A study of the existing literature shows that definitions play an important part in dictionary use and making. The discussions primarily concern printed dictionaries and show that definitions are static in that only one definition should be provided for each meaning of a lemma or entry word, as argued in e.g. Jackson (2002: 86-100). However, online dictionaries provide lexicographers with the option of taking a more flexible approach to lexicographic definitions in an attempt to give the best possible help to users. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to dictionary making has its limits, and lexicographers may want to consider the options of making online dictionaries that are multi-functional and at the same time present definitions targeted to specific user types. One possible result is the writing and presentation of more than one definition for each meaning of a word or concept in a dictionary. Firstly, dictionaries with multiple functions may have one type of definition for each function. A lexicographic function is the type of help a dictionary can give to a specific user type in a specific non-lexicographic situation in which someone may consult dictionaries to find help, for instance when they are reading texts, producing texts or want to acquire knowledge about something in general or something specific. A good definition supporting text production in a foreign language may differ from the optimal definition for text production in the same language by native speakers. Similarly, the definition that can best support text comprehension in the user’s native language is likely to differ from the optimal definition supporting the acquisition of knowledge. In these situations, the general cultural and linguistic competences of intended user groups are important. Secondly, specialised dictionaries designed to help different types of users should contain definitions that reflect the cultural, factual and linguistic competences of those groups, such as laypersons, interested laypersons, semi-experts and experts. The competences do not only refer to general competences such as language for general purposes, but also to domain-specific aspects such as language for special purposes. The definition that can best support the function text production by laypersons is different from the definition that semi-experts need in order to successfully produce texts. Thirdly, the question of access by users to the definitions is closely linked to their presentation. Online dictionaries can offer users a variety of search routes that differ considerably from those offered by printed dictionaries. In some online dictionaries, users are asked to specify why they are looking for help when they enter their search words. This could be clicking one box if “you want help to understand a text” and clicking another box if “you want help to produce a text”. Depending on which box users click the definition presented on the screen will be specifically targeted to provide help in the situation indicated. When consulting online specialised dictionaries, which often provide help to users who are unfamiliar with the subject field and its language, users may be asked whether they are, for instance, laypersons or semi-experts and the result of their search will then provide them with help that is specific for the particular type of user in a particular type of user situation. So far, the above problems have received no or very limited attention by lexicographers. Modern online dictionaries designed to provide help in specific types of situations to specific types of users may contain several definitions of the same monosemous lemma. The important point is that each definition has been written with a specific function and user group in mind taking into account the needs of users in specific types of user situation.
Ivanovskaya Leksikograficheskaya Shkola: Traditsii I Innovatsii, 2011, p. 197-219