Why did we need a new edition?
People sometimes ask why we need new editions at all. If users like a dictionary, and it gives them the information they need, what’s the point in producing a new version? It’s a good question, and the first thing to say is that we haven’t changed the basic philosophy of MED at all. The new edition preserves all the features that made MED so popular: the unique distinction between ‘red’ and ‘black’ words (or ‘productive’ and ‘receptive’ vocabulary), the simple, clear definitions, easy-to-follow but natural example sentences, helpful ‘menus’, and so on. But the world doesn’t stand still, and dictionaries have to change and improve in order to satisfy new needs. Two factors in particular are worth mentioning here:
- first, since we launched MED in 2002, there have been important developments, in the way people access information, and the needs, expectations and skills of language-learners have changed in response to these developments
- secondly, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ dictionary (any more than there’s a perfect car or a perfect mobile phone). We are constantly learning more about how language works and how people acquire it, so even the best dictionaries can be improved and made more relevant to the needs of their users.
Let’s look more at both these issues.
This word didn’t appear in the first edition of MED – for the simple reason that very few people had heard of Google back in 2002, and even fewer had actually used it. Nowadays, it’s hard for most of us to imagine life without resources like Google. Since the beginning of the new millennium, there has been a massive change in the way people find information, book holidays, buy music and other products, and keep in touch with their friends. All of this has been made possible by the Internet.
When we started work on MED in 1998, fewer than 10% of UK households had access to the Internet. By the end of 2007, that figure had risen to well over 60%. And almost all users now have fast, broadband connections, which steadily replaced the slower ‘dial-up’ services from about 2001 onwards. In most other parts of the world, a similar story has been unfolding. In other words, the ‘coming of age’ of the Internet coincided almost exactly with the period between the first and second editions of MED. One of the changes this has brought about is that there is now a lot of information on the Web about language – with numerous online dictionaries and thesauruses – and almost all of it is free! Some people have predicted that this means the end of the road for ‘conventional’ dictionaries, but we don’t take that view at all. We see the growth of free language resources as an interesting challenge. It means we have to ensure that the information we provide is much better, and much more relevant to the needs of language-learners, than anything that’s available on the Internet.
This is where our consultations with dictionary-users proved so useful. As well as telling us what they liked about MED, the people who responded to our survey gave us ideas about what additional features would make the dictionary even more helpful. One of the things that emerged from the survey was that a growing number of language-learners are now using English in academic and professional environments – and they need a dictionary that will support them in the tasks they have to perform. For example, the number of ‘non-native-speakers’ studying in universities in English-speaking countries (or on English-medium courses in other countries) has rocketed in the last few years, and this creates a new set of needs, which include:
- more specialist vocabulary – people who use English in the workplace, or when studying subjects like medicine, business, or information technology expect their dictionary to explain the specialist terms they encounter on a regular basis
- more help with writing – an ability to write fluent, natural, and accurate English is an increasingly important requirement for many language-learners, and a good dictionary should provide materials to help them master these skills.
As we will see later, many of the new features of MED‘s second edition are specifically designed to meet both these needs. But first, it might be useful to give a brief summary of the main changes we have made.