A pleasant willingness to inform

5th May 1995 at 01:00
GRAND DICTIONNAIRE FRANCAIS-ANGLAIS ANGLAIS-FRANCAIS. Larousse Pounds 17.50 each volume 2 03 401300 X (set). New editions have recently appeared of the three major bilingual French-English dictionaries: the Collins-Robert, the Hachette and now the two-volume Larousse. All are excellent, taking advantage of modern methods of lexicography and adopting a far more user-friendly approach than was once the case with language dictionaries. "La convivialite de l'acc s a l'information", as the blurb to the Larousse calls it, rules.

Having said that, this is clearly not a book for beginners, tourists or casual users. It has more than 350,000 headwords, including a fairly wide range of specialised and technical terms, as well as slang and dialect. But it realises that its users will not necessarily be linguists or academics, and that they cannot all be assumed to have the same needs. And it adopts a clear and sensible policy towards the old problem of listing and cross-referencing phrases, compounds and phrasal verbs, which should cut down on wasted user-hours.

Another departure from the old-fashioned, purist approach to the compilation of language dictionaries has been the inclusion over the years of an increasing number of proper nouns, acronyms or abbreviations, and even cultural references, which were once relegated to separate appendices or else banned from the dictionary altogether. As well as fully incorporating proper nouns and acronyms, the Larousse includes a superb full-colour atlas as an appendix, hors-texte, and in the dictionary itself a number of boxes with information on items most of which are not strictly linguistic: a brief description of the French system of social security, a note on the Palais des Papes, an explanation (in French) of when il or elle can translate the English "it"; or, in the English-French volume, corresponding information about the Church of England, the Rosenberg case, rhyming slang or Greenham Common.

The value of these depends partly on how likely one is to look for the information here before hunting for it somewhere else. More important, perhaps, is the pleasant feeling given by this evidence of a willingness to inform. Each of the three French bilingual, desk dictionaries has its own selling points, which are probably more to do with such incidental features than the content of the dictionaries themselves.

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