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Comparing Headword Coverage

The range of headwords you find in English–Welsh dictionaries varies surprisingly from title to title. Some, especially the older ones, such as the Geiriadur Newydd/Bach and Collins Spurrell, have a huge number of headwords for their physical size. This is because they have very little but headwords, and there is rarely anything inside the entry. Thus they contain some surprisingly obscure words, although they lack some very important vocabulary. More modern titles, such as WLD and PMWD, have proportionally fewer headwords, since they give a lot more information within the entry (phrases, grammatical information etc) but the headwords they have will tend to be more relevant to the modern world.

Let’s look at the nine main English–Welsh dictionaries bought by learners. In approximate order of text size (headword count) rather than cost or physical size, they are:

Bear in mind that these figures do not tell the whole story, for various reasons. Some publishers do not tell you the size of the text; different publishers have different ways of counting, for example ‘entries’, ‘headwords’, ‘references’, ‘headwords and translations’, ‘words and phrases’ etc; and a lot depends on how the dictionary is organised. By references is meant anything translated from the source language, i.e. headwords and phrases of all kinds; entries means the same as headwords, so if the same item is given in one dictionary as a headword in its own right, and in a second as a sub-entered phrase, it will contribute to a larger headword count (though not a larger reference count) in the first dictionary.

Also, this table takes no account of different senses (meanings) of words, and ignores parts of speech (whether a verb, a noun, an adjective or whatever). For example, if a dictionary included the verb to bowl (not very important) it would still get a tick even if it didn’t include the important noun bowl (the thing you eat out of); or it might have the word bottom in the sense of the bottom of the sea or the bottom of the ladder, but not a person’s bottom.

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

 booze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boracic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 borax

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 border

 borderland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bordering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bore

 

 

 

 boreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bored

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boredom

 

 

 

 

 borer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boring

 

 

 

 born

 

 borough

 

 

 

 borrow

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

 borrower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bosh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bosom

 

 

 

 

 

 boss

 

 

 botanic(al)

 

 

 

 

 

 botanist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 botany

 

 

 botch

 

 

 

 

 

 both

 

 bother

 bottle

 bottle bank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bottleful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bottleneck

 

 

 

 

 

 bottle-opener

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

 bottom

 bottomless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 botulism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bough

 

 

 

 

 bougie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boulder

 

 

 

 

 

 boulder clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boulevard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bounce

 

 

 

 bound

 

 

 boundary

 bounden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bounder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bounding plane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boundless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

 bounteous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bountiful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bounty

 

 

 

 

 

 bouquet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bourgeois

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bout

 

 

 

 

 bovine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bow

 

 

 bowdlerise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowels

 

 

 

 

 bower

 

 

 

 

 

 bowl

 bow-legged

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowler

 

 

 

 

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

 bowline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowling-green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowsprit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bow tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bow-window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 bowyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 box

 boxer

 

 

 

 boxful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boxing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 box(-)office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 box-tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 boy

 boycott

 

 

 

 

 

 boyfriend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Acen

TY

G&G

WLD

PMWD

Newydd

Spurrell

Cyfoes

Mawr

There are a total of 78 words in the table above, words given in at least one of the dictionaries. Out of this possible 78 words, the nine dictionaries “score” as follows:

Acen: 16
Teach Yourself: 18
Geddes & Grosset: 32
WLD: 16
PMWD: 24
Newydd: 30
Spurrell: 33
Cyfoes: 48
Mawr: 69

But we must not get the idea that the more words a dictionary has the better. What matters is whether it has a sensible selection of words. What are the important words for a learner’s dictionary? Everyone will have their own ideas, but I’d suggest the following: border, bored, boring, born, borrow, boss, both, bother, bottle, bottom, bowl, bowling, box, boxing, boy, boyfriend.

How do these nine dictionaries compare? Only 9 out of of 78 words are in all of them: border, borrow, bother, bottle, bottom, boundary, bowl, box, boy. A surprisingly small consensus, it seems to me, and an indication of how arbitrary and casual the process of compiling English Welsh dictionaries generally been. There are certainly some crazinesses: the technical term boulder clay in a little pocket dictionary for example. Acen comes out particularly badly: in an already tiny wordlist, it has room for botany but misses something as fundamental as both. Only three of the nine have boyfriend – and they weren’t all written in the 1950s! Everyday objects like bottle-opener and bow tie and activities like boxing and bowling are under-represented as usual. Learners need language like this to talk about their lives and interests. Four of the dictionaries (including the biggest) lack the important word bored, and boring is missing from all the Christopher Davies titles, even though they all have the less useful boredom, as well as bout and botanical. It’s interesting to read down the columns to get a feel for what sort of thing is in each title. Compare, for example, PMWD with Geiriadur Newydd or Collins Spurrell, which are in fact larger in terms of headwords.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the biggest of these texts, Geiriadur Mawr, is actually not very big in real terms. The big Welsh Academy dictionary, Geiriadur yr Academi, adds another 141 words. This includes both useful everyday items like boozer, boozy, bop, borderline, borrowing, Bosnia, Bosnian and bossy and obscure stuff like borborygmus, borogluconate, Boswellian, bovinity, bowyangs and boxcalf. In terms of headword count alone, GYA is three times the size of Geiriadur Mawr. In fact, it is even bigger than that, in terms of the text as a whole, because the entries themselves are much more extensive than those of Geiriadur Mawr.

But actually, compared to most of the dictionaries in this comparison, Geiriadur Mawr seems larger than its headword list would imply, because its entries contain definitions in Welsh as well as translations into English. Compare that with books like the Cyfoes or Collins Spurrell, whose wordlist-style format is so compact that they can pack in a huge number of headwords. But the point of this page is to show that, in learner’s dictionaries, size isn’t everything!

“A Dictionary of words only can answer no important end; for one may be acquainted with all the words in a Language, and yet be an entire stranger to its genius.” — John Walters, An English–Welsh Dictionary, 1794.


References

ACEN
Evans, Bethan W. et al. (1993) Gair i Gall: Geiriadur Sylfaenol i Ddysgwyr [‘A Word to the Wise: A Basic Dictionary for Learners’; a.k.a. The Acen Dictionary for Learners]. Cardiff: Acen Cyf., ISBN 1-874049-21-1, £9.99 p/b. more

TEACH YOURSELF
Lewis, Edwin C. (1992) [Teach Yourself] Welsh Dictionary. London: Hodder and Stoughton (Teach Yourself series), ISBN 0-340-78923-9 (previously 0-340-57212-4), £9.99 p/b. more

GEDDES & GROSSET
Lewis, D. Geraint (1997) Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary. New Lanark (Scotland): Geddes and Grosset, ISBN 1-85534-795-4, £2.99 h/b (pub. in USA as Hippocrene Practical). more

WLD
Gruffudd, Heini (1998) The Welsh Learner’s Dictionary. Talybont: Y Lolfa, ISBN 0-86243-363-0, £6.95 p/b. more

PMWD
King, Gareth (2000) The [Oxford] Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary: A Guide to the Living Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-864531-7, £9.99 p/b. more

NEWYDD
Evans, H. Meurig and W. O. Thomas (1953) Y Geiriadur Newydd: The New Welsh Dictionary. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0438-5, £9.95 p/b. more

COLLINS SPURRELL
The Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary [a.k.a. Collins Spurrell Pocket Welsh Dictionary] (1960, revised 1991). London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-433549-X, £6.99 vinyl. more

CYFOES
Evans, H. Meurig (1981, revised 1992) Y Geiriadur Cymraeg Cyfoes: The Modern Welsh Dictionary. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0725-2, £12.99 p/b (or New York: Hippocrene Books (Standard series), ISBN: 0-7818-0136-2, $24.95). more

MAWR
Evans, H. Meurig and W. O. Thomas (1958, revised 1968) Y Geiriadur Mawr: The Complete Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, ISBN 0-85088-462-4 (or Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0543-8), £17.50 h/b. more

GYA
Griffiths, Bruce (ed.) and Dafydd Glyn Jones (assoc. ed.) (1995) Geiriadur yr Academi: The Welsh Academy English–Welsh Dictionary. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1186-5, £40.00 h/b. ENGLISH–WELSH ONLY. more

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© 1999–2001 Harry Campbell
Page added: December 2001

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