In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bilingual Lexicography

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Translation Equivalence
  • Dictionary Typology
  • Dictionary Structure
  • History of Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Computational Bilingual Lexicography
  • Corpus-Related Bilingual Lexicography
  • Bilingual Learners’ Dictionaries

Linguistics Bilingual Lexicography
Enikő Héja, Veronika Lipp, Gábor Prószéky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0301


Bilingual dictionaries are created to build a bridge between two languages, the source and the target language, so that speakers of the two understand each other. Bilingual lexicography is a discipline exploring bilingual dictionaries from various aspects. It investigates the how-to’s of making bilingual dictionaries (“practical lexicography”), their quality and usability (“dictionary use”), and also the theoretical issues specific to bilingual dictionaries (“meta-lexicography” or “dictionary research”). Bilingual dictionaries can be classified according to several factors, such as size, directionality, purpose, and target audience (“dictionary typology”), all of which may have an impact on the content and layout of dictionaries. Although the earliest known bilingual dictionary—a bilingual wordlist—dates back to 2400 BCE, the history of bilingual lexicography is surprisingly short. Roughly speaking, it was not before the 1950s that scientific discussion started in the field. While the subsequent decades brought about several interesting meta-lexicographic discourses, two topics proved to be especially important. The first one concerns the purpose of the user, according to which a dictionary can be used for text production or text comprehension. It is easy to see that these user scenarios require different types of information. Ideally, bilingual dictionaries reflect this distinction: encoding or active dictionaries and decoding or passive dictionaries should be differentiated. In either case, lexicographers need to know what counts as a good translation. This intricate question, the other main topic of the last few decades, lies at the heart of the field and can only be answered if we understand how to think of translation equivalence, the relation between the source expression and its target language correspondent. The digital age introduced changes at every level of bilingual lexicography. Not only were existing dictionaries converted into electronic format with more refined search options, but also more sophisticated dictionary-writing systems appeared facilitating dictionary-making. Furthermore, most importantly, language data has been gaining an increasing role during the dictionary compilation process. Despite the growing amount of literature in the field and the empirical shift in its methodology, both the scientific status of bilingual lexicography and its relation to linguistics remained unclear. Despite its importance, especially in the case of learners of a foreign language, bilingual lexicography is considered to be a subfield of lexicography rather than a discipline on its own. Indeed, hardly any conference or journal is devoted exclusively to bilingual lexicography. Furthermore, a substantial number of textbooks, general overviews, and reference works on bilingual lexicography cover other branches of lexicography as well. As a result, besides bilingual lexicography, items on general lexicography are also cataloged here; however, their relation to bilingual lexicography is always indicated. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics article Lexicography for further information on lexicography in general.


Textbooks provide a framework to introduce various topics of lexicography in general. Although none of these discusses exclusively bilingual lexicography, each of them covers one or more particular aspects of the field. Along with Svensén 2009, Atkins and Rundell 2008 provides a simultaneous overview of mono- and bilingual topics, while Durkin 2016 and Jackson 2013 treat bilingual lexicography more separately, devoting specific chapters to the field. Atkins and Rundell 2008 goes through the steps of the dictionary-making process with exercises. Jackson 2013 discusses issues arising during the compilation process. Durkin 2016 gives a description on the history and recent developments of the field. Translation equivalence is introduced in both Durkin 2016 and Svensén 2009, the latter being especially useful for beginners.

  • Atkins, Beryl T. Sue, and Michael Rundell. 2008. The Oxford guide to practical lexicography. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Provides a comprehensible step-by-step guide on the dictionary compilation process, both monolingual and bilingual. The description begins with the analysis stage, where a corpus-based monolingual database of senses is created. In the second stage, the database is translated. Finally, in the synthesis stage, the translated entries are rearranged and supplemented with further information, which always should be relevant for the targeted user group. Practical exercises are also listed at the end of each chapter.

  • Durkin, Philip, ed. 2016. The Oxford handbook of lexicography. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Giving a broad overview of several branches of lexicography, the book also introduces some of the major topics of bilingual lexicography. A whole chapter summarizes the history and the most important recent issues of the field, followed by a rather theoretical yet comprehensible discussion on meaning distinction and on translation equivalence. It devotes a section to bilingualized learners’ dictionaries as well, which is a relatively new advancement in dictionary-making.

  • Jackson, Howard, ed. 2013. The Bloomsbury companion to lexicography. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

    Written by twenty-three experts on various subfields of general lexicography, this book discusses a bunch of selected topics at an introductory level. Bilingual lexicography is also touched upon: a chapter is devoted to the issues of bilingual dictionary compilation. Bilingual dictionaries also appear in the framework of e-lexicography.

  • Svensén, Bo. 2009. A handbook of lexicography: The theory and practice of dictionary-making. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive work dealing with most aspects of lexicography from typology to legal matters, while continuously taking both monolingual and bilingual dictionaries into consideration. Collocations and idioms are discussed separately with a focus on bilingual dictionaries. Specific to bilingual lexicography, it also provides an easy-to-understand overview of translation equivalents. Due to the abundance of illustrative material, this chapter is a perfect introduction to the rich literature on translation equivalence.

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