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Should Dictionaries Be Free/Open?

nombrekeff profile image Manolo Edge ・1 min read

Should dictionaries be free/open? Or is it ok that they are closed and behind licenses?

Discussion

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Dictionaries as in definitions-of-words-dictionaries? Like Mirriam-Webster or Wiktionary?
Some clearly are already. Others, though -why should they be free now when they weren't before? That's asking their owners to give up their profitable business.

There's nothing stopping free, open dictionaries being made, and I can't think of a compelling reason to make new closed ones in this day and age.

 

Dictionaries as in definitions-of-words-dictionaries?

Yup, definition dictionaries.

Others, though -why should they be free now when they weren't before? That's asking their owners to give up their profitable business.

Of course, I would not expect companies to make dictionaries for free, but the language and words should be.

I can't think of a compelling reason to make new closed ones in this day and age.

Me neither, although I haven't been able to find a complete open/free dictionary with API.

PD: Maybe this is just a case with Spanish dictionaries or the laws in Spain or Europe, maybe it's not so much the case in the US or other countries.

 

If you're after a list of words, I'd be surprised there's not something bundled like /usr/share/dict in your OS if it's been installed in the correct language.

Oh nice point, thanks. I might check that out. Do you think that could be used in my project? Or would I be breaking some license? I will look that up just in case.

I've found that es.wiktionary has a dump of all words, so that will help me a lot.

dumps.wikimedia.org/eswiktionary/l...

Nice, I might even look for en.wiktionary dumps some time later.

 

Did not know about Wiktionary, they have on in Spanish which is really nice!

I was able to download the whole dump, which will be more than enough for my needs.

 

Good question. I never thought about it. My wife and I speak multiple languages and we own several hard-copy dictionaries. We bought these dictionaries. They didn’t cost arms and legs though, so we‘re fine with that.

Come to think about it, we still need to look up for meanings of words and we use different online dictionaries. These websites are free, and are financed through ads and/or premium paid features.

That being said, I think I’m fine with features such as grammar checks are paid features but the basic definition dictionary should be free, which is already the case for languages we speak.

 

That being said, I think I’m fine with features such as grammar checks are paid features but the basic definition dictionary should be free, which is already the case for languages we speak.

Totally agree with you there. I think tools should be able to charge to use them, but the general knowledge about a language and the specification should be free in my opinion. Not the printed one, just the knowledge.

definition dictionary should be free, which is already the case for languages we speak.

Can I ask what languages are those? I'm interested in learning more about this topic and would love to know the reasoning behind it and why other languages don't do that.

 

Well, online German-German dictionary that we often use nowadays is Duden. Their German-German dictionary is free but their grammar check feature is a paid one.

Our go-to English-German (and vice versa) dictionary is Linguee. Their dictionary and basic translation service (better than Google Translate) are free as well. You can pay for more translation features.

Otherwise our English-English dictionary is Merriam-Webster, which is free but is riddled with ads everywhere. I guess that's how their finance their website.

My wife speaks Spanish and French as well. Not sure which ones are her online dictionaries.

Looking up for words in hard-copy dictionaries is cumbersome. In fact we haven't done that since years. That's why we're okay with ads and paid features.

Great, thanks, I will check them out!

 
  • If it is free/open; will it be contributed?
  • If it is free/open; will it be more used?
  • I personally think real important things here are not only funding, but also fighting for popularity, as well as maintainability. (and fighting for quality employees.)

I think it is much harder than source code to get contributed. And even if contributed, having it higher quality will probably requires full time curation, and funding.

Also, more funding might also mean better R&D.

Don't forget that owners, as well as their employees also need to live, outside contributing to the project itself.

I can see Tatoeba project as partially a failure...

 

That depends, who manages the dictionary, and what format is it in?

If it's a private organization like Merriam-Webster, then yeah, I see no reason for them to make access free (though Merriam-Webster does make online access free, at least for interactive usage).

However, in the case of a government backed organization like the Svenska Akademien or the Real Academia Española where the whole point is to maintain the national language, then they're making their job more difficult if they are not providing free interactive access online. Charging for API access and printed dictionaries makes sense though, as the first is an easy avenue for abuse and the second is far from free for them to produce.

 

If it's a private organization like Merriam-Webster, then yeah, I see no reason for them to make access free (though Merriam-Webster does make online access free, at least for interactive usage).

Yup, I also don't see why they would, it's their business. I was talking more about government-backed or institution-backed.

However, in the case of a government backed organization like the Svenska Akademien or the Real Academia Española where the whole point is to maintain the national language, then they're making their job more difficult if they are not providing free interactive access online. Charging for API access and printed dictionaries makes sense though, as the first is an easy avenue for abuse and the second is far from free for them to produce.

I think government-backed organizations should give some type of access to their data, in virtual form at least. We can't expect them to give free paper dictionaries, but at least make the API accessible or offer some kind of a dump. Charging a moderate amount for the API would be acceptable as well, as they are not free to run. Maybe even add rates and quotas.

 

If you want it to be free, start one and invite contributors to contribute. You can put it on github and manage pull requests. But again, you would need time to manage and in that case you would either need sponsorship or some money out of it. In today's world, information is the most expensive, costlier than gold. Free information has no value as it soon becomes garbage.

 

I don't agree. What about Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects? Are they garbage? I don't think so, yeah they sure have some funding, but the information remains free to everyone.

If we start making all information private and hidden behind a monetary barrier, we are going back. Governments and powerful people can start modifying it in their interest and showing you just the information they want. And in a couple of years, we could be in 1984.

 

If we start making all information private and hidden behind a monetary barrier, we are going back.

It's a becoming the past, just like researches and scholarly papers becoming more accessible, even without university account; but it gonna take some time, and unequal in different fields.

 

Wikipedia is running out of money, displaying donate $5 frequently on many pages. I am not against it, running it is a difficult task. I agree that some data like IP location, geo location, address lookups, many things like dictionary should be free, but all are behind paywalls.

Recently Github started blocking access to some country users due to export restrictions imposed by US, I really want information to be available for free like you do, but being in business for long years, it is hard to maintain free stuff.

  1. You don't get enough contributors. People run after big names, oh... facebook made react, every body starts contributing...
  2. No body appreciates information and knowledge
  3. Wikipedia is great, but more people are on facebook because money is there for everyone

I agree with you that it should be open, all I am saying it is hard to do it, you please start, people will join.

That is true, and it's challenging to maintain for free if not impossible in the long term.

Recently Github started blocking access to some country users due to export restrictions imposed by US

Yes, I heard something about that, I think Iran had some issues with this. I hate these kinds of restrictions... makes me feel sick.

I liked the points you made. People follow the masses. And what is cool at the moment.

I'm contemplating the idea of setting up some kind of free Spanish dictionary, most likely hosted on GH as to reduce costs and make it easy for collaboration.

How about an app where users download/contribute and search? Contribution from non developer users will be more important than putting it on Github, what I would recommend is, making an app, approving entries and then publishing those entries in Github.

Yeah, I thought about that. Not a bad idea. The tough part is how to convince people to contribute, though.

Maybe a game-like website where users try to add as many words as they know, and then have some kind of verification process before adding them to the list. Make it into some sort of competition might give people the motivation to contribute.

I will think about this. Thanks for the idea :)

 

When you pay for dictionaries, you're not paying for their contents. You're paying for the labor that went into producing them.

Its an important distinction, and considering how valuable of a job that is from a purely historical/species perspective, I believe they should be rewarded for that effort.

 

Yup I agree, I didn't mean free as in free of charge, I said free as in open for everyone to have access to it. I understand that it takes a load of work and resources to maintain a dictionary.

They should be rewarded, but we all have the right to the language specification.

Imagine if we needed to pay to be able to read React's docs... that would not be acceptable. I understand it's not the same, but it gives some perspective.

 

They're pretty different.

All of the information available in those dictionaries can be found and compiled elsewhere on the Internet for absolutely free. You can find them in the library, or your local educational institution.

What you're asking for is a free, downloadable, parseable, solution.

Well, someone had to do all of this work that you rightly don't want to have to do. That costs money and doesn't really have anything to do with the content being free.

There are dozens of free television programming sponsored by the government that is available to everyone. That doesn't mean you're also entitled to a free television to watch it. You have to build one yourself or buy one from someone else.

I get your point, you're right. I could always compile the whole dictionary myself 😅

There are dozens of free television programming sponsored by the government that is available to everyone. That doesn't mean you're also entitled to a free television to watch it. You have to build one yourself or buy one from someone else.

I guess it's like the right to electricity or water, you have the right to it but not to the medium or tools to use it. So if you want to have water in your house, you have to pay for the installation and all the equipment needed to get it to your home and monthly fees for maintenance. The same goes for electricity...