walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

geekitude: hard problems in dictionaries

Oxford University Press and Duden (the German dictionary people) have a gorgeous line of picture dictionaries. Each page has simple line drawings of a bunch of stuff organized thematically (women's clothing, for example, or textile manufacture). The drawings are numbered and at the bottom of the page the words are given for the pictures. I have the German one. They are awesome; best vocabulary builders I've ever encountered. OUP also does a monolingual one for English.

There is at least one food dictionary which has tabular organization: word in English, word in French, word in German, etc. Of course, this sucks if you are trying to go from French to German, say. Or anything to English, which you would be when decoding a menu.

Initially, I thought maybe a pictorial dictionary with all the languages on the bottom (and a big-ass set of indices at the back) of the page matching the pictures of apples, black beans, chicken-pot-pie. . .Hmmm. Because while an apple probably has a name in every language, cuisine is very regionally specific. Altho at least a pictorial dictionary would give you a shot at figuring out what an escalope (a word in English that never fails to confuse me) is.

But play with it. Could you have a technique section? Probably, but the complexity there could be hideous, and sure to piss off purists in each foodway. How do you show what the difference is between panko and any other kind of breadcrumb? Maybe it would be enough just to know it was a kind of breadcrumb, and you could be pleasantly surprised by how nice that particular kind of breadcrumb is. *shrug*

Probably can't leave presentation out, because menu descriptions include presentation terms. We wouldn't want people assuming that if it isn't in the dictionary, it's just presentation -- they might wind up ordering something _really_ exotic that got left out.

One of the problems with polyglot food dictionaries is marketing them. The market which needs them doesn't realize they need them. Could a completist, polyglot pictorial dictionary be marketed in a way that got around this problem? It won't be fitting in anyone's pocket, that's for sure. Market it to restaurants to help them create menus in whatever language needed? The high end folk need it the most, and I'm betting they have enough trouble writing the day's menu, much less translating it into Portuguese. Market it to restaurants to loan to their patrons when they have difficulty figuring stuff out? That seems possible. A fair number of not-so-high-end restaurants in cities that get business from all over have pictures of a lot of their food displayed in the menu, front window, whatever. Especially restaurants not serving the cuisine of the country they are in. Doesn't really help, tho, if you're in a Chinese restaurant in Paris looking at chopped chicken in sauce, and wondering what that adjective means. Amandine vs. gingembre is going to be real different.

Here's an interesting project that could go in the right direction:


There have been electronic polyglot translators around longer than Google has been in existence. Maybe what we need is some small electronic device with a big enough color screen to show you a picture. Enter (scan?) the menu text and it shows you either what you asked, or a series of icons that are a pictorial translation, along with a machine generated textual translation in your target language.

I bet they're already selling it in Tokyo.

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