Best (printed) dictionary size and layout related practices

Hi! I’m working with a project where I’ll be responsible of the layout for a Ludian-Russian learners’ dictionary. It is quite standard one, I believe, with lexical entries in Ludian, Russian translation and possibly a few example sentences, but not for every entry. There seems to be around 12,000 entries, so it is not that small a dictionary. The idea has been that the dictionary would be around 200 pages, but that’s of course a matter of layout and font choices as well. The size in dimensions or pages is not really a constrain here, although some really non-standard size (from a European point of view) should be avoided as that can get more expensive to print.

It would be really nice if anyone has examples of something that can be considered a learners’ dictionary, in any language, that would be particularly well done and appreciated by the users. Getting fresh ideas and considering the choices I’m about to do is the main idea why I started this thread.

There are many interesting adjacent topics to discuss, for example, the internal data representation and also the layout creation process in itself, especially if we would also want an online version. But for now let’s stick to the questions around a physical book. The questions around digital versions and their functionalities are of course at least as exciting. As I mentioned, this is a learners’ dictionary, meaning it contains basic vocabulary, is done for a language pair most speakers know the best, and it should be easy to use and carry around.

Which paper size do you think works best in this context? Smaller, larger?

What about the font sizes?

Are two columns the way to go? What are the best ways to make longer entries legible even when they are squeezed into narrow columns?

In this video there is an example about the Russian-Ludian conversation book the same publisher did in 2019. But this dictionary will be larger and it doesn’t need to be visually similar. The binding mechanism will also be more durable etc.

I also saw there was a related discussion about generating a printable PDF with Python and LaTeX. I’ve been involved with similar work too, but I think in this case I will do the layout in InDesign, although if there are perfect LaTeX templates that already do what is needed, then I could also consider that. But there are complex pros and cons for all these approaches.

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Oh boy, I love this topic.

How I really feel

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Tiny

Sounds very fun. I think the first things I myself would think of would be what kind of usage patterns you expect. I’m very fond of my little Collins Gem Portuguese<>English dictionary:

I dragged this thing all over Brazil in my younger years. This little guy has 40,000 entries, and is quite readable. Here’s a page:

Of course, this is mostly sentimental. To be honest, I never open it any more. In my younger years, the internet was barely a thing. Which is, I think a very relevant point: are people really going to use a pocket dictionary like this nowadays rather than their cell phone? Probably not, to be quite honest. (I’m assuming internet access is widespread in the area where Ludi is spoken.)

Small

Which raises a different question: what kind of print dictionaries do people still like to use? I still like looking things up in larger format books. It’s just pleasant. This book, is one of my favorite dictionaries ever:

I’d describe this as pretty close to a paperback novel in size.

The typography is spectacular:

This is an example of squeezing a tremendous number of data types into each entry, but still maintaining readability and avoiding the “wall of text” syndrome. If you count the number of typefaces here, it’s pretty amazing. This book is a bit of an odd comparison since it’s organized around Kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese), but I feel compelled to mention it because it’s a book I just love to look at and I still use just for fun. (And I barely study Japanese any more!)

Medium

A step up in size, and a work that content-wise is more similar to what you’re working on, is this Ilocano<>English dictionary and grammar by my friend Carl Rubino (mine’s signed! :blush:).

Not pocket-sized, certainly, and larger than a novel, but it could be thrown in a backpack pretty easily.

Grande

A typical page:

This dictionary very much emphasizes compounding and derived words (unsurprising for a Philippine language). If you look at the word ayát ‘love’ you’ll see that most of the entry is compounds (there are full example sentences as well). Interestingly, there is a longer definition here here for the form kaayan-ayat ‘sweetheart, lover’ than there is under that word as a headword:

kaayan-ayát (f. ayát) n. sweetheart

(No mention of lovers!)

Here’s what the English > Ilocano “finder” side looks like:

So yeah, at this scale we’re getting tons of information, and the dictionary part of the book is about 750 pages.

And, why not, let’s look at a beast of a dictionary too:

This dictionary is in the epic magnum-opus once-in-a-lifetime category. I think it’s way beyond what you’re up to, but it makes for an interesting upper bound:

Here’s a typical page:

(@Siri could explain it!)

And here’s a finder page:

Three columns here.

Athabaskan grammar is a thing of baroque beauty…

So anyway…

My own intuition is someone close to the “medium” category, right? I would think the key criteria would be:

  • How much info you have available for each entry: headwords, grammatical categories, definitions, compounds, and example sentences you want to give.
  • Your target audience’s familiarity with Ludi
  • How you expect the dictionary to be used
  • Cost. Color? Hardcover? Number of copies? Etc.

Anyway, please keep us apprised of your project’s progress!

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