Wiktionary Tutorial, Level I 


Other terminological and lexical resources tutorials



I. Introduction


Wiktionary, launched in 2002, is a wiki project with the long-term goal of offering Internet users a free open-content English dictionary. The dictionary is written in English, but aims ultimately to define all words in all languages. The first wikis came into being in the mid-1990s. In general, wikis are online projects whose contents can be freely changed by users. They operate on the principle of collaboration, in which a large community of Internet users contributes to the content of a project. The interfaces and relatively simple programming codes of wikis are designed to make it easy for users to participate in the projects. The most well-known project is currently Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia.” Wiktionary differs from Wikipedia in that its principle focus is on the collection of linguistic information, rather than the collection and synthesis of encyclopedic information (that is, information about real-world entities or concepts themselves rather than the linguistic units used to refer to them).

Though Wiktionary allows its users a great deal of freedom, it still has several basic regulatory policies, such as respecting copyright laws, avoiding bias and respecting other contributors. Certain conventions of layout and formatting must also be followed. For more information, see Wiktionary's Policies and Guidelines page at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Policies.

Wiktionary currently has almost 2.5 million entries. It is run by the Wikimedia Foundation, which encourages users to examine all Wiktionary content with a critical eye, given its "open" nature. Contributors must reference their sources of information so that users can verify that it is well-founded. Wiktionary is based on the hope that, ultimately, most users will value the common good of all users and will take an active role in adding to Wiktionary’s content and correcting errors. “Most people want to help, and keeping it open to everyone creates the potential for making many good and ever-improving entries,” (http://en.Wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Welcome,_newcomers). You can visit this welcome page to learn more about the Wiktionary project.


To complete the last part of this tutorial – comparing the results of several dictionaries – it will be useful for you to be familiar with the basic functions of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) Online. If necessary, see the Monolingual Electronic Dictionaries Tutorial, Level I to become familiar with these tools.


II. Getting ready

  1. Open the Web browser of your choice (e.g. Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer) by double-clicking the icon that appears on the desktop (or from the Windows start menu).
  2. Go to the Wiktionary home page, at http://en.wiktionary.org


III. Doing simple searches and getting to know Wiktionary


  1. At the top of the Main Page, in the search field to the right-hand side of the History tab, type the character string paths (that is, the plural form of the word path). What happens as you are typing this word? (See Note 1.)
  2. Now click on the magnifying glass icon on the right-hand side of the search field (or press the enter key on the keyboard) to launch your search.
    1. What does the results page show?
    2. In the entry, the singular form of path appears as a blue hyperlink. (Blue hyperlinks direct to an active Web page, while red ones direct to a non-existent page or are deactivated.) Now click on the singular form of pathWhat has changed?
    3. Under the headword (in this case, path) is the entry's table of contents. How does the entry appear to be divided?  
    4. Compare the two entries for path and paths. What conclusions might you draw about the way Wiktionary handles inflected forms of lexical units? Test your hypothesis by searching for conjugated verbs, such as smiled, laughs, etc.
    5. Return to the Wiktionary entry for path (retyping this word in the search field if necessary).
  3. Browse the entry for path using the scroll bar.
    1. What information about this word is presented under the heading Etymology?
    2. Under the Pronunciation heading you will notice two blue arrow buttons. Click one of them. What does the blue arrow pronunciation button do? How could this feature be useful? For whom? 
    3. Under the heading Noun, how many different meanings of this word are given? How are they divided on the page?
    4. The next section is Synonyms. What synonyms are given? What link appears in this section? Click on the link. Where does it lead? What information is presented on this page and how is it organized? Click the browser’s Back button (often displayed as an arrow pointing to the left) to return to the entry for path.  
    5. The next section, Derived terms, shows other lexical units, phrases, and expressions, that are formed using the word path. Can you think of any others that could be added?
    6. How is the Translations section divided? Do you find it useful? Is there a translation given for each meaning? What do you think determines whether or not a translation in a certain language is given?
    7. How is the entry's content referenced (at the bottom)? Where does its information come from? Do you think this is a reliable source?
  4. Do a search for the word road and compare the entry with the entry for path.
    1. How are these entries similar? How are they different?
      1. Look at the 3rd meaning of road under the heading Noun. Click on the quotations link. What is the purpose of these quotations? Do you think they are in the right place in the entry? Can you think of a reason to account for where they are?
      2. Look at the Derived terms section. How does it differ from the section in the entry for path? Do you recognize all the derived terms presented? Do you think that they could be organized into different categories?
      3. Does the entry present any other interesting information? How do you think this information could be useful? For whom? In what situation(s)?
      4. Why does the entry have a section entitled Swedish? What is presented in this section? How do you think it could be useful? For whom? In what situation(s)?
      5. Are there any sections that seem to be missing from one or the other entry? What do you think the importance of each of these sections is?
    2. What conclusions can you make about Wiktionary from your observations of similarities and differences?
  5. Do a search for the word hamburger. Briefly look at the entry. Does Wiktionary give a link to another entry that has a similar form? If so, click on the hyperlinked word.
    1. What is the difference between these two entries?
    2. In the entry for Hamburger, do you find all the same sections as you saw earlier for path and road?
    3. Do a search for Hamburger. Which page does Wiktionary bring you to? Can you conclude from these results whether or not Wiktionary’s search function is case sensitive (that is, whether it recognizes capital and lowercase letters as being different)?
  6. Do a search for the string resume and then for the string résumé. What do the results tell you about accented characters in the Wiktionary search function?
  7. Do a search for the character string cryptyc, purposely leaving the spelling mistake. What search options does Wiktionary offer you for this character string?
  8. Type the character string bank in the main search field at the top right-hand side of the page.
    1. Why are there three separate sections (Etymology 1, 2, 3)? What does this tell you about Wiktionary’s layout? Why do you think there are not separate entries for these different entries, as there were for hamburger and Hamburger above?
    2. What are the differences in meaning between the three sections? Does each etymology have a noun and a verb attached to it?
  9. Do a search for the character string bake. In the Contents box, click on the number 3, read the entry, then scroll to the top of the entry and read entry 1. What do these entries tell you? Was there anything that surprised you in either of the entries? Are there uses of the word recorded in entry 1 that you did not know? Is this information useful?
  10. Do a search for each of the following abbreviations: UN (for the United Nations), LRT (Light RailTransit), CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and RSVP (French, répondez s’il vous plaît).
    1. Did all of these searches give you the results you were expecting? Is this type of search always conclusive? Why or why not?
    2. Return to the page for RSVP. What spelling variations does Wiktionary give? What interesting information is recorded under Usage notes?

IV. Performing more complex searches


Wiktionary does not allow advanced searching with wildcard characters or Boolean operators. However, there are still some more complex searching options available. (See Note 2.)

  1. Do a search for cat dog (with a space between the two words). There is no entry for this, and Wiktionary displays a message that reads: You may create the page 'cat dog' on a blank page, request its creation, or create it using the New Entry Creator! Scroll down past this message.
    1. Do you still find links to other Wiktionary entries? Which ones? Do you see your search words in each entry? In which part of the entry?
    2. Does the search take into account the order of the words in the character string?
    3. How many results are there? (The number of results is displayed in bold in the blue box at the top of the page.)
    4. How do you think this kind of searching could be useful?
  2. Do a search for censorship news. Look at the results.
    1. How many results are there?
    2. Where in the entries do these character strings appear?
    3. Can you normally do this kind of search in electronic dictionaries? What allows this kind of search to be done in Wiktionary?
  3. Do some other searches with two related words and observe the results.
    1. Do a search for heart disease. Look at the results underneath the You may create the page 'heart disease' on a blank pagemessage.
      1. How many results appear? At the bottom of the page, on the right-hand side of the word View, click on the number 100 to see all the results on one page.
      2. Did you get the results you expected?
      3. Is there a lot of noise (that is, non-relevant results)?
      4. Do you think there would be less noise if Wiktionary had an advanced search with keywords option?
    2. Do a search for digital recording. Look at the results underneath the You may create the page 'digital recording’' on a blank page… message.
      1. Did you get the results you expected? Are there entries that did not come up in the results that you think would have with a keywords search?
    3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of searching in Wiktionary?
  4. It is also possible to use the characters + and - in order to require (+) a certain word in or exclude (-) a certain word from the results of a search. Explore this search feature.
    1. Do a search for electricity, another for +electricity and a third for ­electricity –static. Note the number of results each time.
    2. Does the number of results change? Are there other differences in the results? Did you get the results you expected? 
    3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of search in Wiktionary?


V. Getting to know the wiki approach and how it affects Wiktionary content


  1. Return to the Wiktionary main page (http://en.wiktionary.org). Start by reading the information on the Main Page tab. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. You will see a Privacy Policy link, an About Wiktionary link and a Disclaimer link. Click on the Disclaimer link. Read the title of the entry and look at the subtitles. What do you learn about Wiktionary from this page?
  2. Wiktionary is a relatively new project, and, true to its nature, is constantly changing. Perhaps it is still too early to make defintive judgments about the credibility of the content overall, but it is good to know where Wiktionary gets its information. To explore the way that Wiktionary handles references, go to  http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Reference_templates.
    1. Browse the list of reference works. What do you learn about the works used to build Wiktionary? Do you see well-known works? Are you surprised by any of the works that are on the list?
    2. Click on the link for one of the references in the list to see the full bibliographical entry, then return to the list by clicking your browser’s Back button.
    3. What do you notice about the publication date of most of the works? Why do you think there are not more recent publications? (See Note 3.)
    4. At first glance, what do you think of the relevance of the works in general? What criteria could you use to objectively evaluate their relevance?
    5. Is all the content on the pages you consulted during this tutorial consistently referenced? Does this influence your opinion of Wiktionary? Why and in what way?
    6. Return to the Wiktionary entry for road (retyping this word in the search field if necessary).
  1. Briefly look at the history of the entry for road to understand how it was built.
    1. Click on the History tab to the left-hand side of the search field. This page displays all the revisions that have been made since the entry was created.
    2. Click on the View logs for this page link, immediately below the heading Revision history of “road.” This page shows which revisions of the entry have been marked as patrolled. What do you think patrolled means in this context? Verify your hypothesis by going to http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Help:Patrolled_edits and reading the introductory information.
    3. Return to the previous page (by clicking the browser's Back button). Under the Browse History box, find the Legend. Note the information it presents and note the series of numbers that appear on the right-hand side of the word View. Click on the highest number. Using the scroll bar, scroll down to the bottom of the page. When was the earliest revision done?
    4. Click on the date link to see the first version of the entry. Is it very different from the current version? (You can easily access the entry by clicking on the Latest Revision link at the top of the page.)
    5. Do you think that the modifications made have improved the entry or not? In all cases, or only in some?
    6. Do you think that the information presented by the History tab is useful? Why or why not? For whom?
  2. Do a search for the string laser. What do you find? How are these results different from what you would expect to see in a “normal” dictionary? Considering what you have learned about the wiki approach and Wiktionary in particular, can you account for some of those differences?
    1. Go to Wiktionnaire, the French language Wiktionary, at fr.wiktionary.org.
    2. Repeat your search for the string laser in the Wiktionnaire. Compare the entry for laser in Wiktionary and in the Wiktionnaire. What are the significant differences? Considering what you have learned about the wiki approach and Wiktionary in particular, can you account for some of those differences?


VI. Comparing Wiktionary results to those of other free online dictionaries


Of course there are many free online dictionaries besides Wiktionary, such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) online. In this section, you will compare search results of these three dictionaries.

  1. Go to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, http://www.merriam-webster.com and the LDOCE online, http://www.ldoceonline.com.
  2. Do a search in each dictionary (including Wiktionary) for the character string beach (or any other character string you like). Examine the results.
    1. Compare the results, paying attention to etymological information, to information on the different uses of the word, different possible senses, examples and fixed expressions, usage difficulties, etc.
    2. Do the dictionaries present similar information? Is the information easier to find in one dictionary or the other?
    3. Do any of the entries list inflected forms of the lexical units?
    4. Considering these results, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the search results in each of the dictionaries? 
  3. Do a search in each of the dictionaries for the character strings blag and cagoule Examine the results.
    1. What do you learn about these words? Are you surprised by what you learn?
    2. Does each dictionary have an entry for these terms? Why? Is there any etymological information presented?
    3. Considering these results, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each dictionary?
  4. Wiktionary aims to represent all English speakers from all regions. Explore the categories of regional English on Wiktionary.
    1. Go to http://en.Wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Regional_English to see the list of Regional English subcategories.
    2. Click on the Canadian English link under the Subcategories heading. Browse the list of words on the page under the heading Pages in category “Canadian English”. (If you are more familiar with the English from another country or region, click on the link for that subcategory.)
    3. Examine the results. Click on a few words to look at their entries (for example double double, kitty-corner, or whipper snipper). (You can use the series of links right above the heading Pages in category “Canadian English” in order to navigate to the page for a specific letter). Are there entries that surprise you? What do you think of this list? How could it be useful? For whom? In what situation(s)?
    4. Go back to the Category: Regional English page. Look at the subcategories. Do you think that all English-speaking “regions” are well-represented on Wiktionary?
    5. Choose one or two words from the list and search for them in the other dictionaries (Merriam-Webster and the LDOCE online). Do you think that Wiktionary succeeds in its goal of representing all English speakers? To what extent? Why or why not?










NOTE 1: Because Wiktionary’s content is so easily modifiable, the results of the following exercises may differ from those generated when the tutorial was written. The words chosen for examples are generally well-referenced, and their entries should be relatively stable. However, it is still likely that results will evolve over time.
You may want to compare and contrast your observations of Wiktionary with what you see in the Wiktionnaire (fr.wiktionary.org), the French wiki dictionary project from the Wikimedia Foundation. For some suggestions of examples to explore, see the Tutoriel sur le Wiktionnaire, niveau I.



































































NOTE 2: There is a tool developed for Wiktionnaire that allows users to perform advanced searches. It can search for pronunciations, anagrams, and rhymes. To learn more about this tool, consult the Tutoriel sur le Wiktionnaire, niveau I, and to use the tool, go to htttp://toolserver.org/












































NOTE 3: Without going into specifics, we can say that Wiktionary policy generally encourages contributors to comply with copyright laws by using mainly sources that are public domain (which are no longer under copyright) or open access sources. For more information, see http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/
Wiktionary:Copyright, which explains Wiktionary's copyright policy. To learn more about public domain sources that Wiktionary uses, go to http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/


VII. Questions for reflection


  • Considering all that you have seen in this tutorial, do you think that Wiktionary is or could become a useful resource for language professionals? In what situation(s) would you consult Wiktionary?
  • In the introduction of this tutorial, it was mentioned that Wiktionary is a project that relies on users being concerned about the general good of all users and on this goodwill overcoming the possible hindrances of the project. What do you think about this statement now? What could help Wiktionary to achieve its goals? What could keep Wiktionary from achieving its goals?
NOTE: To learn more about these issues, see Wiktionary’s FAQ (http://en.Wiktionary.org/wiki/Help:FAQ) and the criteria for the inclusion of entries, (http://en.Wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Criteria_for_inclusion). If you would like to learn how to contribute to Wiktionary you can experiment in Wiktionary’s sandbox (http://en.Wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Sandbox).
  • Can you identify some different situations, tasks or users for which/whom one or the other of the English dictionaries we have looked at would be more useful? Which one(s)? Why?


Tutorial developed by Joanne Desroches and translated/adapted by Melissa Roth. (2011-07-06)