Monday, August 30, 2010


When you think of the English language from the perspective of a speaker of the language from a third-world, you think of the dictionary as a means of helping you to understand and master the language. And when you think of a dictionary, some names immediately cropped up – Cambridge, Chambers, Webster, Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Longman and Macmillan – to name the more famous and familiar titles.

And when you get down to the serious business of choosing amongst the different titles, it is a difficult choice. But most often, people around the world settled for the Oxford titles in different shapes, sizes and colours. Though few have access or possession of the full edition of the dictionary, Oxford has been synonymous with English dictionary. And unfortunately for lovers of the Oxford dictionary, it is time to say goodbye to the full edition of the dictionary, at least, in the printed format.

According to UK’s Telegraph, the world’s most definitive work on the English language, Oxford English Dictionary, will not be printed again, because of the impact of the internet on book sales.

The dictionary’s owner, Oxford University Press, said the impact of the internet means the third edition of Oxford English Dictionary will probably appear only in electronic form.
“The print dictionary market is just disappearing, it is falling away by tens of per cent a year,” said Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press. Asked if he thought the third edition would be printed, he said: “I don’t think so.”

Sales of the third edition of the vast tome have fallen due to the increasing popularity of online alternatives, according to its publisher.

Single volume will continued to be published
A team of 80 lexicographers has been working on the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary – known as OED3 – for the past 21 years.
The most recent OED has existed online for more than a decade, where it receives two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of £240.

Almost one third of a million entries were contained in the second version of the OED, published in 1989 across 20 volumes.

The in-thing
The next full edition is still estimated to be more than a decade away from completion; only 28 per cent has been finished to date.

Mr Portwood said printed dictionaries had a shelf life of about another 30 years, with the pace of change increased by the popularity of e-books and devices such as the Apple iPad and Amazon’s Kindle.

Simon Winchester, author of ‘The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary’, said the switch towards online formats was “prescient”.

Becoming more popular
He said: “Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise.

“The printed book is about to vanish at extraordinary speed. I have two complete OEDs, but never consult them – I use the online OED five or six times daily. The same with many of my reference books – and soon with most.

“Books are about to vanish; reading is about to expand as a pastime; these are inescapable realities.”

Despite its worldwide reputation, the OED has never made a profit. The continuing research costs several million pounds a year. “These are the sort of long-term research projects which will never cover their costs, but are something that we choose to do,” Mr Portwood said.

A spokesman for the OUP said a print version of OED3 could not be ruled out “if there is sufficient demand at the time” but that its completion was “likely to be more than a decade” away.

Mobile dictionaries: in vogue
Oxford University Press said it would continue to print the more familiar Oxford Dictionary of English, the single-volume version sold in bookshops and which contains more contemporary entries such as vuvuzela, the plastic trumpet encountered in the 2010 football World Cup.

The first dictionary in recognizable format was Samuel Johnson’s, which was published in 1755. It remained the standard text for 150 years until the Oxford University Press embarked on its project in 1879.

The first Oxford English Dictionary came out in sections from 1884, completed in 1928.

The second Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1989.

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