Vol. 2. No. 4 F-1 June 1997
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***TESL-EJ Forum***

The Forum is pleased to publish a review essay by Zsuzsanna Ardó of the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, which goes far beyond being a book review. It raises issues of what a native speaker of English is, what it means to know a culture, what the role of publishing companies in English language teaching is, even what the role of a book reviewer is. The essay is followed by a response from a user of the dictionary, and a reply from the author. The publisher was also invited to respond, but as of press time, the promised piece had not been received.

Readers who would like to continue discussion of the issues raised here may send their contributions to the guest Forum editor, Suzanne Irujo, at <sirujo@bu.edu>. Replies will be published in the next issue of TESL-EJ.


The Very Heart of English? [1] On Culture, Language, and the Native Speaker's Head

By Zsuzsanna Ardó
University of East London

Longman. The dictionary that reaches the parts other dictionaries cannot reach. [2]
The closest, perhaps, you could get to a dictionary or a reference grammar of culture has always been via literature. Not any more, or so it seems. This article sets out to investigate the interrelationship between culture, language and native speakerism by focusing on a dictionary which claims to be a dictionary of culture as well as language--the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture (LDELC) (Longman, 1992a).

The LDELC can get to "the very heart of the English Language" and "into the head of the native speaker" (Longman, 1992b, p. 2). The definite articles followed by singular noun forms alert the careful reader: there is no place for ambiguity or plurality here. There is the English language (or even the Language) that we can get to the heart of. There is also the native speaker (perhaps even the Native Speaker) whose head we can peep into, courtesy of Longman Publishers. These biological metaphors translated into linguistic messages communicate that, as far as Longman is concerned, there is [-1-] clearly a norm for the language (the Language) and a model for the speaker (the Native Speaker). But what is this norm and model?

Which English and which native speaker? The LDELC is diachronic in its approach and yet, since it limits its corpus mostly to the 20th century (Summers, 1991, p. 8), the authors of most classics of English literature, including Shakespeare and the father of English dictionaries, Samuel Johnson, certainly would not qualify as native speakers, since today they would probably have to consult the LDELC more frequently than non-native students of English.

And which culture? Although the LDELC claims to provide equal coverage of British and American culture, in fact the regional target percentages, according to Della Summers, Editorial Director, are unequal: 50% British and 40% American (Summers, 1991, p. 8). That leaves 10% for other regional English varieties, such as "Australian, Irish, and African" (Summers, 1991, p. 8), in that order, without mentioning, for example, English in India, Hong Kong, and so on. The 10% to 90% ratio suggests, does it not, a value judgement based on the assumption that "British [and to some, American] English is superior to the local variety" (Greenbaum, 1990, p. 81).

Clearly, some native speakers are a pinch more native than others.

The Native Speaker's Head

Apparently, you can get to the very heart, whatever that means, of the English Language only with a slight detour via the native speaker's head. As you may readily appreciate, this is not such good news for "advanced students" of English, who include, let us remember, the great majority of non-native speakers of English around the world, whether in academia (including teachers of English), business, media or elsewhere.

The trouble is, it seems, that since non-native speakers of English in general and non-native teachers and students of English in particular have to make do, like it or not, with heads of their own, they cannot possibly achieve fluency in English: no native-speaker head, no access to the heart of the English language and therefore no fluency. (The LDELC is claimed to give the "full explanations of the cultural allusions and connotations needed by advanced students to achieve fluency in English" (Longman, 1992b, p. 3). From this assertion it follows that you cannot achieve fluency without full understanding and knowledge--or perhaps even emulation--of the target language.)

There is nothing very much to have native-speaker-head envy about, judging by the cultural content of the LDELC. All the same, this predicament of not having the right sort of head is no small [-2-] matter, to say the least. It has many implications concerning the legendary mystique of the native speaker (Ferguson, 1982; Kachru, 1982). One is professional: teachers without native-speaker heads cannot be top quality, however well qualified and experienced. As one of the (non- native) respondents to a survey I conducted put it, with impeccable (native-like?!) English, (which paradox demonstrates in itself the absurdity of the mystique): "At best, I can be second best." (Ardó, 1992, p. 1).

Another implication is economic: gatekeepers to certain jobs are conveniently confirmed and happily justified to continue discriminating in favour of native heads. The director of a well-known institution of the "big business" of English Language Teaching (ELT) "encouraged" an experienced and (over)qualified non-native teacher of English applying for a job: "I am afraid we have to insist that all our teachers are native speakers of English. Our students do not travel half-way round the world only to be taught by a non-native speaker (however good that person's English may be)" (Illes, 1991, p. 87; italics added).

It is, however, the psychological implication which may be the most destructive of all. This is a predicament which is biologically fixed; it cannot be resolved (unless with a head transplant?), and in effect is fatal. Fatal, since it seems to be a genetic deformity, a "birth deficiency" stigma for all non-native teachers of English such as you and me. The students of these poor invalids obviously cannot but be hit even harder. Unless . . .

Unless . . . those of us not blessed with the Native-Speaker head, or even a native-speaker head, rush out and put ourselves, at an arguably modest expense, on the life-support system of the LDELC! Then, with enlightenment on the current (and not so current) trivia of British and American life, and a little bit of luck, we may be able to trade in our own somewhat second-rate (since positively non-native) heads for native ones. Thus we may rest assured that we are on the right path to the nirvana of native-speaker fluency. Beyond any shadow of a doubt most non-native-speaker English teachers will be relieved, even thrilled, to secure a copy of a book that promises so much.

What is more, the LDELC is quite likely to acquire some sort of gospel status: the "word" of the native speaker. The handy, pocket- size native-speaker substitute--don't leave home without it! [3]. Almost like the real thing.

Almost, but not quite. This particular gospel lacks permanence. This product of the multi-million dollar ELT industry and myth-making machinery is a highly perishable one. There is perhaps nothing as short-lived as trivia, which in turn has implications for the shelf- life of the LDELC. [-3-]

Therefore, there seem to be two implications, perhaps disturbing, to consider.

Commercial Considerations

The first one is commercial and has to do with marketing psychology. Once the customer is hooked on the false sense of security provided by the head of the native speaker. in the form of the LDELC, sitting snugly (and chances are less smugly than the full- body version) on his or her desk, in all probability she or he will become an instant buyer of the updated versions of these security boosters. And will continue to do so.

This means that there will be reliable megamarkets of non-native teachers and students of English addicted to the LDELC. Add to this already massive market the not insignificant number of expatriate natives who would thus hope to ensure that their native heads are still the real thing. Then there is the not quite 100% native speaker who may have to consult the LDELC on various soap opera characters to satisfy the non-native hunger for "fluency" in English.

All in all, we have got a particular product with an extremely brief shelf life but endless production line, generating an ongoing perceived need on the part of the consumer, and therefore revenue for the publisher at the same time.

Professional Considerations

Envisage, however, the upshot of this process from a professional point of view. This is the second, and potentially more sinister, aspect to consider. It has to do with the sort of assumptions made about the learning process and the educational value a dictionary such as the LDELC may have, and for whom it may have that value. Furthermore, I would suggest, it also concerns fundamental notions of what the ever-increasing big business of English language teaching is, or rather should be, about. This in turn brings up questions about the psychology of self-respect and insecurity; about how what counts as knowledge is sanctified; about how fluency is mythologised. The insecurities about the fluency and the identity of advanced students of ELT, including non-native teachers and speakers, seem to have been intensified rather than removed by this dictionary.

Prescription: Fluency, the Royal Family of ELT, and Royal Fluency

If we are to take the argument of the LDELC about fluency to its logical conclusion, then it follows that even an approximation to fluency is a distinctly pathetic aspiration for an "outsider." The eager anglophiles who take great pains to acquire these elements of [-4-] "fluency" to emulate the native speaker may quite easily find themselves acting upon hard-earned (albeit second-hand) knowledge which may well be soon out of date and no longer valid. This, in turn, will mark their speech less native-like, not more.

It is also clear that ELT has moved yet another step further away from professionalism: knowing and teaching what Coronation Street (a highly popular soap opera on British television) may mean is not a question of either linguistic or pedagogic competence. It is neither a question of training and experience nor of education. It becomes a hereditary question: it is based on being born into circumstances which favour fluency. Rather like into the Royal Family, you are quite simply born into fluency. Nay, not even that shall suffice. You also have to stay in it and remain a loyal member of it, immersing your royal self in and accumulating "knowledge" which is ephemeral, arguably subculture-specific, and not otherwise of any particular value. (Ardó 1992 elaborates in more detail on the similarity between the particular love-hate obsession of the British public with their Royal Family and the type and quality of the relationship between the native--British in particular-- and non-native speaker teachers in the ELT profession.)

Conscientious (albeit non-native) teachers/students/speakers of English are bound to feel their worst fears confirmed. Not only is achieving "native-like" fluency, as some like to call it, an uphill struggle with no apparent end in sight, but in fact this elusive notion, this (royal) castle-in-the-air, is inaccessible to all but the equally elusive native speaker.

Fluency, then, cannot be acquired and maintained in the non- native head, cannot be "appropriated," if you will, from the native speaker. It remains, for good, the birthright of the Native Speaker (Phillipson, 1992; Widdowson, 1992). The contents of this "royal fluency" can be inspected in the LDELC, quite like Hampton Court and Windsor Castle. In the final analysis, the acceptance of this particular notion of fluency, as asserted by Longman, leaves but one option for the self-respecting student and non-native teacher/speaker striving for fluency: to accept, whether reluctantly or otherwise, eternal inferior status and second-class "speakership," so to speak.

This scenario means that the learner, however advanced, is reduced to strategies such as collecting rows of native-speaker heads. Better still, she or he can subscribe to an (infinite) series of the LDELC. which promises to provide a sort of comforting substitute. And there will always be a new, fully updated version to look forward to and polish one's fluency with.

But is this indeed what fluency is all about? [-5-]

Description: The Paradox

The LDELC is prescribed for advanced learners of English; it guarantees "that all the definitions are easy to understand" (Longman, 1992b, p. 3). Now one of the questions to ponder is to what extent the prescriptive aspect may interfere with the descriptive nature of the work. Since a learners' dictionary is designed so as to have a simple, direct and user-friendly language, its language is defined by its prescriptive purpose, as indeed it should be.

As the C indicates in the acronym, however, the LDELC is also a dictionary of culture. Now, culture is not by any means a straightforward concept to define. Rather it is, as Williams (1983) puts it, "one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language . . . mainly because it had now come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct and incompatible systems of thought" (p. 87). Nevertheless, we can probably concur that, whatever it is, it represents complex worlds of multiple meanings and subtle nuances.

Therefore, can the prescriptive purpose of easy simplicity and the descriptive content of subtle complexity ever be successfully reconciled at the level of language? How can a dictionary cum encyclopaedia for learners treat the highly complex interrelationships of language, cognition and culture?

Rationale for Selection

Yet it is not just the nuances that seem to be somewhat problematic in the LDELC . It seems to me that some of the problems concern the rationale for selection (Summers, 1991). One may wonder why, for example, Saddam Hussein is featured in this dictionary of English Language and Culture, but Salman Rushdie, controversial British writer with a Booker Prize, is not, although the word fatwa has become part of the English lexis due to his Satanic Verses. Hampstead has made its way into the LDELC but not St. John's Wood, the home of many famous artists and writers, legendary location of the Abbey Road Recording Studio (not in the LDELC) made famous by the Beatles and visited by crowds of overseas visitors (many of them potential LDELC users!), not St. John's Wood, the home of that most potent symbol of English culture, Lord's, the HQ of cricket, "the most important cricket ground in Britain" (p. 785). Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Body Shop, yes; Holland and Barrett, Ikea, Cranks, no. Black Monday, yes; Black Wednesday (that broke the pound), no. Just how reliable are the selection criteria, I wonder, that include Boulez, Britten, and Schubert but not Bartok, Berg, and Schoenberg? How come Penguin and Virago are entries, Longman is not?

If neither Hegel nor Heidegger were included, I would understand; should both be excluded, I would not say a word. But why is Hegel [-6-] included, and Heidegger is not? And what exactly is the informative, pedagogic, linguistic, or cultural value for learners of English to know that the three (!) first names of Hegel were Georg Wilhelm Friedrich? On the other hand, the popular British historian A. J. P. Taylor features only with his initials, which only Taylor's contemporary natives, who normally referred to him with his initials, will appreciate; the non-native dictionary user will not see the reason for this inconsistency. Would it not be more culturally relevant to indicate, however briefly, that hegelianism has to do with a dialectic view of things? Or could it not be at least cross- referenced to the entry dialectic where Hegel is mentioned?

The variety of entries in the LDELC is remarkable and indeed impressive. And yet, of course, there are bound to be many words you will not find if you make it your business to use the LDELC to "read between the lines" (Longman, 1992b, p. 4). Just to mention a few: DHL and Swiftair, low boy and canterbury, digital sex, BBS, Squidgy tapes, Camillagate [4].

What makes me wonder is that both of these last words have featured very prominently, and repeatedly, in all forms of English- speaking media, and have been much discussed and joked about by native speakers. So do you need to know these "valuable" pieces of information to understand the jokes and references to them? Yes. But would this be, at the same time, a criteria for native fluency in English? If so, tough luck; they do not feature in the native head offered by the LDELC.

It must be granted that the LDELC team was working in a particularly volatile historical period when almost every day geographical boundaries were arranged and rearranged, with labour- intensive and complex cross-referencing implications for the lexicographers, however computerised they may be. It must have been tremendously difficult to cope with it all; small wonder if entries are sometimes not quite as informative as they could be. For example: "Moscow is the capital of the former USSR . . ." (p. 865), but there is no mention of Moscow actually being the capital of Russia and part of the CIS.

Whose Prejudice Is It, Anyway?

The LDELC is a difficult, "interdisciplinary genre": partly dictionary, partly encyclopaedia. This raises the issue of the principled decision-making for evaluative comments, and the problem of inconsistent treatment of various entries.

Why is Audrey Hepburn "an actress of great beauty" (p. 617) whereas Katharine Hepburn is simply "an American film actress" (pg. 617)? And again, who took on the judgement to evaluate Prague as "the capital city of Czechoslovakia" (surely a "former" missing?! ), "a port and industrial centre with many beautiful buildings" (p. 103, [-7-] italics added) and Vienna as "the capital city of Austria, famous as a music and cultural centre" (p. 1462, italics added)? In stark contrast to both of these evaluative entries, Budapest is, apparently, neither beautiful nor famous as a music and cultural centre, in the Longman lexicographer's eyes at least. It is simply "the capital and largest city of Hungary, on the Danube river" (p. 151), a factual, geographical comment without value judgement. Millions of readers, one generation after the other, may conclude from the way information is highlighted in these entries that Vienna and Prague may be, for example, preferred locations to Budapest to learn more about or to visit.

Such a comparison of entries in identical categories, capital cities of similar size and significance in Central Europe, may give an interesting insight into the prejudices of the lexicographers. It may also be explained with the computer database used by the lexicographers. But the computerised corpus was selected by the lexicographers; what is fed into the computer to constitute the final corpus as their point of reference is in fact defined by their view of what English culture is. Should their particular definition be accepted, then the LDELC in turn, may be a reflection on how "English Culture" views these cities, the "heart" of these respective cultures and, inherently, the people who live there. In any case the problems of inconsistency and discrimination remain and beg the question: whose value judgements will the dictionary users potentially assimilate and spread in their relentless search to emulate native fluency? What may be the long-term implications of a widely used "Bible of English prejudices" with no balances and contexts?

But instead of looking more at how the English see others, let's see how they see themselves in the LDELC. The term Ulster Unionist you can look up but not, perhaps significantly, its counterpart cause so prominent in Ireland and relevant to English culture: the Irish Nationalist. Falls Road is listed as a Catholic area, but should not the political affiliation, that Falls Road is the heartland of Irish Nationalism in Northern Ireland, be also mentioned for the dictionary user to be able to make sense of that entry? Similarly, the entry for Shankhill Road does not mention its symbolic value: that it is the heartland of the Protestant working classes. The entry for these two significant areas in English culture read almost word for word the same, as if to pre-empt criticism. Word for word, except . . . except Catholic is mentioned, Protestant is not.

The question is, how can one interpret these entries about English culture in any meaningful way with such randomly sketchy information provided? Is not "reading between the lines" about the interrelationships of bits of information? Does not any level of understanding have to do with cross-referencing isolated references in your mind? Surely, these items should have been fully cross-referenced to each other and the respective paradigms (Unionists and Nationalists, UDA, UVF and UFF). Ulster Unionism is defined in terms [-8-] of Northern Ireland but there is no corresponding entry for Nationalist or Irish Nationalist in the context of Northern Ireland with reference to the Catholic community. The Nationalism and Nationalist entries enlist Welsh, Scottish, Basque and Chinese Nationalism but, crucially, no reference to Irish Nationalism. Could this perhaps be a slight sanitization of English culture where should one leave a bag unattended in the tube, it is quite unlikely anyone but the security police will touch it for fear of a Nationalist bomb inside?

To read between the lines of a culture, it is not enough to know who Maradonna, Madonna and the Madonna are. When one has to look up who these cultural cult figures are, one arguably does not become more part of that particular culture. In fact, having to consult the dictionary about something that the target community takes for granted may just confirm the dictionary user's sense of alienation. The process of text decoding with a dictionary may in fact create a feeling of being an outsider to the culture in which these entries carry significant meanings. And even if one comprehends the meaning per se, it is far from being the end of the decoding process. To access the actual message, it should be surely crucial, should it not, to be able to appreciate how they are referred to--for example, approvingly, or just the other way round?

Prejudice and Trivial Pursuit

The LDELC undoubtedly makes fascinating reading, more often absorbing than irritating. It is, at its best, an entertaining encyclopaedia of mostly contemporary popular symbols, mythologies and yes, trivia and ephemera. Then, I would argue, it should have been published as such an encyclopaedia in the first place instead of trying to be something it cannot be and attributing qualities to itself which are theoretically so questionable. It should perhaps simply be marketed as what it is and what it is good at. It should also be packaged and advertised as such, something like: "Encyclopaedia of English Popular Culture," or "The Essential Trivial Pursuit for ELT," or even "The Longman Dictionary of Anglocentricity"!? It well may be closer to reality, more manageable in size, and easier to update (and might sell even better?).

Such a product would not be less but more to the credit of its publishers. This especially holds considering that the idea at the "heart'" of this dictionary is genuinely innovative, imaginative and quite daring.

In fact the original idea is so good, it is almost self-evident and leaves one wondering why it has not been done before; similar works by other publishers are bound to follow. Longman, thus, is to be congratulated for thinking bravely, taking the plunge, and stirring [-9-] the somewhat stagnating waters of the profession by recognising a need and taking the risk of trying to respond to it.

However, some of the very important theoretical and practical questions outlined above remain and should perhaps be seriously considered for the second edition, which is no doubt already in the making. Why is it that an excellent idea had to be blown out of proportion and paraded under false pretenses? Why is the quality uneven, and what about the inconsistencies? Why is the visual material of a female illustration editorial team heavily male dominated? The list could go on, but most importantly: why, oh, why could we not have been spared the ideology of native-speaker heads cum heart-of-English in the promotional haze?

The short answer may be that Longman does indeed know how to reach audiences other dictionaries cannot reach: by tapping a (mis)conception rooted in psychological insecurities and theoretical ambiguities. The long answer, however, concerns further considered debate of the complex interrelationship of culture, fluency, and native speakerism.


[1] Reference to the text of Longman Publishers' information leaflet on the Dictionary of English Language and Culture (Longman, 1992b). Back to main text

[2] Author's allusion to the beer advertisement slogan of the Dutch beer company Heineken, which has a detailed entry in the LDELC: "Heineken. The beer that refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach" (p. 613). Back to main text

[3] Allusion to the American Express slogan which also finds its way into the LDELC (p. 33). Back to main text

[4] For the benefit of readers (native/non-native) who might be wondering about the possible meaning of some of these expressions: low boy and canterbury: pieces of furniture (table and holder for music scores); digital sex: according to the British National Health Service information leaflet, a form of sex with fingers or toes whereby AIDS can be spread; BBS: Bulletin Board System, a database system where messages and data can be transferred via modem; Squidgy tapes: alleged recordings of intimate telephone discussions between the Princess of Wales and her alleged close male friend who calls her Squidgy; Camillagate: alleged recordings of intimate telephone discussions between the Prince of Wales and Camilla, his alleged close female friend. Back to main text



Ardó, Z. (1992). Professional status and the status of the profession. Unpublished ms.

Ferguson, C. (1982). Foreword. In B. Kachru (ed.), The Other Tongue: English across Cultures. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Greenbaum, S. (1990). Standard English and the international corpus of English. World Englishes 9(1):79-83.

Illes, E. (1991). Correspondence. ELT Journal, 45(1):87.

Kachru B. (1982). Meaning in deviation: Toward understanding non- native English texts. In B. Kachru (ed.), The Other Tongue: English across Cultures. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Longman (1992a). Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. Harlow, UK: Longman Group UK, Ltd.

Longman (1992b) Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, information material. Harlow, UK: Longman Group UK, Ltd.

Phillipson, R. (1992). ELT: The native speaker's burden?. ELT Journal, 46(1):12-19.

Summers, D. (1991) Longman/Lancaster English language corpus: Criteria and design. Unpublished ms.

Widdowson, H.G. (1992) ELT and EL teachers: Matters arising. ELT Journal, 46(4):333-338.

Williams, R. (1983). Keywords. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


Back to the top

A response to "The very heart of English? On culture, language and the native speaker's head"

By Tim Caudery

Many years ago, I purchased a copy of the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations. Its cover proclaimed that it was the "Revised Edition." On the back, the publisher's blurb stated that a dictionary of quotations "devoted to the twentieth century has relatively few obligatory entries, though 'the pound in your pocket' and 'the unacceptable face of capitalism' are of course here." Except, unfortunately, that when I looked for them I discovered that neither of these two "obligatory" quotations was in the book. Fearing that through some strange printer's blunder I had been sold an old unrevised edition in a new cover, I wrote to Penguin, and received a rather embarrassed letter in reply assuring me that I had the latest edition, but that an error had occurred in writing the blurb.

Had I been asked to write a review of the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations shortly after that little episode, I have no doubt that I would have been unable to resist scoring points at Penguin's expense about marketing personnel who didn't appear to read the books they were selling, and indeed this might well have provided the main focus of my article. Such a review would have done the publication a grave injustice; for whatever boob the blurb-writer might have made, the book itself actually proved perfect for the specific purpose for which I bought it, and has since been a source of enormous entertainment. Fortunately, nobody did ask me to review the dictionary of quotations, and whatever reputation it has is, I hope, built entirely on the merits of the book itself, and not on the publicity material with which Penguin attempted to sell it.

The reason that I wish to respond to Zsuzsanna Ardó's article is that she has done precisely what I might have been tempted to do in the case of the Penguin book. She has written what appears to be, in all but name, a review of the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, but she has actually based her discussion more on the publicity material than on the book itself. In the process, she has taken some witty and doubtless well-deserved swipes at Longman and their marketing (I don't have Longman's 1992 publicity material to hand, but I am perfectly prepared to take Ardó's word for it that it is abysmal). She has made extensive points about the concept of the "native speaker," and attitudes to native-speaker and non-native- speaker teachers--a very important issue, in my view. She has discussed the concept of culture. All this is interesting and worthwhile reading, but it has little to do with the actual qualities of the LDELC, despite the fact that Ardó claims at the outset of her article that it is on the dictionary that her focus will lie. When she does finally get around to saying something about the LDELC itself, [-12-] she briefly concedes that it has some very good qualities, but most of the concrete points she makes about the book are negative, most are points of detail, and some are rather unfair. It hardly seems reasonable, for example, to criticise a dictionary for not including expressions that have only come into existence after it was published!

It's not my intention to come leaping to the defense of the Longman marketing department--they can doubtless take care of themselves. But books are not written by marketing departments, and they deserve to be judged on the basis of what they are, not what salespeople might say they are. And readers of book reviews deserve to be given a reasonable impression of what a book is and is not, and of what its good and bad qualities are, and of whether it's likely to be useful for them. Unfortunately, readers of Ardó's article will be misled, in my opinion, if they judge the LDELC on the strength of what she writes, and may consequently decide not to even consider buying a book which could prove very useful to them.

To judge a monolingual dictionary on whether or not it's likely to promote "fluency," as Ardó does, seems to me rather like assessing a book on Italian cooking on the basis of how effective it is as, say, a guide to Rome. Sometimes recipe books contain interesting background information about places; sometimes sales materials might comment on such information being contained in a recipe book; but we all know that that's not really what we buy cookery books for, and it would be rather unhelpful to review a recipe book primarily on the basis of the quality of the information it contained about places, instead of on the basis of whether the recipes in it were any good. Similarly, whatever the Longman publicity material might have said, the reasons people buy dictionaries are primarily a) to be able to look up unfamiliar words and expressions which they read or hear in order to find out what these words and expressions mean, and b) to be able to look up the usage of words and expressions. I can fully agree with Ardó that knowing the meanings and usage of words is not at all the same thing as fluency, and that use of the dictionary is not likely to make anyone more fluent in their use of English in the accepted sense of the word. I can agree that no such suggestion should ever have been made by Longman. The reader of a review of the LDELC, however, will probably not want to know whether the dictionary can fulfill a purpose for which it was clearly not primarily intended; instead, I think he or she will want to know how good it is as a dictionary of the language, and for the purposes for which such dictionaries are normally purchased. Let us briefly consider, then, what the LDELC has to offer in that department.

First, it contains all the entries in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, so the purchaser of the LDELC is getting what is generally agreed to be a good dictionary for advanced learners of English. Over and above this, there are dictionary-style entries for items which one would normally find in an encyclopedia but not usually [-13-] in dictionaries--people, places, inventions, and so on, such as Bertrand Russell, the Statue of Liberty, and the penny-farthing bicycle. These are all things which you could indeed look up in any encyclopedia, always assuming you had one handy in your briefcase or on your bookshelf, or (more probably) felt like a trip to your local library, and always assuming that you didn't mind battling through articles that made no concession to the needs of the second language learner. Finally, it contains entries on the same lines but which are much more contemporary than those contained in most encyclopedias: Norman Lamont, the Maastricht treaty, lurex. As Ardó points out, this dictionary is one that will date quickly because it includes entries like these (Norman Lamont has just been defeated in the elections to the British Parliament, and may well now vanish from the British political stage), and a new edition of the LDELC is in fact now needed. But the main point about these more "contemporary" entries is that in many instances they are for things one can look up nowhere else: try finding Mad Magazine or McClaren, the racing car manufacturer, in any encyclopedia, however up to date--to take a couple of examples from a page of the dictionary opened at random.

Now, the question of whether you should call a dictionary that contains all these things a dictionary of "English language and culture" is not one that troubles me very much. It's hard to think of an expression other than "culture" that would better describe these various additional entries and wouldn't make the book title a quarter of a page long; Ardó's own suggestions are certainly no more accurate as descriptions of the book's content, and must also be said to lack a certain snappiness. The point is that if one is reading contemporary British or American text, this dictionary will give assistance in understanding at least some items that might well puzzle a reader who was not a member of the current British/American language community. It is assistance that in some instances cannot reasonably be obtained in any other way short of finding a member of that language community and asking them for help in the hope that they will recognise the expression in question. In the LDELC this assistance comes packaged in a low-cost, more-or-less- portable volume which, as I have said, offers much else besides. And anyone who decides not to buy it purely on the grounds that it describes Audrey Hepburn as beautiful but does not afford the same epithet to Katharine Hepburn needs their head looking at, be it a native-speaker head or otherwise.

And since we've arrived at that matter of native-speaker heads which leads Ardó down so many intricate paths of discussion, let's make clear about this dictionary that native-speakerhood is not the quality that determines whether it is useful or not. I'm a native speaker of English, but have for many years lived outside Britain and thus been less than a full member of the British English language community. Personally, I find the LDELC extremely useful; it contains information about contemporary English of which I am simply not aware. To take an example which is immediately to hand, I didn't believe that Ardó had spelled Katharine Hepburn's first name [-14-] correctly, and had to use the dictionary to check. Being a native speaker of English was of no help for this. So if you're interested in the dictionary, rather than the entirely separate (and very important) issue of attitudes to non-native speaker teachers of English, I suggest you ignore all the stuff about getting inside native-speakers' heads. No doubt Longman used the expression foolishly in their sales material, but that is not a point on which to judge the dictionary. Access to the inside of my native- speaker head, assuming anyone would ever want such a thing, might be of some linguistic use; but it wouldn't provide all the information that's in the LDELC. And so I would suggest that regardless of the sales pitch, this is a dictionary that has something to offer anyone who needs to know the meanings and usage of words and expressions they might come across in contemporary texts in English.

In deciding whether to buy the LDELC, there are much more important issues to consider. Is the current edition now too dated? Is the dictionary easy to use? Are the entries easy to understand? Are the entries too biased towards British English? Are the illustrations really helpful, or are many of them purely decorative? Is the less portable, less up-to-date, more expensive, but in some respects more detailed Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary: Encyclopedic Edition a better buy? Or should one have both? All these things are matters of personal preference, and can really only be decided by examining the books. But make no mistake, both these extended dictionaries (the Longman and the Oxford) are worth examining. Regardless of the quality of the sales material.


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The Author's Reply

By Zsuzsanna Ardó <ardo@hapsi.demon.co.uk >

I wholeheartedly agree with Tim Caudery that the LDELC is a useful book. I have made this clear in my article as well. Furthermore, I have also pointed out that the LDELC is not only a useful book but it is inventively so. I said it was genuinely innovative, imaginative, and quite daring. I also mentioned that it was handy (large) pocket-size, at an (arguably) modest expense, that the variety of entries is remarkable and indeed impressive, that it makes fascinating and absorbing reading, and so on. . .

Having said that, there is no reason why one could not take the view that looking at the philosophical issues and vital questions this book raises is a worthwhile activity. It would have been stimulating to be joined in a debate of the "intricate paths of discussion" proposed in the article. This, I'm afraid, didn't happen. However, this does not in any way imply that the arguments I pursue in my article have no legitimacy. I firmly believe they do; indeed they seem to be fundamental to our profession. It is a relief to learn from Caudery that he shares my views about these issues being vital; however, it is regrettable that he, for some reason, has decided to see these vital issues as entirely separate from LDELC, which is, in fact, marketed on the specific arguments he also sees as vital.

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