use see: Schlaefer: Lexikographie (2002), p. 77; Engelberg, Lemnitzer: Lexicography (2004²), p. 6
  4. Tatoeba http://www.tatoeba.org/
  5. ^ Franz Josef Hausmann, Oskar Reichmann et al. (Ed.): Dictionaries. An international handbook on lexicography. 1990, pp. 1549-1551.
  6. Duden. The large dictionary of the German language. (6 vol.). Mannheim 1976.
  7. Duden. The large dictionary of the German language. (8 vol.). 2nd edition Mannheim 1993.
  8. Duden. The large dictionary of the German language. (10 vol.). 3. Edition. Mannheim 1999.