By Philippe Humblé

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Sample text

Yet, it is contrary to my personal experience that in the case of encoding a definition alone is better than an example alone. Maybe the subjects were still unsure as to the meaning of the item. Less astonishing, but worth keeping in mind, is the fact that in the case of decoding, an example would be just as efficient as a definition. An internal Cobuild paper (Harvey and Yuill, 1992) contradicts Laufer‘s conclusions, at least to a certain extent. This research was based on an ‘introspective’ questionnaire given to 211 informants after a production test.

They reveal what the needs are 54 DICTIONARIES AND LANGUAGE LEARNERS to the extent that they are soluble by already existing means. If we succeed in using computers adequately for lexicographic purposes this will render obsolete a large number of research publications on grammar codes, phonetic alphabet, number of examples, the need for synonyms, the need for encyclopaedic information, the place where learners look up multi-word items, classification of fixed expressions, and others. If qualitative research results fed this technology, a blueprint could be drawn up and give rise to a major revolution in the world of lexicography.

Needs exceed this realm and point to what is not yet existent. Paradoxically, in the history of mankind, solutions often have preceded problems and the software industry of the last few years –as the invention of printing– has clearly demonstrated this. In the case of questionnaires and tests, one investigates what is apparent. When not predictable, the results are often doubtful. Investigating the link between needs and habits is useful only to find out how learners at present tackle the problems which current dictionaries are expected to solve.

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