[asialex] FW: Macmillan's recent announcement

  • From: "Gilles-Maurice de Schryver" <gillesmaurice.deschryver@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: <afrilex@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <asialex@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <DSNA@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <lexicographylist@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, <ishll@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2012 17:07:23 +0100

To round off this thread, from Michael Rundell ...


From: Michael Rundell [mailto:michael.rundell@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of
Michael Rundell
Sent: dinsdag 6 november 2012 16:32
To: euralex@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: braasch@xxxxxxxxx; Simon Krek Gmail; Gilles-Maurice de Schryver; Bullon,
Subject: Macmillan's recent announcement


I thought it was time I waded into this debate. Thanks to everyone who has
contributed so many interesting and pertinent points. Much of what I have to
say on the subject has already been said more eloquently by people like
Gilles-Maurice de Schryver, Simon Krek, and Anna Braasch, and my colleague
Stephen Bullon, but i'll put my two cents in anyway.


I think the arguments against abandoning print fall into two main
categories, practical and cultural/emotional.


The practical argument is that not everyone in the world enjoys good (or
even any) web connectivity. True (though becoming less true all the time).
As any publisher would, Macmillan took soundings from its sales people
worldwide to gauge future demand for print dictionaries (which of course
varies wildly from place to place). The current, final print run takes
account of these forecasts, and means we'll be able to satisfy that demand
for some time to come. Another model (which we have already applied in a few
cases) is that a local publishing partner can produce locally-printed
versions of our dictionaries under licence: an elegant and efficient
approach for which there may continue to be some demand over the next few
years. But the process of digitization is unstoppable - surely we all
believe that? -  and we see these measures as contingencies, to respond to a
transitional situation. (An aside: I seem to remember Sarah Ogilvie, in a
plenary on endangered languages at Euralex 2010, mentioning that in remote
areas of Western Australia, aboriginal people took advantage of the
satellite technology installed by mining companies there, and all had mobile
phones with bilingual dictionaries on them. So even thousands of miles from
big cities, digital dictionaries are by no means 'exotic'.)


This doesn't mean paper dictionaries will disappear any time soon: rather
that, like vinyl LPs (as we used to call them) they will be more of a niche.
There are many languages in the world that haven't yet benefited from the
last big lexicographic revolution - the 'corpus revolution' that began in
the 1980s - and publishers like Ilan Kernerman have provided excellent
resources for what we (reluctantly) refer to as 'smaller' languages. But
Macmillan produces dictionaries of English, and that most definitely is not
a niche.


The second argument, roughly, is that we all like delving into physical
books, and printed dictionaries offer serendipitous discoveries as we idly
browse them. Well, up to a point. But as Anna put it, 'most people are not
lexicographers or lovers of words, for them a dictionary is just a tool'.
The primary market for Macmillan's pedagogical dictionaries consists either
of learners of English or people whose first language isn't English but who
need to use English in their professional or academic lives (an enormous
group). This cohort is predominantly young, and many are digital natives.
The odds of a 19-year-old Korean undergraduate taking a paper dictionary
down from a shelf in order to resolve a reference query are, like it or not,
vanishingly long, and getting longer. Of course, I too appreciate the joys
of browsing a dictionary, but then I am (a) in my sixties and (b) a


Besides, as Simon noted, there are plenty of browsing opportunities in
electronic reference materials. In Macmillan's online dictionary you can (a)
click on any word in a definition or example sentence and go straight to the
entry for that word; (b) click on the 'T' thesaurus button at any word,
phrase or word sense and have access to relevant thesaurus data; (c) scroll
down the pane to the right of the entry showing 'Related definitions' (thus
at the noun 'box' you could also, instantly, look up entries such as box in,
inbox, box room, box someone's ears, or think outside the box). 


There are winners and losers, upsides and downsides, whenever things change.
But do we want to be like those people who wrote angry letters to the Times
when motorized transport first came to London at the beginning of the last
century, asking about the future employment prospects for people who made
their living by clearing the horse manure from the streets (I am not making
this up). As far as Macmillan is concerned, better to embrace a future that
will come anyway, than to hang grimly on to a way of doing things whose time
is passing. And the advantages of digital over paper are so great, and the
opportunities this medium offers are only beginning to be exploited.


And by the way, how would today's exchange of views have worked if we'd all
stuck to quill pens and the postal service?


Michael Rundell


Macmillan Dictionaries

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