Let's pretend we are producing four-language cross-dictionary. To be more difficult, let it be a Russian-English-Japanese-Sanskrit dictionary.

By "cross-dictionary" I mean that the person using it will be able to look up any word in any of four supported languages and have four different articles describing the same term which this word means.

Example: All four languages have a word for term "fire" (I mean not a "forest fire" but just a generic "fire"). So, we have a binding of four words:

Огонь / Fire / 火 / अग्नि

Users of this dictionary will be able to look up any of these words and get the four articles describing the same term "fire". Each of these articles would be the usual dictionary article, of course, with all other possible meanings/readings/inflexions/etc of the word.

What problems should be solved (and preferably, how they can be solved) when making such a dictionary?


The main problem is that most words cannot be translated one to one. For simple, concrete words like fire, it's less of a problem. But consider a word like up. It has many different senses that would all need to be translated into different words in those other languages: it can mean "upwards", "finished", etc. Or consider a word like certainly. It can mean "as is certain", but also "granted" as in a concession. Etc. That's why even the simplest dictionaries have multiple senses for most words. I'll end with the entry for up on dictionary.com, a relatively simple dictionary:

up [uhp] adverb, preposition, adjective, noun, verb, upped, up·ping. adverb 1. to, toward, or in a more elevated position: to climb up to the top of a ladder. 2. to or in an erect position: to stand up. 3. out of bed: to get up. 4. above the horizon: The moon came up. 5. to or at any point that is considered higher. 6. to or at a source, origin, center, or the like: to follow a stream up to its source. 7. to or at a higher point or degree, as of rank, size, value, pitch, loudness, brightness, maturity, or speed: to move up in a firm; to pump up a tire; to turn a lantern up; Prices are going up. Speak up! Hurry up! 8. ahead; in a leading position in a competition: He managed to get up on his opponent by three points. 9. in continuing contact, especially as reflecting continuing awareness, knowledge, etc.: to keep up with the latest developments in mathematics. 10. into or in activity, operation, etc.: to set up vibrations. 11. into a state of emotional agitation or distress: His insults left her all roiled up. 12. into existence, visible form, etc.: His sample was worked up in the studio. 13. into view, prominence, or consideration: The lost papers have turned up. 14. into or in a place of safekeeping, storage, retirement, etc.: to lay up riches; to put up preserves. 15. into or in a state of union, contraction, etc.: to add up a column of figures; to fold up. 16. to the required or final point: to pay up one's debts; burned up. 17. to a state of completion; to an end: She finished it all up. 18. to a halt: The riders reined up and dismounted. 19. Baseball. being the player or team batting; at bat. 20. (used as a function word for additional emphasis, sometimes preceded by it ): Go wake your father up. What plugged it up? We laughed it up. 21. ahead of an opponent or opponents in points, games, etc.: The golfer was two strokes up on his nearest competitor. 22. each; apiece: The score was seven up in the final quarter. 23. (of machines or equipment, as computers) working; in working order or in operation. 24. Informal. without the addition of ice; straight up: Bring me a martini, up. 25. Nautical . toward the wind: Put the helm up. preposition 26. to, toward, or at an elevated place on or in: They went up the stairs. The cat is up the tree. 27. to, toward, or at a high or higher station, condition, or rank on or in: He is well up the social ladder. 28. at or to a farther point or higher place on or in: She is up the street. I'm going up the street. 29. toward the source, origin, etc., of: up the stream. 30. toward a particular direction or in the interior of, as a region or territory: The explorers were up north. 31. in a course or direction that is contrary to that of: to row up the current. adjective 32. moving in or related to a direction that is up or is regarded as up: the up elevator; the up train traveling north; the up platform of a railroad station. 33. informed; familiar; aware (usually followed by on or in ): She is always up on current events. 34. concluded; ended; finished; terminated: The game is up. Your hour is up. 35. going on or happening; taking place; occurring: What's up over there? 36. having a high position or station: He is up in society. 37. in an erect, vertical, or raised position: The gate at the railroad crossing is up. The tent is up. 38. above the earth or ground: The corn is up and ready to be harvested. 39. in the air; aloft: The meteorological balloons are up. The airplanes are up for their reconnaissance flights. 40. (of heavenly bodies) risen above the horizon: The sun is up. 41. awake or out of bed: to be up with insomnia. 42. mounted on horseback: He knows which jockeys are up in every race. 43. (of water in natural bodies) high with relation to the banks or shore: The tide is up. 44. built; constructed: The new museum is up and open to the public. 45. facing upward: He is resting and his face is up. 46. sunnyside up. 47. (of roads, highways, etc.) having the surface broken or removed (usually used in combination): a torn-up road. 48. in revolt, mutiny, or rebellious agitation: Many territories were up and preparing to send troops against the government. 49. in a state of agitation: Beware of him when his temper is up. 50. Informal. cheerful or optimistic; high-spirited; happy; exuberant; upbeat. 51. Informal. productive, favorable, or profitable: a string of up months for the company. 52. afoot or amiss: Her nervous manner told me that something was up. 53. in a state of enthusiastic or confident readiness (usually followed by for ): The team was definitely up for the game. 54. bound; on the way: She was on a ship up for Australia. 55. resolved in an unfavorable or undesired way: They knew that their game was up. 56. higher than formerly in cost, amount, degree, etc.: The price of meat was up. 57. (of age) advanced (usually followed by in ): He is rather spry for a man so up in years. 58. active: The captain wished to set sail as soon as the wind was up. 59. in a legal proceeding as defendant: He is up for murder. 60. in operation or ready for use: The theater's lights are up. 61. (of points or other standards used to determine the winner in a competition) ahead; in advance: He won the game with two points up over his opponent. 62. considered or under consideration: a candidate up for reelection; a bill that is up before Congress. 63. wagered; bet: He won all the money up in the game. 64. living or located inland or on elevated ground: They live in a village two miles up from the coast. 65. (used with a preceding numeral to indicate that a score is tied in a competition): It was 10 up at the end of the first half. 66. ahead of an opponent or opponents: They scored three times in a row to go two up. noun 67. an upward movement; ascent. 68. a rise of fortune, mood, etc. 69. a time of good fortune, prosperity, or happiness: He has had more ups than downs in his career. 70. an upbound means of public transportation, as a train or bus. 71. Informal. a feeling or state of happiness, exuberance, or elation. 72. Slang. upper ( def 10 ) . 73. a person or thing that is in a favorable position of wealth, fortune, etc.: People who were ups in the business world suffered losses in the economic depression. 74. an upward slope; elevation. 75. an upward course or rise, as in price or value: The landlord promised his tenants there would be no further ups in the rent this year. 76. Slang. upper2 . verb (used with object) 77. to put or take up. 78. to make larger; step up: to up output. 79. to raise; go better than (a preceding wager): to up the ante. verb (used without object) 80. Informal. to start up; begin something abruptly (usually followed by and and another verb): Then he upped and ran away from home. 81. (often used imperatively or hortatively) to rise up: Up, men, and fight until all the enemy are defeated!

  • Okay, so, maybe a network representation would be more correct? I see 81 terms in the example you provided for a single word. Let's pretend dictionary will have a hyperlink for each of this meanings to the corresponding terms in other languages. Will it help? Also, I understand this problem and probably there's a possibility to remove all special forms of languages and leave only this "simple, concrete words", no need to try covering every word ever. We have no one-to-one mapping between words but we certainly should have one for terms.
    – hijarian
    Nov 6 '13 at 14:48
  • 1
    Can you define this "term"? Do you mean a sense? Or the meaning of a word in context? As to simple, concrete words, go over your comment and count how many such words you have used. I see a few nouns that are probably easy to mirror in another language, like dictionary and hyperlink, and perhaps maybe and word. But most of your comment consists of words that are abstract or have more than one sense that may not carry over in another language.
    – Cerberus
    Nov 6 '13 at 17:28
  • Okay, I got your point. Thank you for detailed explanation. I'll leave the question opened for some time before accepting your answer.
    – hijarian
    Nov 7 '13 at 11:33
  • @hijarian: I wish you good luck with you project! Perhaps a network like what they use in the Visual Thesaurus would be interesting, except that you'd need to integrate all the senses of all words in four bidirectional dictionaries, and you'd have to connect every sense and every subsense of every word to a "semantic point" as in the Thesaurus. But it becomes incredibly more complicated as you add even one language... visualthesaurus.com/app/view Search for up and see how they do it.
    – Cerberus
    Nov 7 '13 at 15:31
  • 1
    you can think the problem this way. You can have the conversion rate between two any currencies, like US Dollar and Euro, but how can you have conversion rate between three or four currencies? In economy, you will use another currency to be the reference: gold. Same here, you essentially have to choose one language so that the others can refer to. In other words, you can only have three bi-language dictionaries in one place, not one true four-language dictionary.
    – Ooker
    Jun 28 '16 at 8:33

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.