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Self –study of topics: Encyclopaedias, Encyclopaedic dictionaries and their peculiarities



1. The history of encyclopaedias in England.

2. Modern encyclopaedias in English-speaking countries.

3. Linguistic Encyclopaedias, their type and function.

4. Other computerized dictionaries and encyclopaedias, their structure, volume, content.


1. Ступин Л.П. Лексикография английского языка. М., 1989. С. 18 – 21.

2. Лингвистический энциклопедический словарь/ Под ред. В.Н. Ярцевой. – М., 2010.

3. The Britannica – CD.

4. Britannica 2002 Deluxe Edition.

5. Collier’s Encyclopaedia 1998 Sierra Home.

6. Compton’s Interactive Encyclopaedia 1997.

7. Encarta Encyclopaedia Deluxe 2001 Microsoft.


Encyclopaedia is a reference work in one or more volumes which presents extensive information in all branches of knowledge. The word “encyclopaedia” is a modern coinage derived from a Greek phrase, “enkuklion paideia”, which means literally “education within a circle”, i.e. those elements of learning which constitute a complete education. The first occurrence of the word in modern times is in the Governorie (1531), a treatise on education and politics by the English scholar and diplomat Sir Thomas Elyot. It is necessary to distinguish between the encyclopaedic works published before the 17th century and those which appeared later. The earliest encyclopaedias were not intended to be compediums or digests of the knowledge of their times, but rather anthologies of the works of the most regarded authors.

From the 17th century to the present, the word “encyclopaedia” has taken on the meaning of a unified work which presents all the various branches of knowledge.

The first alphabetical encyclopaedia in English was “the Lexicon technicum” or “A Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences “(1704), by John Harris (1667 – 1719), a London clergyman. In view of the continuing spread of knowledge and education, a comprehensive reference work was needed which would inform its readers of the many discoveries in basic science. It would guide readers’ understanding of the whole of human knowledge by means of some scheme showing how each of the various branches of learning is correlated with the others. This need was partially met by the publication in England in 1728 of the Cyclopaedia or “Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences” by Ephraim Chambers (1680 – 1740). Originally published in 2 folio volumes, Chambers’ Cyclopaedia was prefaced by an elaborate scheme of the divisions and subdivisions of knowledge. It closely resembled a present-day dictionary, especially in its emphasis on the definition of common words. It contained a particular abundance of medical and pharmaceutical terms, but lacked geographical, historical and biographical information. The work was illustrated by 21 large plates devoted to such subjects as heraldry, surveying, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and navigation.

The French Encyclopedie 91751 – 1772) was a far greater work than Chambers’ one for it was originally intended as a translation of Chambers’ Cyclopaedia. Ostensibly, the Encyclopedie was a reference work; but its main purpose apparent from the publication of the first volumes, was to influence its readers in favour of rational and scientific points of view. It was published in 28 volumes.

The most reliable and famous is “The Encyclopaedia Britannica. A New Survey of Universal Knowledge”, the first two numbers appeared in December 1768 at a price of sixpence per copy on ordinary paper for it was sold by subscription and was issued periodically in sections.

The second edition of it included 10 volumes (1784), while the 14th edition included 24 volumes (1929).

Since 1974 30 volumes of The Encyclopaedia Britannica have been issuing annually. As to coverage it contains one thousand pages of a large size each volume, more than 350 000 entries, in addition to it annual edition “The Britannica Book of the Year” has been published since 1938. In the early 1990s, Britannica was made available for electronic delivery on a number of CD-ROM-based products, including the Britannica Electronic index and the Britannica CD (providing text, illustrations and a dictionary, along with proprietary retrieval software, on a single disc). During this period the company also developed Britannica Online, an extended electronic reference service for delivery over the Internet. In 1994 it debuted on the Internet’s World Wide Web at http: //www.eb.com.

In 1796 the German publisher Gotthelf Renatus Lobel issued the 1st volume of his Frauenzimmerlexikon, an Encyclopaedia for Women. This project was continued by Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. The 17th edition, in 20 volumes, is called Brockhaus Enzyklopaedie (1966 – 1976). Brockhaus set a new style in encyclopaedia publishing. It presented information on all kinds of subjects in short, concise, unsigned articles, whereas Britannica and the Encyclopedie had contained both brief articles and extended discussions.

It was written in popular nontechnical language and placed emphasis on topics of special interest to Germans designated for nonspecialist readers. Thus, Norwegian, Dutch, French, Danish, and even Russian encyclopaedias - all of them followed the Brockhaus model.

In America the German immigrant, historian and economist Francis Lieber (1800 – 1872) used the 7th edition of Brockhaus as the basis for the Encyclopaedia Americana (1829 – 1833, 13 volumes). Later it was published in 16 volumes (1904) and in 1920 it contained 30 volumes, it was just the same as nowadays. Each volume consists of 950 pages, nearly 320 000 entries.

Besides it should be mentioned that over 40 Encyclopaedias are issued both in Britain and in the USA, most of them are very popular in English speaking countries.

American encyclopaedias are as follows:

1) The World Book Encyclopaedia (in 26 vv);

2) Collier’s Encyclopaedia (in 20 vv) published for students and schoolteachers;

3) American People’s Encyclopaedia (in 20 vv);

4) Encyclopaedia International (in 20 vv).

British encyclopaedias are the following:

1) Britannica Junior (in 15 vv);

2) Britannica for Children (in 20 vv);

3) Chamber’s Encyclopaedia (in 15 vv) for family usage, it should not be confused with Epliraim Chamber’s Cyclopaedia;

4) Everyman’s Encyclopaedia in (12 vv);

5) The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopaedic Dictionary (in 3 vv), it is a kind of reference book.

An English translation of the 10th edition of Brockhaus was the basis of Chamber’s Encyclopaedia (1859 – 1868, 10 volumes). This work was named for its publishers: Robert and William Chambers.

At last one volume or two volume Encyclopaedic dictionaries are published both in Britain and in the USA such as: Columbia Encyclopaedia, Collins New Age Encyclopaedia, Basic Everyday Encyclopaedia.

It should be mentioned that Soviet Encyclopaedia has been issued since 1960 till 1970 in Russia. There are a lot of different kinds of Encyclopaedias, e.g. on pedagogics, history, chemistry, biology, etc.

Linguistic encyclopaedias.

To describe linguistic encyclopaedias one should bear in mind that mostly they are reference books with systematic knowledge about language and methods of its description.

“Linguistic Encyclopaedias” may be general and special, e.g. describing a separate language. As to arrangement of material they may be alphabet or thematic, sometimes both. They may reflect linguistic studies at a given historic period.

Traditionally French school of lexicography should be honoured, i.e. we may pay tribute to “Encyclopedie de la Pleiade, la Langue, 1968 by Martine in 25 vv.

French “Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des Sciences de la langue” by D. Ducro, T. Tudorov in English translation by C. Poter “Encyclopaedic dictionary of the Science of language” was published in 1979.

Encyclopaedias are organised on systematic principles influenced by functional linguistics such as Russian formal school and besides structural and semiological brunch of French linguistics.

Encyclopaedias include poetical, rethorical and semiological elements to provide scientific synthesis to study language as a system and texts as language material.

3 more Encyclopaedic dictionaries should be mentioned:

1) In Germany 3 volumes of Encyclopaedic dictionary were published in 1970 “Lexikon der germanistischen Linguistik”; 2) “Die Deutsche Sprache Kleine Enzyklopadie” in 2 volumes was published (1969 – 1970); 3) “Linguistischen Worterbuch” in 3 volumes and other dictionaries.

In England “Encyclopaedia of Linguistic Information and Control” was published in oxford in 1961.

In 1989 “An Encyclopaedia of language” was issued by Collins in London. It studies the structure of language, besides it develops studying language and thought, language and psycology.

Encyclopaedia by Asher’s was published in 12 volumes in 1973. The following encyclopaedic dictionaries are very useful and helpful for students: 1) Potter S., Glossary of Linguistic Terms, 1960; 2) Hartman R.R.K., Stork F.C. “Dictionary of language and Linguistics”, 1972.

In Russia one may be proud of national Encyclopaedia of Scientific and Applied Knowledge, 1905; Literary Encyclopaedic Dictionary, 1987; Linguistic Encyclopaedic Dictionary by V.N. Jartseva which has been reprinted and revised many times in the XXth century and further on.

As to computerized encyclopedias one may get acquainted with the following versions: 1)The British Multimedia Encyclopaedia, 2)The Britannica –CD, 3)The Programme “Bookshelf”.Let’s consider the latter one.

The programme “Bookshelf ”comprises 7 various books which are different in content and structure. To analyse it in short we ought to begin with

“the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language”, it includes audio programme of correct pronunciation which contains a lot of video audioclips, images and multiplications.

2)”Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases”, its content is divided into 6 groups: three of them concern inner life of human beings, the rest are dedicated to outer life of human beings. It helps any user to enrich and to enlarge one’s vocabulary,

3)”The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations” where quotations are distributed according to special topics and headings. Any entry structure may include: heading, quotation, author’s name of citations, short bibliographical information, 4)”The Concise Columbia Encyclopaedia” which is a universal one being a prototype to printed Encyclopaedia, here short information is given in terms which are borrowings from foreign languages. Many entries are provided with different kinds of photos, images, etc. Animation is one of the main support while explaining biology, physics, chemistry, etc.

5)”The Hammond Atlas of the World” is not only a collection of geographical maps for they are united under the common programme, which presupposes clear depiction of continents and countries on the screen (monitor), states’ flags and national anthems are illustrated, capitals are included; special system of reference is from Atlas to Almanac and Encyclopaedia;

6) “The People Chronology” is a report about social and historical facts and events taking place in history (from before Christ and to nowadays 2011 including);

7)”The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2010” is a kind of anthology containing knowledge of entertaining and of information type. It includes 8 chapters: arts and mass-media, chronology, sciences of the world, peoples, the world history, science and technology, sports, the USA. Its advantages are: 1) different devices and techniques such as multi-windowing multi-way enter and/ or exit allow us to combine information from various sources to reinforce by using photo-images, video and audio recordings, 2) easy transfer from one dictionary to another, 3) instantaneous access to information, 4) capability of collecting and storage of information, 5)conversion of retrieval activity into communicative and cognitive ones, 6) multi-aspects retrieval.

To sum it up computerized dictionaries instead of conventional printed ones are used to facilitate while operating and one may enjoy its advantages for they combine translating, explanatory and encyclopaedic characteristics.

To sum it up any encyclopaedia differs from a dictionary for it can explain subjects in detail, rather than merely supplying definitions of words and phrases. Encyclopaedia is generally written in the form of many separate articles, often by experts in the field.



1) What is the origin of the term “encyclopaedia”?

2) What are the most famous encyclopaedias in Britain and in the USA?

3) What is a “linguistic encyclopaedia”? Types of them to describe. What linguistic encyclopaedias in Russia do you know?

4) What other computerized / electronic encyclopaedias do you know? Describe two of them to your liking.



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