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August 15, 1999 - Encarta World English Dictionary, Part 2 - 2002-02-05

INTRO: This week VOA's Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti take another look at a new dictionary and the way it was created.

AA: Bloomsbury Publishing in London wanted to create a world English dictionary. The idea was to write different editions aimed at different English-speaking audiences. But Bloomsbury also wanted to give readers a taste of the different vocabularies used by English speakers around the world. And it wasn't enough to publish a book -- the company also wanted to put the dictionary on a CD-ROM for computer users.

RS: Enter Microsoft. The computer software giant was interested in updating its existing reference software, and so Bloomsbury and Microsoft began the new venture. They recruited a team of 320 lexicographers from twenty English-speaking countries to work on the project. Anne Soukhanov [sue-`ha-nuff] became editor of the U-S and Canadian edition of the Encarta World English Dictionary. She says the work not only required the use of new technologies, but also new ways of collaborating.


"No longer will American lexicographers be able to work in isolation. I think that the fact that we had an international editorial group linked by computers, working together and checking each other's work and commenting on it and culturally editing our own work and using a fifty-million word corpus on CD-ROM, with which to decide which entry was current enough to put into our various books. All of these things changed dictionary publishing in America. It's never going to be the same again."

AA: Anne Soukhanov, a thirty-year veteran of the word-defining business, worked from a "virtual office" -- her old farmhouse in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, equipped with a computer, a fax and a telephone.


"Each (word) definer would receive an electronic file of head words and the corpus of words and would start writing definitions which were reviewed up the line. The etymologists would get those same head words with definitions and supply the word history.

"The pronunciation editors supplying U-S and U- K and Australian pronunciations in separate little boxes, in what we call pronunciation fields. And, so the whole thing was put together by our e-mailing our material to London everyday. It went into a major computer there."

RS: And then at another junction on the electronic superhighway, the book was culturally divided according to the different English-speaking regions where it would be published.


"And, we reviewed it and added features and just kept working without paper until it got down to the end when we did have to look at page proofs to make sure each page was coming out right."

AA: Anne Soukhanov says the dictionary was completed in record time.


"I was working on this for more than two years, and I believe that it took us about three and a half years to do which I would say less than half the time that would have been required to do a dictionary from scratch, not based on any pre-existing dictionary product.

"And, the reason that it was so easy to do so fast is electronics, pure and simple."

RS: Anne Soukhanov says this new dictionary of world English may help English speakers from different parts of the world avoid confusing situations. Each regional edition includes a snapshot of words used in the other regions.

AA: She offers this scenario with the word "similar." Similar means "alike" in American English, but in Malaysian English it means "identical."


"Suppose a robbery occurred and an American police officer who was visiting over there (in Malaysia) was talking with witnesses along with a Malaysian. And, the witness said the two cars were similar. Let's say that there were two groups of suspects and two cars. The American policeman would think they looked sort of like each other, but were not identical, whereas the Malaysian officer would understand similar meant identical."

RS: Anne Soukhanov, North American editor of the Encarta World English Dictionary, published this past week in book form and on CD-ROM.

AA: Whether you are electronically connected or not, we'd like to hear from you. Our e-mail address is Our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20547 USA RS: Next week on Wordmaster we'll read from some of your letters. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "OeeOeeO (The English Language)"/Scooter Lee