Dictionaria, according to its beta page, is “an open-access journal that publishes high-quality dictionaries of languages from around the world, especially languages that do not have a large number of speakers. The dictionaries are published not in the traditional linear form, but as electronic databases that can be easily searched, linked and exported.” One of its editors, Martin Haspelmath, writes about the virtues of such dictionaries in this Diversity Linguistics Comment post:

To look up a word in a linear dictionary, you typically need to browse to an alphabetic list of possible initial letters, and then browse to the right word, as in a paper dictionary (this is so in the Maa and Archi dictionaries, for example). Other dictionaries try to approximate the familiar Google search line and present users with a search box (e.g. the Yurok dictionary), but this creates the problem that one doesn’t know what to look for – many searches will lead nowhere. Dictionaria combines searching and browsing in an optimal way: Each page shows up to 100 entries (words), with one entry per line (e.g. in the Daakaka dictionary). Each column has a search field on top of it (as in other CLLD applications, such as APiCS), thus allowing searching and filtering by different criteria: not only by headword (as in many dictionaries), but also by part of speech, meaning description and semantic domain, and potentially more. In addition to searching, you can also sort by any field in ascending or descending order.

Many linguists like leafing through dictionaries in order to get a sense of what’s in them, and for a first rough impression, this may work. But have you ever tried to leaf through a dictionary to find out how much it says about adjectives or prepositions? In the Daakaka dictionary, select PREP in the part-of-speech column, and you’ll see all 15 prepositions of the language right away. Similarly, select “color” in the semantic-domain column, and you’ll see all six color terms in the dictionary. You can of course also select two columns at the same time, e.g. “verb” and “food”, to see all 41 food-related verbs of Daakaka. […]

Extensive dictionaries often include copious examples, like the German WDG dictionary above. But what if you want to search within examples? Linear dictionaries let you down, while this is easy in Dictionaria: There is a separate tab where the examples are given in tabular format. Thus, it is easy to search within the 1546 examples of the Teop marine life dictionary, e.g. to find all 36 examples containing ‘tail’ in the English translation. In the Daakaka dictionary, the examples are even glossed, so that it is easy to find the 87 illustrating sentences containing demonstratives, for example.

He is, of course, not an impartial observer, but it certainly does seem like a good concept, and the linked dictionary is fun to play with.


  1. : ) From Daakaka dictionary: dear |adj |(of a girl) be at the right age for getting married

  2. “Dictionaria edited by Haspelmath, Martin & Mosel, Ulrike & Stiebels, Barbara
    is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License .”

    At first I thought there were two Haspelmaths, but were there two Barbaras, Barbara Ulrike and Barbara Stiebels? Or one Barbara with the last name of Ulrike & Stiebels? I felt a flush of jealousy. I too want a last name with an ampersand in it. Is it allowed? Is it too late for me in my advanced years?

    Phillip Jennings & Haarsager

  3. The ampersand has wider scope than the comma, so the authors are Martin Haspelmath, Ulrike Mosel, and Barbara Stiebels. I have not seen this usage before: normally with three or more authors it’s “Haspelmath et al.”

    John Cowan & Schultz

  4. I have to say I felt a bit aggrieved on behalf of paper dictionaries about all that high-handed arrogance about linearity. Even after you invent the jet pack, it doesn’t hurt to show a little gratitude towards the bus driver who got you to elementary school every day.

  5. Indeed. And buses have the valuable feature of static stability: they don’t get taken down by accident or whim while not in use.

  6. I too want a last name with an ampersand in it. Is it allowed?
    I actually want to be called Kilu von Prince now. 😉

  7. “Ruiz & Picasso” isn’t any shorter than “Ruiz y Picasso” but “Thurn & Taxis” is a bit shorter than “Thurn und Taxis”.

  8. George Frideric H&el.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Dictionaria edited by Haspelmath, Martin & Mosel, Ulrike & Stiebels, Barbara

    Perhaps this is a German style of naming multiple authors? In North America I have mostly seen Haspelmath, Martin, Ulrike Mosel and Barbara Stiebels, eds.

    i agree that a semicolon after “Martin” would make the list clearer.

    The ampersand between two names gives the impression that the people with those names are closely linked, for instance “Martin & Mosel” might be brother and sister, or spouses, with the same last name “Haspelmath”.

  10. marie-lucie says

    One problem with “et al.” is that the first person listed, usually the one whose name is first alphabetically, will be the one quoted in a reference to the common work, and therefore will tend to be the only one credited with it.

  11. marie-lucie says

    mollymooly: “Ruiz & Picasso” isn’t any shorter than “Ruiz y Picasso”

    But this is not the common style in Spanish: the painter always used “Pablo Ruiz Picasso”. “Y” is only used with more complex names.

  12. Marja Erwin says

    I had the same reaction.

    A list can include smaller lists. So it helps to use different markers at different levels of splitting and linking, and not use different markers at the same level. Since ; usually denotes a higher-level split than , and , usually denotes a higher-level split than &, lists like this are a confusing mess.

  13. David Marjanović says

    I have not seen this usage before: normally with three or more authors it’s “Haspelmath et al.”

    There are journals that require spelling out all authors if there are up to three. And then there are some that require spelling three authors out the first time, but using “et al.” after that!

    But I’ve never seen “&” more than once in a list. I suppose whoever did this thought it would be less confusing than “Haspelmath, Martin, Mosel, Ulrike & Stiebels, Barbara”, which it may not be…

  14. I wonder if it wasn’t an attempt to imply absolute equality, on the theory that a regular commafied list might imply that Haspelmath was the lead author in some sense? I’m not aware of any style guide that suggests this format for that purpose but I’ve heard rumors of similar contortions of orthography for that sort of effect. Note that the names are alphabetized too. (I do agree that it’s a bit baffling at a glance—garden path punctuation, if you like.)

  15. One problem with “et al.” is that the first person listed, usually the one whose name is first alphabetically, will be the one quoted in a reference to the common work, and therefore will tend to be the only one credited with it.

    I’m currently having to use APA style in my editing, which I hate in general, but I do like the fact that when there’s a long list of authors they include the first six and the last one, thus:

    Foley, J. A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K. A., Cassidy, E. S., Gerber, J. S., Johnston, M., . . . Zaks, D. P. M. (2011). Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature, 478(7369), 337–342.

    The last shall not be first, but Zaks shall not be forgotten!

  16. From the quote above, it seems that Foley, J.A. was either the main contributor or the biggest cheese and then it went alphabetical, but sometimes the last person on the list is the boss (head of the lab or something) and preceding authors are students or postdocs who actually done the bulk, if not all, of the work, but who are just nobodies. Many a time I saw a reference “such-and-such work done in famous-name’s lab” no matter what was in the citation formatted according to the publisher’s rules.

  17. January First-of-May says

    …Anything about coauthorship makes me think of the Erdős number.
    It is said that anyone who ever published a coauthored scientific article has a finite one; this is probably not quite true as stated (Russell and Whitehead, who apparently only ever collaborated with each other. are a relatively well-known exception), but IIRC it’s still an open problem whether there are any larger nontrivial subgraphs (that don’t just consist of a single person and their coauthors).
    I sadly lack an Erdős number (so far) for the reason of having never published a coauthored scientific article. My mother had, however (one that I could find, in molecular biology), and her Erdős number is probably 5. (My father was a coauthor on the same paper, so his Erdős number is also 5 if not lower.)

    A few years back I worked on the puzzle of finite Erdős numbers for 18th century scientists (I was sure they must exist, and it did turn out to be the case, but when I started, the earliest known scientist with a finite Erdős number was Dedekind; turned out it’s just because 19th century mathematics was really sparse on coauthored articles). I was able to establish a finite Erdős number for Benjamin Franklin (my first upper bound for him was 18); a different path to him (upper bound of 13) can be seen on the Erdős Number Project site today.
    It is still an open question, to the best of my knowledge, whether the famous mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss has a finite Erdős number. (The classic Erdős number graph in Odda 1979 proposes a promising-looking chain, and, IIRC, I was able to establish finite Erdős numbers for some people on the right-hand side of that chain, but some of the links in the middle don’t appear to exist; apparently also in the same subgraph as Gauss is Johann Karl Friedrich Zöllner. an astrophysicist, as well as Ernst Wilisch and Karl Friedrich Weigel, who don’t appear to show up on Google outside references to their respective coauthored papers with Ernst Heinrich Weber.)
    Leonhard Euler most likely does not have a finite Erdős number, having apparently never collaborated with anyone not named Euler.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Looks like my best hope for an Erdős number runs through Eugene Koonin, but I wouldn’t know how. I’m more interested in whether I have a combined Cope/Marsh number, except I’m not sure if Cope (one of my academic ancestors) ever coauthored with anyone…

    Haspelmath, Martin, Mosel, Ulrike & Stiebels, Barbara

    Actually, this simply calls for the Chinese inverted comma for lists.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Cope did have a number of coauthors! This paper should give me a Cope number of at most 5 (straight down the genealogy, except I have a publication with my academic grandfather).

  20. January First-of-May says

    except I’m not sure if Cope (one of my academic ancestors) ever coauthored with anyone…

    …does “Hitherto unpublished plates of Tertiary Mammalia and Permian Vertebrata”, Cope and Matthew, 1915, count?

    If it doesn’t, the answer appears to be “maybe, depending on how we count the 1874 geological survey”.

    EDIT: the source I used did not list the papers found in the post above (which mostly appear to be books from the 1950s).

  21. David Marjanović says

    This paper should give me a Cope number of

    B.S., to quote Senator Hatch. As the page helpfully points out, Simpson was born five years after Cope died; a pdf of the paper is accessible two clicks away, and shows as expected that Simpson is its only author – Cope just authored the first two cited references.

  22. David Marjanović says

    There’s this posthumous syllabus of Cope’s lectures with an introduction by Henry Fairfield Osborn, “the only man capable of strutting while sitting down”. In his lifetime, Cope “edited and revised” Baily’s book on birds. Then there’s Cope & Matthew (1915), where Cope’s posthumous coauthorship is deserved by the fact that the plates were made under Cope’s supervision. And that’s it from that list; all other supposedly multi-authored works there in fact have a single author who is never Cope.

    But Cope has some 1400 publications to his name. There’s got to be a complete list somewhere…

  23. The biggest issue as we move back in time is what counts as a publication. Modern standards we’re not universal until after the Second World War.

  24. January First-of-May says

    The biggest issue as we move back in time is what counts as a publication.

    There’s also a problem as to what counts as “coauthored” (many published reports consist of several sections, each of which has a separate author).
    The 1784 publication that connects Franklin to the big chain was, in fact, one of those – though, since it had apparently been republished under modern standards in 2002, it can technically still count properly.

  25. The definition of publication is still vague. Do print-on-receipt journals count? If so, can I send an article on some trivial point to one of them with an author field of J. Cowan and P. Erdős and get an Erdős number of 1? If you object to this because Erdős is dead, certainly people who died before a paper was actually submitted can and should be listed as authors, and who’s to say that I am not just now publishing something Erdős discussed with me decades ago?

    This notable paper is credited to Rufus Bowen and Caroline Series, though Bowen died before any of it was written. At the end of the introduction appears the following remarkable paragraph: “The preparation of this paper has been overshadowed by Rufus’s death in July [1978]. We had intended to write jointly: most of the main ideas were worked out together and I have done my best to complete them. In sorrow, I dedicate this work to his memory.”

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