India a massive market, Africa emerging for Oxford dictionaries

By Shilpa Raina, New Delhi, Dec 27 : The emergence of new media has posed a threat to the existence of big, fat and tedious-looking dictionaries, but the publishers of the Oxford tome are unfazed by this challenge. The optimism comes from focussing on "massive" markets like India and China and tapping "potential" markets like Africa.

"The new media has affected us, but not terribly in a bad way. We admit that market for print will finish in some time, but developing countries like in Africa are a big market for us. They are still moving to the English language and that is one market which will grow in the future," Alison Waters, publisher, ELT dictionaries and reference grammar at Britain's Oxford University Press, told IANS in an interview.

"India has always been a big market for us because there is a high population of English-speaking people. Not just because of colonial history but because of the exposure they get from movies, television, news and many students who come to the west for studies," she said, adding, China too is a valuable market where Oxford's bilingual dictionaries (English to English and English to Mandarin) are in great demand.

Waters was in the capital recently to conduct workshops for teachers on the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD).

According to her, bilingual dictionaries are doing extremely well in India.

"There are many reasons why print is still a relevant entity in India. One of the reasons is not many internet resources are available to many who are keen to learn the language. Hence they depend on our bilingual dictionaries to learn on their own," she said, adding bilingual dictionaries in Bengali and Telugu are doing fairly well.

"This is why print will survive here for another 5 to 10 years, unlike the UAE that is so technologically advanced that print dictionaries aren't used any more," she added.

Much before the digital aged dawned upon us, dictionary usage was a known phenomenon. Be it any profession, when in doubt consulting a dictionary was highly recommended.

But it was a horror of sorts too, admits Waters, who pointed out how many dreaded consulting a dictionary because it was cumbersome to flip through a fat book that was difficult to befriend.

"The concept of reading a dictionary has been a horror for everyone. I think everybody thinks dictionaries are scary, difficult, and fairly inaccessible things till internet made it easy to look up for a new word without much hassle," she said.

"There is no more turning pages; it doesn't require the fine art of reading a dictionary any more. It is easy to hear correct pronunciations as we provide a CD with our dictionaries. Our CD ROMs are interactive, encourage good writing skills and improve grammar. Going digital helped make a dictionary less scary and less frighting," she added, saying OALD has started a mobile application for discerning audiences.

Considered to be the "bible" of dictionaries, Oxford is also keenly watched and followed when new words are added to the dictionary. While "selfie" made it to the Word Of The Year bypassing "twerk", Waters pointed out how "man and machine" work in coherence to select new words from a huge universe.

"We have a database called 'incomings' that has different tools which control the internet and identify new words used in the English language in different parts of the world. So the software matches them with our database. If it doesn't appear in the dictionary it picks them up," she explained.

"As all departments at the Oxford dictionaries have access to this tool; we all discuss and see how useful the word is going to be to our learners. So it is a combination of reliable technology and our team," Waters added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at

--IANS (Posted on 27-12-2013)

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