Reading and Dictionary,Lecture No.01

Reading and Dictionary 

Lesson -01

Reading and Dictionary

This lesson is in two parts. In the first part, you will learn about the:

  uses of a language dictionary
  how to use a dictionary

In the second part of the lesson, you will read an interesting story.

 Definition of Dictionary

A dictionary is a book that not only lists and records the words of a language but it also tells you how speakers of the language spell, pronounce, define, explain and use the words of their language.

Reference Book - provides useful information. It is valuable only if you learn how to use it correctly and efficiently.

List of Dictionary Uses (9)

The following is a list of things that can be learned from a dictionary:

(i)                 Spelling
(ii)               Pronunciation        iii)        Part of speech  iv)             Origin of word (v) Meaning/explanation
(vi)             Usage/restrictive lables
(vii)           Synonyms & antonyms  (viii) Foreign words & phrases ix)       General information.

i)          Spelling

Many students find English spelling very confusing. So what do you do?  Consult your dictionary. It will clarify your confusion by showing you the different spellings of the same word. 

Look at the words catalogue and theatre. You must have noticed that the dictionary lists both BRE and AE/US spelling of the words. Both are correct. 

Exercise (i) Spelling:
            Use the dictionary to answer the following questions about spelling. 
a)     What other possible spellings does your dictionary give for these words?
                        Centre            Color
b)    Does your dictionary say anything about the spelling ‘humor’ and ‘rumor’?

(ii)        Pronunciation

Students have problems in pronouncing English words. A dictionary will help you learn the pronunciation of any word but only if you are familiar with the symbols in which they are written. We will discuss this in greater detail in the next lesson.  

           All language dictionaries carry a pronunciation key/table. Be sure to read it. 

(iii)    Part of speech

All dictionaries indicate the part of speech a word belongs to - whether the word is commonly used as a Noun, Pronoun, Verb (transitive, intransitive), Adjective, Adverb, Conjunction, or Preposition etc.  

iv)     Origin of Words

Some dictionaries indicate the origin and derivation of a word before it became an English word.

(v)    Meaning/ Explanation / Definition of words  

The most important information that a dictionary provides about a word is its meaning.  Most of the words have many meanings or shades of meaning.  Do not just read the first listed meaning of the word you are looking for. Go down the numbered list.  Look for the meaning that best suits the context in which the word is used.

Also look up words above and below the word that you are looking for. You will find    that words are often closely related. It will help to extend your recognition of the word in other forms and contexts.

Exercise (v-a)  Meaning:
Look up the words ‘fast’ and ‘set’ in a dictionary. Write the total number of different meanings of each word. Include all the numbered and lettered meanings for each part of speech. 

Exercise (v-b):  Meaning/ Explanation / Definition of words.

 Use the dictionary to find the specific meanings of the word ‘play’ in each of the following: 

1.  The boys like to play on the hard court. 
2.  Amna will play the sitar in the concert.
3.  The play produced by the arts club was a success.
4.  It was a clever play that won the football game.
5.  The gardener played the hose on the flower beds.
6.  A ‘week without water can make one weak’ is a play on words.

(vi) Usage/Restrictive Labels

A dictionary uses different labels like Br (British), Am (American), fml (formal), infml (informal), col (colloquial), pl (plural), poetic (poetic), sl (slang).This information is important in writing.
A dictionary will tell you the usage of words and phrases, idioms / proverbs of the language. It will also tell you about the limitations of the use of the word. Special labels are used to show this. If a word is no longer in current use it will be labelled archaic (arch) or obsolete (obs). Other labels will tell you of the level of usage: whether the word has literary flavour (poetic) or is slang (sl), formal (fml) informal (infml).  

Exercise( vi-a )Usage Restrictive Labels:

Idioms / Two-word Verbs / Phrasal Verbs / Noun Phrase
            Look up the underlined words in the dictionary and write their meanings.

1.                  Prof. Widdowson held forth for over an hour about the need for communication language teaching.
2.                  I don’t get how you found the answer.
3.                  My roommate is pretty hard up these days.

Exercise (vi-b) Restrictive or Usage Labels:

 a) Look up the following words / phrases in the dictionary. Write whether its use is primarily slang, informal or colloquial. 
                        Guys  Cool                 


Will it be O.K. if I meet you in the library about eight?
            Label:      Colloquial 
           Meaning: All Right

(vii)      Synonyms and Antonyms:

            Similar and opposite meanings of words are also given but not in all dictionaries. 

(viii) Foreign words and Phrases:

Dictionaries define / explain many common foreign words and phrases, either with the main entries or in a special section at the back. 

Exercise(viii)Foreign Words & Phrases:

Look up each of these foreign words or phrases. Write its English meaning. etcetera, e.g., et al., a prior, coup d’état, per se.

ix)        General Information

This section varies from dictionary to dictionary. Names of important persons, places, countries, nationalities, are listed either in the alphabetical order of words or in special sections at the back. Some dictionaries may include rules for spelling, punctuation, list of common first names in English, systems of weights and measures, conversion tables, etc.

How to use a dictionary:
 Learning what a dictionary contains and how it is used will save much of your time.

Step I:  Know the correct order of the letters of the English alphabet.             

      all entries in dictionary are arranged in an alphabetical order.
      words are arranged according to the 1st letter.
      when the words begin with the same letter, they are arranged according to the 2nd letter. 
      if both the 1st and the 2nd letters are the same then the words are arranged according to the 3rd letter, & so on... 

Step 2: Finding Words Quickly
A)  When looking for a word, first thumb through pages quickly. 

      Look only at guide words
      When you come to the guide word nearest the word you want, then look 
                         down that page for the word.

Guide Words

B)   Look at top of any page in the dictionary. The words in heavy type/bold face are the         GUIDE WORDS. They guide you to the word you are looking for.
-  The word on the top left are same as the first bold face word on that page.  - Word on the top right of the page is the last bold face entry on that page.


-  As the students of English you need to know how to use a dictionary. 
-  Dictionary is a tool - must learn to use it properly in order to discover the full potential     of the language. 
-  It will make you an independent learner.
-  It is helpful like a friend.

This concludes the first part of the lesson1. Now we move to the second part which, I hope you will enjoy.

 First we are going to show you the text of a story.You will read a folk tale from North America. The story is about a natural event. 

                                     Raven and the Coming of Daylight                                       (Gail Robinson and Douglas Hill)

 When the earth was very young, it was dark and old like a winter’s night through all the year’s seasons. Gull was the Custodian of Daylight, and he kept it locked tight in a cedar box beneath his wing. Being Custodian made Gull feel very important, and he was not going to lose his position by letting Daylight out of the box.

            “He is too vain!” screeched Owl, at a meeting of the People upon Meeting Hill.

 “We can never travel, in this darkness, to our half-homes in this south,” cried Robin. Her breast was bleached of colour for the lack of light.

Gull agreed to come to the meeting. But it was clear, when he came, that he was not going to change his mind or listen to what Raven said. He had come only because it made him feel even more important to have Raven pleading with him. 

 “I was made Custodian of Daylight in the beginning of things,” said Gull. “I am to keep Daylight safe. And I will keep it safe.” And he curved his swing tighter around the cedar box. 

 Raven had run out of words to make Gull see the People’s need for light. He thought angrily to himself, “I wish this Gull would step on a large thorn.” 

 No sooner had he shaped this thought than Gull cried out, “Squee! My foot!”  “A thorn, Cousin?” asked raven innocently. “Let me see-I will take it out for you.” 

But of course it was so dark that he could not see the thorn to remove it.               “I must have light to take out the thorn,” said Raven.

            “Light? Never!” said Gull.

            “Then the thorn will remain.” 

 Gull complained and hopped on one foot and wept, and he finally opened his cedar box a crack, a crack so narrow that out glanced a shaft of light no brighter than a single star. 

 Raven put his hand to Gull’s foot, then pretended not to see the thorn. Instead, he pushed it in deeper. 

            “Squee!” cried Gull. “My foot!”

            “More light, more light!” shouted Raven. 
And the lid of the box raised a further crack, so that light gleamed forth like a winter moon. Then Raven reached again for the thorn and pushed it even further into the soft flesh of Gull’s foot. 

            “More light!” roared Raven.

 “Squee, squee, squee!” screamed Gull, and in his pain he flung off the lid of the cedar box. 

 Like a molten fish the sun slithered from the box, and light and warmth blazed out over the world. 

Nor was it ever to be recaptured, no matter how loudly or how sadly Gull called to it to return to its safe hiding place beneath his wing.  

 Now after reading the story answer the following questions.

Q1. Read the four statements given below. Select the one which best expresses the main idea of the story. 

a)                  The removal of the thorn from the Raven’s foot.
b)                  The meeting of birds and animals upon Meeting Hill.
c)                  The release of daylight over the earth. 
d)                 The capture of daylight in the cedar box.

C’ is the correct statement. “The release of daylight over the earth”.

Q2.      Read the following statements: Write T if it is true or F if it is false. 

a)                  Raven and Gull are birds.                                            
b)                  Gull and Raven are related.
c)                  Raven felt important being custodian of Daylight.  
d)                 Daylight was kept under a wing.                                 
e)                  Raven pushed a thorn into Gull’s foot.                       
f)                   Gull at once opened the box for Raven to see the thorn.
g)                  The sun slipped out of the box.                                   
h)                  Gail Robinson is the author of the tale.                       

Statements a, b and g are true. 
Statements c, d, e, f and h are false.

Try to answer the following questions:

1.      What is the story about?

2.      What natural event the writer is trying to explain in this story?

3.      What is a myth?

It is an ancient story containing magical and religious ideas. It describes an early attempt of mankind to understand their surroundings and to give meaning to life. 

An honest, plain sensible Country Mouse is said to have entertained in his hole, one day, a fine Mouse of the Town. Having formerly been playfellows together, they were old acquaintances, which served as an apology for the visit. However, as master of the house, he thought himself obliged to do the honours of it, in all respects, and to make as great a stranger of his guest as he possibly could. In order to do this, he set before him a reserve of delicate grey peas and meat, a dish of fine oatmeal, some parings of new cheese, and to crown all, with a dessert, a remnant of a charming mellow apple. In good manners her forbore to eat any himself, lest the stranger should not have enough, but, that he might seem to bear the other company, sat and nibbled a piece of wheaten straw very busily. At last, said the spark of the town, “Old Crony, give me leave to be a little free with you: how can you bear to live in this nasty, dirty, melancholy hole here, with nothing but woods, and meadows, and mountains, and rivulets about you?  

Do you not prefer the conversation of the world to the chirping of birds; and the splendour of a court to the rude aspect of an uncultivated desert? Come, take my word for it, you will find it a change for the better. Never stand considering, but away this moment. Remember we are not immortal, and therefore we have no time to lose. Make sure of to-day, and spend it as agreeably as you can; you know not what may happen tomorrow.” In short, these and suchlike arguments prevailed, and his country acquaintance was resolved to go to town that night. So they both set out upon their journey together, proposing to sneak in after the close of the evening. They did so, and about midnight made their entry into a certain great house, where there had been an extraordinary entertainment the day before, and several titbits, which some of the servants has purloined, were hid under the seat of a window. The country guest was immediately placed in the midst of a rich Persian carpet: and now it was the courtier’s turn to entertain, who indeed acquitted himself in that capacity with the utmost readiness and address, changing the courses as elegantly, and tasting everything first as judiciously as any clerk of the kitchen.  
The other sat and enjoyed himself like a delighted epicure, tickled tot he last degree with this new turn of his affairs; when, on  sudden, a noise of somebody opening the door made them start from their seats, and scuttle in confusion about the dining-room. Our country friend, in particular, was ready to die with fear at the barking of a huge mastiff or two, which opened their throats just about the same time, and made the whole house echo. At last recovering himself. “Well,” said he, “if this be your town life, much good may it do you; give me my poor quiet hole again, with my homely, but comfortable grey peas.”  

Does the fable teach you any lesson?

Possible answer: To each his own environment.

How important are Freedom and Security in life?

Reading exercises:

Just read the stories — Do not look up the meanings of words in the dictionary. 
Q.1 Is there anything common between the two stories?

Q.2 Are there any specific lessons the authors want you to learn?

This brings us to the end of our first lesson.

Let us recapitulate/ recall what we learnt today:

      We learnt to use the dictionary.

      Then we read simple texts to find the general meaning.

Consult your reading package for assignments related to the first lesson. Your next lesson will deal with using the dictionary for learning pronunciation of English words. 

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