The 16th Annual International AFRILEX Conference
UNAM, Windhoek, Namibia, 5-7 July 2011

Keynote Address Abstract: Adamska-Sałaciak, Arleta: Equivalence in a semantic and lexicographic perspective: A case study

As is commonly acknowledged, the biggest problem facing bilingual lexicographers is lack of perfect interlingual equivalence. For centuries, linguists and philosophers alike have been quick to point out that the lexicons of natural languages are not isomorphic. Reasons for this anisomorphism can be sought on three interrelated planes: language structure, extralinguistic reality, and conceptualisation (respectively, Zgusta’s (1971) ‘difference in the inventory of non-designative items’, ‘difference in denotata’, and ‘difference in designata’). Simply put, the differences may reside in the language, the world, or the mind – or any combination of these.

The inevitable result – of the dashed expectations of perfect equivalence on the one hand, and of the practical need for bilingual dictionaries on the other – is that what goes under the name of lexicographic equivalence is something highly heterogeneous. Dictionary equivalents come in different shapes and sizes, depending, to some extent, on the language pair involved and, to a much greater extent, on the particular lemma treated in a given entry. Growing awareness of this fact has resulted, over the years, in the creation of several tentative typologies of equivalence. One such attempt, building on existing metalexicographic work, will be presented here. A summary discussion of some auxiliary strategies for overcoming nonequivalence will conclude the theoretical part of the presentation.

The practical part comprises a detailed analysis of a single problem encountered while preparing LSW2, a new edition of a bilingual dictionary for Polish learners of English. The task at hand involved choosing a viable counterpart, from among a series of imperfect equivalence candidates, for a semantic neologism which, having become extremely popular in recent years, qualified for inclusion in the Polish-English part of the dictionary. In the course of discussing the case, reference will be made both to the metalexicographic categories introduced earlier and to such concepts developed by lexical (especially cognitive) semantics which may prove helpful in capturing the subtle differences in meaning between the source-language item and its competing target-language renditions.

The purpose of this micro-scale dissection of a single specimen is to demonstrate that, even with all the analytical tools at our disposal, we are still some way from being able to classify, let alone deal with, all the instances of imperfect interlingual correspondence that come our way in the day-to-day business of bilingual dictionary making. Persisting in the efforts to advance our understanding of the complex issues covered by the blanket term lexicographic equivalence thus seems crucial for improving the treatment of meaning in bilingual lexicographic products.


LSW2 = Fisiak, J., Adamska-Sałaciak, A., Idzikowski, M., Jagła, E., Jankowski, M., Lew, R. (eds.). 2011. LONGMAN Słownik Współczesny Angielsko-Polski, Polsko-Angielski. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited. 2nd edition.

Zgusta, L. 1971. Manual of Lexicography. The Hague: Mouton.


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