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

[Abstract:] Bergenholtz, Inger: One data base, four monofunctional dictionaries

Recent years have witnessed an ongoing discussion in metalexicography about the difference between mono- and polyfunctional dictionaries. If not all then at least very many printed dictionaries have been polyfunctional ones. The arguments for them have been of an economic nature - you cannot sell enough copies of af dictionary if it has only one function and does not appeal to a broad group of users. This may be true for some small languages with comparatively few dictionary users. It may also apply for many dictionaries for special languages, be it a small or a large language area. Therefore I started my music dictionary, Politiken Music Dictionary, back in the 1990s with a polyfunctional aim addressing a rather large user group and having at least two functions. The first being to help understand musical terms as they are found by laymen or semi-experts in texts on classical music or in sheet music. Whereas the second function was to give more detailed knowledge about classical music, about music instruments, genres, and history and translating the often Italian expressions which you find in sheet music. The background of the printed dictionary was established in a dictionary data base. Out of this data base all elements of the entries were printed. The only problem was to consider in which order the single elements should be shown in order to make the access easy and understandable (cf. Bergenholtz/Bergenholtz 2007).

The idea of transferring the printed work to the internet was a natural one because there did not exist any really profound and scientifically supported music dictionary in Danish. The work on the internet dictionary started after 2004 on the same premises as the printed dictionary and used the same data base. But after considerations made by the Center for Lexicography at the University of Aarhus two monofunctional and one polyfunctional dictionary resulted (Bergenholtz/Bergenholtz 2011). The setting up was based on the following thoughts: A polyfunctional dictionary is expected to be used by everyone in any kind of user situation with communicative and cognitive problems. But a dictionary is a tool and good tools are not polyfunctional, they are designed and made to fulfil specific tasks. It should be the same for information tools. A good tool is a tool conceived for a certain function and for a certain user group for certain needs.

In this first version of the internet music dictionary the data base worked as a basis out of which the three dictionaries selected their information. But the conception was still based on traditional thinking about how much you should show to the user: Much is good, more is better. Especially the access to the use of foreign expressions in music theory and in printed music was not optimal. The expressions were so to speak hidden between other elements in the first two dictionaries which were called Understanding of Musical Terms and Knowledge about Musical Terms. Ideas took shape to make the dictionaries more specific in order to avoid information overload.

Therefore we have been working on a new setup after thinking more clearly about the searching of the data base and the presentation of the single entries with the result of now four dictionaries corresponding to four different user needs for information about musical terms all of which still base on the same data base (which is of course constantly enlarged and improved). The dictionaries are called “Understanding of Musical Terms”, “Knowledge about Musical terms”, “Find a Musical Term”, and “Translation Dictionary”.

Such a differentiation needs different sorts of searching. First of all we shall have to differentiate between two sorts of searching in the data base: the minimalising and the maximalising method of searching. The first being one where the searching stops after having found a hit in one field and then does not go on. The maximalising search goes on searching in all the fields chosen. Furthermore you shall foresee searching for absolute search strings, i.e. only looking up the exact orthographical form of the word. Like the minimalising search it has the advantage of giving fewer results, but the disadvantage of not giving results which might be relevant for the user, for instance results with the searched expression as part of compounds or being inflected. If wanted you can foresee searching with Boolean operators by writing more than one word and combine them with ‘and’or’ ‘but not’, e.g. chamber music and piano or violin but not flute.

In both the third and the fourth dictionary you will often get more than one hit (and if you write only a part of a term, in the first dictionary, too). If it is more than 10 hits the lemmas will be presented as a list from which you can choose the relevant ones. If you click on them you get the possibility to go on into more details.

The first dictionary “Understanding of Musical Terms” only presents the lemma(s) and a short explanation and a picture, if existing. The second dictionary, “Knowledge about Musical Terms”, presents the lemma(s), the same short explanation, and often a rather long explanation with history and other background stuff, synonyms, references to other entries, internet links, sound examples and pictures. In the third dictionary “Find a Musical Term”, you can look up expressions which are not necessarily lemmas but are part of the text in the single entries or you can look up all the lemmas which have certain elements in common. The fourth dictionary is a “Translation Dictionary”. Here you can get foreign expressons translated into Danish or look for the foreign word(s) for a Danish term or explanation, i.e. the translation can go both ways.

The line of thought behind these dictionaries is that the lexicographer - not the single user - decides how the searching works. In the Center in Aarhus the experts are working on methods to introduce individually defined searching methods. I have not adopted them, waiting for the ongoing experiments. The user does not know how the system works. Searching in different fields does not imply automatically how the results are being presented. You can search in fields where the data are not shown and you can show data from fields where no searching took place.

The paper will show tables after which the searching is organised and examples how it is presented in the dictionaries.


Bergenholtz Henning/Inger Bergenholtz, Inger: A timeless music dictionary. In: Lexikos 17, 2007, 407-415.

Bergenholtz Henning/Inger Bergenholtz, Inger: A dictionary is a tool, a good dictionary is a monofunctional tool. In: P.A. Fuertes-Olivera/H. Bergenholtz (eds.): e-Lexicography: The Internet, Digital Initiatives and Lexicography. London & New York: Continuum 2011. (in print)

Politiken Music Dictionary = Bergenholtz, Inger: Politikens Musikordbog. København: Politiken 1996.

The Danish Internet Music Dictionary = Inger Bergenholtz in cooperation with Richard Almind and Henning Bergenholtz: Musikordbogen. 2011. (