"In places like India and South Korea and in our biggest markets in China and Taiwan, a dictionary is seen as a good investment because language is seen to get a good job, to go study abroad etc. So people are ready to purchase and invest in them," says Alison Waters, Publisher, ELT dictionaries and reference grammar, Oxford University Press, UK.
"On the whole the English language market is growing so the business of dictionaries is stable. Because of global recession there is less money around and dictionaries are seen as supplementary materials and not key materials for learning. So there is a threat, particularly in the Euro zone including in the UK," Alison said.
In the digital era, mobile phones applications, tablets and handheld devices allow people to search online for words and their correct usages, but the print dictionary has still a long way to go before becoming obsolete. "Even though our online dictionaries are able to offer more, such as quality sound recordings, at the moment what we sell more is the print dictionary. Print is our main focus," says Alison. The Advanced Learners Dictionary is one of "bestsellers" from Oxford, she points out. The UK publisher, which brings out 500 dictionaries, thesauruses, and language reference titles in more than 40 languages also offers CD ROMS and other electronic formats like mobile applications.
"The English language itself gets bigger and fatter but not necessarily the print dictionaries, which remain more or less the same size because due to space issues we may take out certain words too," says Alison. "The selfie was first spotted in 2002 and used once in Australia when a drunk person posted a picture of himself after he hurt his face. We got several more cases on Flicker in 2004 but it was not enough to register on our radar. In 2012 it really took off because several celebrities used it."
The UK dictionary publisher says, "A word gets in the dictionary based on how common it is and how widely it is used and not only in one region." The digital age, says Alison, also spurs new language inventions such as combination words like a "phablet" (for a cross between phone and a tablet) as well as "paddleboarding". "In the era we live in phenomenon like these can take off more quickly," says the publisher. Referring to various free dictionaries online, especially the urban dictionary, Alison say, they are "usually slang" and not going to find itself into her dictionary. "Often words in the urban dictionary are there because they sound strange. Students suddenly started to use words like 'sick' or 'bad' to express the opposite of when they mean, 'very good'. It is like gangsta rap songs, a whole language in itself, it is more like a dialect... But it is like Facebook or text messaging, it is not going to help students pass their exams or write a better CV," says Alison. Stating that the overall quality of English with respect to grammar and writing is in danger everywhere, Alison says that unlike in the UK, students in India are more conscious of their grammar.
"The quality of students in English with regard to writing is seriously in danger but that is as much to native speakers as those who formally study the language. We in the UK are notoriously bad for teaching grammar... Often you get a second language speaker who speak more correct English then you will who are native speakers," says Alison. The publisher conducted workshops in the country to guide teachers on using dictionaries as an effective classroom tool to help students improve their writing skills. "In India grammar is seen as very important. The teacher being a figure of authority seems big here. There is a lot of concern about it among Indian teachers and we did a lot of work with them to teach grammar in a fun way," says Allison.