Are dictionaries dead?

I have many dictionaries. The languages I have taught, Spanish and English, are the languages I have with the most dictionaries. I use online dictionaries also but I rely on my shelf of carefully collected books and dictionaries. I have German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Scottish Gaelic, Breton-French, Irish, German-Spanish, Latin-Spanish, Latin-English and Spanish-Greek dictionaries. On the Spanish side I have a Diccionario de Dudas which analyzes the difficulties of the English idiom from the Spanish side. It is remarkably cogent with very few errors. It’s chief drawback it that it tends to focus on BRITISH English rather than American English but that doesn’t bother me. I have a number of Spanish dictionaries Collins Spanish-English (great grammar notes), Oxford (magnificent treatment of phrasal verbs) and American Heritage (great synonyms and explanation of multiple meanings) The AHA, my prefered dictionary, uses a simple phonic system instead of the IPA. The IPA is very precise but useless to help English learners spell and pronounce English. I prefer the Merriam-Webster or American Heritage phonic system for the purpose of teaching. Even I sometimes use the AHA dictionary primarily for copying the phonetic letters. But I learn much more by studying real dictionaries because the words are explained in detail and are surrounded alphabetically by related words (sometimes false cognates).

Of course, I have the venerable RAE (dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy), and the Larousse dictionary with its encyclopaedia like features. I have the Larousse in Portuguese also. I read Portuguese and occasionally read articles from Brazil or correspond with people from Brazil. I also watch films with Portuguese subtitles. I used to be reasonable fluent in Portuguese but as hardly ever use it the only thing I have retained is a good reading ability. When speaking Portuguese today I inevitably lapse into Spanish.

Another favorite dictionary is BEYOND THE DICTIONARY IN SPANISH by A. Bryson Gerrard. This dictionary consists of short essays on words and phrases and the author clearly explains nuances and multiple meanings as well as the limitations of certain Spanish words. Every teacher of English or Spanish knows there are cognates that English and Spanish (indeed most Romance languages) share. And every teacher knows there are FALSE COGNATES; words that look alike but have completely different meaning. Famous examples are éxito,  suceso embarazada ,agonía etc.

Spanish English
éxito  success[1]
suceso Event or incident  or a [2]happening
embaraz-ada literally “heavily burdened with child”; pregnant NOT embarrassed [3]
agonía Means dying breath or death throes [4]
extravag-ante Partially FALSE; Wandering away from the normal or eccentric especially in clothes[5]
feria Fair of course is in market but NEVER “just”[6]

[1] Not exit which is “salida

[2] éxito  is, of course, success not exit.

[3] Preñada does mean pregnant but is used ONLY for animals or if used for humans it is humorous or insulting. Very insulting.

[4] Dolor horrible is probably agony or a prolonged agony would be “martirio” (martyrdom)

[5] Extravagant in the sense of money is us “derrochador”  (big spender) or “pródigo” (prodigal)

[6] Feria in slang means (fare or money)  ‘feriar” means to change a large sum into small change as for the bus.

But the really difficult words are idioms or are the cognates that are PARTIALLY FALSE. Of course, it is complicated by the use of “americanismos” or “Spanglish”. I have no problem, per se with “americanismos’ or “Spanglish” . I do have a problem with illiteracy; that is substituting English words so much that one is unable to read standard Spanish. Slang words add humor and zest but they should be used as some extra spice. They should not be the whole “enchilada.”

I will never forget the time when a student came back to California after an extended time in Mexico on her family ranch. She said, ” ¿Me mistió , míster?” At first I did not understand her as this is not properly Spanish but after a moment I realized she was asking “Did you miss me, Sir?” That’s “Spanglish”. It never ceases to get a few laughs when I recount this true story which proves that slang is great for humor or local color.

Similarly, in my private life, I love to use Scottish dialect for our “hame” dialect. The Glaswegian/Oban language my father spoke as a child was a Scots/Gaelic hybrid. An example would be “Yon’s a paltry lassie” (not meaning trashy but overly skinny) or “yon’s a fey mon” (meaning he is taking so many chances he is going to roll snake eyes -that is to say he is doomed). My father often remarked that his father (Auld Pop) upon seeing JFK in an open car waving in a motorcade in New York City said (in 1960), “yon’s a fey mon.” My father said, “What do you mean, Pop?” He said, win or lose he was an easy target for an assassin. When November 22, 1963 came around my father remembered that expression. Of course, Auld Pop (his father) had seen many a commanding officer and comrade laid low by German snipers at 2nd Ypres. Of course, having a knowledge of Scottish dialect is mostly important to enjoy poems of Burns and Scottish songs but otherwise has a very limited utility.

But normally I would never use Scottish dialect outside of my clan circle or except when corresponding with Scottish friends because I am aware that this argot is impenetrable to most English-speakers and especially almost all English learner. I have only met one Spaniard in my entire life who was fluent in Scots and he had been educated in Glasgow. He found the Scots pronunciation easier than English so he stuck to it. He sounded like a well educated Glaswegian who had lived in Edinburgh. I am a firm believe in language control and in having command of STANDARD ENGLISH or STANDARD SPANISH. But I am well aware “non-standard English” etc. exist and have their uses. I like online dictionaries, I like electronic dictionaries on my NOOK but I love and rely on and study my real dictionaries and my real books. If I really want to study an article or book I get the real Mccoy. Virtual books do not make as strong an impression on my mind and memory.