I am thinking of compiling a bilingual dictionary (German-English for that matter, but the question may be generalized).

I was thinking of using a specific and finite corpus of texts, which should be large enough to provide rather many terms and examples. Let's say I will be using the Bible as my source (I won't, just for the sake of discussion). That means the dictionary will not be as comprehensive as possible (others have done that already); rather, it will be another German-English dictionary with a certain "character" to it since it will be based on a defined corpus and will provide definitions for German words (I will gather the definitions from existing dictionaries) and examples from that corpus.

Have other people done similar things in German or other languages? If so, how was this received?

Note: "Unprofessional" here means that the dictionary is/was compiled by someone who was not trained in linguistics.

  • And why would we need another dictionary? What would make your dictionary special?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 18:00
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    Well, it won't be that special really,@AlexB. I planned on compiling this dictionary for my own use, as an exercise and to get more exposure to German-English translation in a rather methodological way. Then I pondered whether this might help other people to learn the language, especially if the examples are taken from a certain corpus in which some people may find interest - obviously it could help, and would certainly not do harm, but I wanted to see what the expert community has to say about such an idea. I actually started working on it, but it seems more difficult than I thought...
    – Don_S
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 18:15
  • It should be (difficult). Good luck anyway!
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 18:43

2 Answers 2


Dictionary creators who are not trained in linguistics or lexicography are in good company.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) created his A Dictionary of the English Language between the years 1746 and 1755 (year of publication). Johnson was not trained in linguistics or lexicography; he never finished university because he ran out of money.

Johnson used hundreds of books (his "corpus") as sources for quotations or example sentences. His dictionary contained approximately 114,000 literary quotations (Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, etc.). Johnson's dictionary remained the most influential English dictionary until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary or OED in 1928 (the first volume of the OED was published in 1888). In addition, as Michael Adams wrote, Johnson made dictionaries matter.

The original authors of the Deutsches Wörterbuch, Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) both studied law, not linguistics or lexicography, at the University of Marburg. Their dictionary also uses quotations. The Deutsches Wörterbuch is to the German language what the OED is to the English language.

The above are monolingual dictionaries, so I have only proven that unprofessional monolingual dictionaries have been produced in the past. I should also give at least one example of a bilingual dictionary.

The Italian Giovanni Florio (1553-1625, better known as John Florio) was a language tutor at the court of James I of England but was not trained as a linguist or a lexicographer. In 1598 he published an Italian-English dictionary entitled A World of Words, which he expanded and republished in 1611 under the title Queen Anna's New World of Words, or Dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues, Collected, and newly much augmented by Iohn Florio, Reader of the Italian vnto the Soueraigne Maiestie of Anna, Crowned Queene of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, &c. And one of the Gentlemen of hir Royall Priuie Chamber. Whereunto are added certaine necessarie rules and short obseruations for the Italian tongue. The dictionary uses quotations, though not for all entries. (It is not clear what Florio's corpus would have been.) Both versions of the dictionary can be downloaded Greg Lindahl's website, who also provided a searchable version.

Ambrogio Calepino (c. 1440–1510) wrote a Latin dictionary that was first published in 1502. It cited classical sources. Later, in the 1580s, Jesuits in Japan used it as a basis for the Dictionarium Latino Lusitanicum, ac Iaponicum (DLLI), a Latin-Portuguese-Japanese dictionary, which retained only part of the quotes from classical authors. See Emi Kishimoto: Annotations in Dictionarium Latino Lusitanicum, ac Iaponicum (1595) in the Context of Latin Education by the Jesuits in Japan (PDF).


  • 1
    The discipline that deals with creating dictionaries is lexicography, not linguistics. According to Wikipedia, "[i]t is now widely accepted that lexicography is a scholarly discipline in its own right and not a sub-branch of applied linguistics, as the chief object of study in lexicography is the dictionary (see e.g. Bergenholtz/Nielsen/Tarp 2009).". So it would be relevant to say whether these people were trained as lexicographers.
    – michau
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 9:32
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    By the way, the word "lexicography" was coined in 1680 and "linguistics" in the 19th century. Nobody was really trained as a linguist before that time, and at the time of Florio there was not even "philology".
    – michau
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 9:49
  • @michau The phenomenon of lexicography predates the invention of the word "lexicography", just like gravitation predates the invention of the term "gravitation" ;-)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 18:33

Your question is a good one, expressing an interest in compiling a German-English dictionary.

Firstly, as you already recognize, all dictionaries are based on a selected body of texts, or corpus, as you put it. Your idea, like other dictionary writers, necessarily requires limiting the number, topics, and style of your corpus. And, if I'm correct, you want to draw from your corpus topical words that will characterize your dictionary.

Now, since cookbooks of all types are the largest sellers in both books and mortar and online bookstores, and ethnic cookbooks sell quite well, have you thought of perhaps starting out on your project idea by compiling a small German-English cookbook dictionary of German cooking terms as a trial project?

The tie-in here to your dictionary idea is that German language cookbooks are available on the German Amazon website (www.Amazon.de); you could build the corpus for a German-English cookbook dictionary from a small sampling of German language cookbooks bought through the German Amazon. And of course a cookbook dictionary would add flavor and character to your dictionary, and differentiate it from other dictionaries.

So with these few words of advice may you have success in your carrying out your idea.

  • Your answer would benefit from more specific references. Any ISBN or URL maybe? Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 7:19
  • I just happen to collect old and very old cookbooks. My oldest cookbook is "Praktisches Kochbuch für die Deutschen in Amerika". The cookbook has no publication date, but it does have the dated inscription "Katie Blattert 1887". The cookbook is 400 pages of dense Gothic type; I do my translations of German recipes and home remedies using my two part 1936 (German)/1939 (English) "Cassell's New German and English Dictionary" where the German language therein is also in Gothic font. I wou Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 14:21
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    Please edit your answer instead of adding details as comments. Comments are often removed. Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 14:55
  • [con't] I would dearly love to have a bilingual German-English dictionary consisting only of German culinary terms that I could quickly use instead of having to wade through page after page of Cassell's multi-corpus dictionaries. A more comprehensive source than Amazon is Google.de. That website yields many hits for "kochbuch", including hits showing vendors who sell a German-language kochbuch for the contemporary game "Game of Thrones" kochbuch. Useful perhaps for Don_S as an inclusion in his trial corpus. As for ISBN's, "Google the book" 's the best answer; anyone can do that. Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 15:02
  • bytebuster: Thanks for your two worthwhile comments. Firstly, I prefer to put my off-topic remarks in a comment instead of cluttering up my answer with off-topic stuff. So what if some community 'cockroach' doesn't like my comments and deletes them. As in the lyrics of an old 60's-era pop songSecondly, my response re: ISBN's and URL's was curt because I could see the bottom of my bag of comment characters, and I was running out of them. Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 15:44

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