CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008
Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary.
Katherine Barber and others.
Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press, 2008.
1213 pp., pbk., $24.95.
English language-Canada-Orthography and spelling-Dictionaries.
English language-Orthography and spelling-Dictionaries.
Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
* "hiss TOLLA jee"
* the study of the microscopic structure of tissues
* [Greek histos web, tissue + logos word]
* histologic adjective
* histological adjective
* histologically adjective
* histologist noun
Just those words that are hard to spell are the stuff of a new resource for students (and adults), the Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary, which contains more than 36,000 words from aa (Yes, that's really a word, and, no, it's not the name of a company that wanted to lead off in the phone directory, it's a "very rough light-textured lava," and what makes the it tough to spell is that it's pronounced "AW aw") to zymurgy, "the branch of applied chemistry dealing with the use of fermentation in brewing, etc."
I had an opportunity to speak to Katherine Barber, then the Editor in Chief, Canadian Dictionaries with Oxford University Press and one of the four editors of the Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary. "How did OUP lexicographers decide which words, from the more than 130,000 in the large Canadian Oxford Dictionary, were hard to spell?" was my first question. "Selecting the words was an interesting exercise because there are different definitions of difficulty," explained Katherine, adding that some words were obvious choices. "There were some words that were clearly difficult, and those weren't hard to decide. They included long words, unusual words and rare words."
"There were also words that, in themselves, are not hard to spell, but because the word itself is quite rare, we put it in. My favourite example of that is the word tuff, which is a kind of stone. On the face of it, it's a very easy spelling, but since another, more familiar tough exists, if someone hears a "tough," the last thing they will expect is that it's spelled t-u-f-f. Tough and tuff are also homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Because homophones are always a spelling challenge, they tended to go into the dictionary too.
"Then there were other words where we had to ask ourselves, 'Is this word hard for a nine-year-old?' because thats the age they start becoming involved in the Canwest Canspell spelling bees. It's been a long time since I was nine, and so I cant remember what words were hard then. As we were selecting the words, I remember our considering doubt. Adult native speakers know how to spell doubt. They've mastered that silent 'b', but, for nine-year-olds, that silent letter could still be still a challenge for them. We found it was helpful to have assistance from the Canwest Canspell people in deciding about such words."
One of the strong features of the Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary is that it uses a very straightforward guide to pronunciation rather than the International Phonetic Alphabet. For adults or others assisting children preparing for a local or regional bee, they no longer need to be stumped by the pronunciation of words like isoniazid ("ice oh NIE a zid") or zenana ("zen ONNA"). As the dictionary is about spelling, not defining, each entry only provides the word's most common meaning. Keeping in mind how the dictionary would be used, Oxford University Press deliberately chose what's called a lay-flat binding which means that, when the book is opened to any page, the pages will just lie flat and do not require any hand action on the reader's part to keep the book open.
Though most people tend to ignore and skip over the introductory material in nonfiction books, the 10 pages of "About this dictionary" should be read because they succinctly and readably tell users everything they need to know about using this valuable reference work.
At just $25.00, before any book store promotional discounts, the Canadian Spelling Bee Dictionary is certainly within the financial means of most children and/or their families. Schools and public libraries should acquire multiple copies.
Dave Jenkinson has been a judge and alternate pronouncer with the Winnipeg, MB, portion of the Canwest Canspell National Spelling Bee.
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