Creating a Basic Electronic English-Russian Production Dictionary for Beginning Russian Learners

James Brown, University of Hawaii

Production dictionaries are extremely valuable in helping non-native speakers to correctly encode concepts (such as age, illness, possession) and language functions (for example greetings, farewells, thanks) in the target language. Although production dictionaries are not particularly common they can be found in at least two types. They may be bilingual, such as the French-Russian dictionary of Gak & Triomphe, 1991 or monolingual, for example the Russian dictionaries (Mel'chuk & Zholkovsky, 1984, Tikhonov, 2001) and the English dictionaries (Sinclair, 2001, Summers, 1993). The English production dictionary (Sinclair, 2001) is also available in an enhanced electronic version that features 5 million words of text which can be searched for examples of word usage.

Currently all production dictionaries are ordered primarily around words expressing concepts and functions rather than around concepts and functions and the words used to express them. In addition no bilingual English-Russian production dictionary yet exists either in hard copy or electronic form (although there are a number of bilingual handbooks in hard copy arranged by concepts or speech functions, for example [Brown & Priiatkina, 1996]). This paper will discuss the basic principles for constructing a limited electronic production dictionary for first year Russian students based on concepts and speech functions. Treated as well are the speech and language elements that such a dictionary should contain and a description of a sophisticated database authoring program that can be used to create stand-alone copies of such a dictionary for distribution to students.

Valuable indications of what production dictionaries may contain are given in (Apresian, 1986, Novikov, 2003) but there are additional factors that must be taken into account for a production dictionary targeted at beginning, unsophisticated language learners. An elementary English-Russian production dictionary should anticipate the words and phrases that native speakers of English use to express a concept as well as giving terms describing the concept. For instance in addition to using the descriptive words "greeting" or "greetings" as a search term one should be able to find how this concept is expressed in Russian by searching for such words and phrases as: "hello," "hi," "good morning," "how are you." Additionally all the ways for expressing greetings that are given in the dictionary should be accessible (though not necessarily explained in detail) on one page but arranged in a way so that this information is not overwhelming. Certainly as well, an elementary English-Russian production dictionary will necessarily be restricted to the limited number of concepts and speech functions treated in first year textbooks but it should be so ordered that further information from other levels of study can be easily integrated into editions targeted at more advanced learners of Russian. Lastly, the authoring program used to create the dictionary should allow the creation of a number of searchable fields and permit information to be easily entered in these fields. Such a program exists and examples of how it can be used will be given.