Monolingual dictionary corner

So, in recent days I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the rabbit hole that is Japanese monolingual dictionaries. I’ve been writing up some stuff and gathering information from all manner of sources, planning on writing a short article on the matter in my study log for anyone that was interested. But… Things quickly started spiralling seriously out of control :sweat_smile:

So, after a bit of pondering on the subject I decided that an article wasn’t really what I’m after anyway. My goal was to have a bunch of articles on the subject to make aspects of monolingual dictionary use clear to people who haven’t yet taken the plunge, as information on this subject was the main thing holding me back. Basic stuff like “Where can I get my hands on monolingual dictionaries?” “How do I actually use one?” “What do all those special characters mean?” “How do I look stuff up when I don’t know the reading?” to more advanced stuff like “In what aspects do these dictionaries differ from each other?” “How do I utilize this specific dictionary more effectively?” “What dictionary would suit this use-case?”.

So, this is now my plan. Have a single forum thread about monolingual dictionaries here on the forums. I’ll be writing a bunch of articles about monolingual dictionaries, how to use them and all various aspects about them, and posting them here. But if anyone else has any comments, questions, reviews, … Or if you want to post articles with explanations yourself, be my guest! (Also, any external English sources on monolingual dictionaries would be heavily appreciated, they could be a great help to anyone else getting their feet wet on the subject).

The general lay-out will be like this. This post is a general introduction to the thread, the second post will be a wiki, where other people can add useful resources, links to articles and links to posts. This will just be a collection of links (but try and give descriptive titles if at all possible) so as to not get TOO big and unwieldy.

Anything past the second post is a free-for-all. Feel free to post any questions about monolingual dictionaries, comments, whatever, … I’ll also be posting my articles here as I write them (and I’ll update them in the post in question if I gain some new insights), and linking to them from the second post.

No matter what, thanks for taking the time to read this far, and any comments are greatly appreciated :bowing_man:

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小型辞書こがたじしょ

小型辞書 (or small dictionaries), while sources vary on exact numbers, a number I came across on multiple occasions is them having between 60,000 and 90,000 words. They often do not include any archaic words, and if they do they are very limited in general.

Varia :

On going monolingual :

And last but not least, presenting with pride : The Monolingual Dictionary Cheat Sheet

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三省堂国語辞典

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First edition : 1960
Latest edition : 2021 (8th edition)
Publisher : 三省堂
Number of words : 84.000 words
Nickname : 三国

The Sanseido is one of many dictionaries published by Sanseido, a leading dictionary manufacturer. It is currently up to it’s eight edition, only being released in December of 2021. The strength of this dictionary lies in it’s inclusion of new words. They also basically don’t include any proper nouns or difficult technical terms, so most entries found are words one could encounter in everyday language. It is a thoroughly modernist dictionary, with it’s goal being to faithfully copy the Japanese language as it is being used currently. It is well known for it’s policy of quite quickly eliminating words that aren’t judged to be “modern words”. This means that when reading a text from even a decade ago, it is possible that some words won’t even be found in there anymore.

Besides just new headwords, new meanings of existing words and overlooked meanings and usages are also covered very quickly.

It is also available on the Monokakido “Dictionaries” app, here is an example looking at the headword 『肉』

A comparison between the 7th and 8th edition

One thing that I enjoy doing is having multiple dictionaries and / or editions of dictionaries open one besides another. It’s often a case of spot the differences, as entries can be pretty much or entirely the same. However I just wanted to give a couple of comparisons because it showcases (in my opinion) why getting the latest edition of a dictionary is quite often the better deal, as words are either explained clearer or offer more context than they did before.

Let’s just start by looking at the entry for 肉 as we showed it here before, and comparing that to the same entry in the 7th edition :

Instantly, some quite notable differences show up. While the first definition is exactly the same, word for word, we already find a lot of differences in the second definition :

7th edition : “②鳥・けものの からだのうちで、食べられる やわらかな ところ。”

8th edition : “②けものや鳥の からだのうちで、食べられる やわらかなところ。〔多く、東日本では豚肉ぶたにく、西日本では牛肉を言う〕
「お━と野菜・━屋〔=精肉店〕」”

While the main explanation doesn’t have any difference (except for switching to や for listing birds and animals), we do get a ton more context as well as an example sentence in the 8th edition. They’ve also included the third definition in the second instead of it being separate entries.

Another quick benefit can be shown by looking for example at the entry for 漢字 :

As you can see here, the entry itself is word for word the same, but while the 7th edition notes at the end that Kanji is related to kana, the 8th edition gives a nice link for the entry on 国事こくじ which helps provide some more context and help place it correctly.

Just one last example to showcase some useful differences, when we’re looking at 政府 :

besides some differences in definitions we also see one of the other useful differences. You can see two stars above the word in the 8th edition, this is to notify us that this is (according to the editors) one of the “most useful words”, so if we see this we know to pay special attention to it to remember it well :smile_cat:

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角川国語辞典

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First edition : 1956
Latest edition : 1969
Publisher : KADOKAWA
Number of pages : 1247 pages
Number of words : 75.000 words
ISBN-13 : 978-4040102030

The first edition dates from 1956, but the “new edition” that is available already dates from 1969. That means that the last time these entries were revised, man had just planted foot on the moon, Richard Nixon was just sworn in as President and Elvis was recording his albums “From Elvis in Memphis” and “Back in Memphis”. To put it into other words, it has been A LONG TIME (over half a century!). There are certain use cases imaginable for getting this dictionary, but they are quite limited and especially for us Japanese Language Learners less interesting.

It can accurately be described as a living fossil, for some reason this “new edition” is still being sold in bookstores. The first edition had seemingly gained popularity back in the day that modern kana got introduced as a dictionary for it’s usage.

One unique feature of this dictionary is the fact that not only accents are given, but also devoicing of nasal sounds and vowels are clearly indicated. This does set it apart and could be considered a good use case, but there are specialized dictionaries for this that would be a better way to spend your money (The NHK accent diary fills this niche quite nicely ^^)

I feel like there is a reason why it’s only ranked #274 in the Japanese dictionaries (books) section of Amazon!

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新選国語辞典

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First edition : 1959
Latest edition : 2022 (10th edition)
Publisher : 小学館;
Number of pages : 1635 pages
Number of words : 94.000 words
ISBN : 9784095014098

While the first edition of this one is nearly as old as the Kadokawa Japanese dictionary above, at least here the revisions have been continued. It also has a good inclusion of modern language. The definitions are concise and well chosen.

Though the focus of the dictionary claims to be for all subjects that a high school or junior high school student may encounter, instead of only focusing on 国語こくご, I have come across several mentions that there is still a quite heavy overemphasis on terms one would come to encounter in the Japanese Language Department.

One of the greatest strengths in this dictionary are the explanations on the constituents of compound words. A wealth of information on this can be found in this dictionary, so if that’s something you are interested in this dictionary can be heartily recommended. If however it isn’t of particular interest to you, there are other dictionaries that offer better options.

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旺文社国語辞典

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First edition : 1960
Latest edition : 2013 (11th edition)
Publisher : 旺文社
Number of words : 83.500 words
Nickname : 旺国

While we’re listing the first edition as being from 1960, this is actually a re-title of the 1958’s 学生国語辞典 and can also be traced back to the 1954 中学国語辞典. Two somewhat interesting aspects of the Oubunsha are the 中心義 and 変遷 (central meaning and transition), central meanings looks at polysemous words (which is just a fancy way of saying words that have multiple meanings) and looks at the root that ties together these multiple words.

With transition we mean the changing of the meaning from words through ancient to modern texts. This transition overview gives an overview how it has changed throughout the years, which is quite useful for people studying ancient Japanese, but for Japanese Language Learners it’s less interesting. The central meaning is useful for learners too, though.

While both of these aspects are present, which is quite unique for a short dictionary, there are actually only 108 words that have this central meaning, and only 47 words that have the transitory information.

Another thing setting the Oukoku apart is that certain, representative waka and haiku are listed along with interpretations.

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岩波国語辞典

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First edition : 1963
Latest edition : 2019 (8th edition)
Publisher : 岩波書店
Word count : 67.000
Nickname : 岩国

As is stated in the preface :

「新しい語、新しい意味・用法については、他の辞書に比べて若干慎重な姿勢をとり、十分に定着したと判断されるものを掲載するようにしている」

The dictionary takes quite a cautious stance with regards to new words as well as new meanings and usages compared to most other dictionaries. They choose to only include new words that they deem to be well established. Which is completely the opposite editorial decision to the 三国. This is reflected both by the number of entries for new words, as well as the relatively sparse entries with katakana headings.

Some people would read this and consider this to be a dictionary that is outdated from the very moment it is published, but it isn’t the case that they don’t consider new words (often times, when a new word is included they will even mention the first usage, so this indicates that they are paying close attention!), they are just on the conservative side when it comes to actually including them.

Perhaps due to this conservative stance, the image that the 岩波国語辞典 is that of an ordinary, serious dictionary. It is however not the case, this is a very high quality dictionary. They look at the Japanese language with a keen eye, and the editor’s views on the matter shine through quite strongly.

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新明解国語辞典

First edition : 1972
Latest edition : 2020 (8th edition)
Publisher : 三省堂
Word count : 79.000 words
Nicknames : 新明国/新解さん

An apt description of what lies at the core of the philosophy of this dictionary can be found in the preface :

すなわち、『新明解国語辞典』の当初からの特徴である、ことばの本質をとらえた鋭い語釈と、それを裏付ける適切な用例を一体化して提示すること、これを本辞典の中核に据えた。

The best-selling Japanese dictionary in Japan. This dictionary is well known for it’s deeper dives into words, with good explanations on how words are actually used and the actual sense of the language. This goes beyond paraphrasing and mere explanation of usage, and gets to the true core of the words. All headwords are accented (and pronunciations are included with the digital version), which is a nice feature. They have also spent more care in the eighth edition to divide these accents up depending on how the word is used! (Also, there are quite a lot of subheadings with accent included). The dictionary also tries to keep up with the times quite well, including quite a variety of new words.

There are also some interesting appendices included, such as one on how to count for example.

肉 entry in Monokakido app :

Interesting tidbit :

The most popular edition with dictionary collector’s isn’t the most recent one or the first edition as you would expect, but instead it’s the fourth edition. One of the suspected reasons for this is due to 赤瀬川原平’s essay 新解さんの謎 which explores some of the interesting and unique explanations of the 新明解国語辞典, and the fourth edition would be the one referred to in this essay.

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Love that someone is trying to make monolingual dictionaries more accessible - especially a small introduction on dictionary shorthand is likely going to help a lot - but to me it always felt like a lot of people don’t wanna bother with the actual definitions.
While one could probably go fully monolingual at an N3’ish level and at N2’ish most definitions shouldn’t be an issue at all, it feels like it isn’t all that hard to find people at N2 and above that haven’t gone monolingual. At least consulting a monolingual dictionary first before going to an J⟷E one doesn’t seem that absurd :thinking:

In that sense, it almost feels like an article compiling good reasons to go monolingual and answering common questions would be just as important to get people to give monolingual dictionaries an honest try.

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Oh yeah! That’s a good point! I’m adding it to my list of articles to write out ^^

I agree completely! Some of those are in the works too, but I’m first compiling a short overview of the most common monolingual dictionaries out there, later on the plan is to write out how to use them all and how to go about making the transition. (though I will be first writing up how to use Monokakido’s dictionaries app, as in my opinion that’s the greatest tool possible to make the transition to monolingual as easy and painless as possible :smile: )

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might be useful/interesting as well to include monolingual dictionaries geared towards elementary/middle school kids as well if possible. i feel like those could be a good bridge to going to monolingual dictionaries for lower level learners.

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Will you also include online free web dictionaries?

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Are there monolingual dictionaries available for free on the internet that aren’t just digital versions of a physical dictionary?

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I also wonder about Kanji references, at the very least, on 漢字辞典 - goo辞書

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One of the things that amazes me on a daily basis is how many new words I come across that I’ve never seen before, even after studying for as long as I have and having created thousands of hand written flashcards. I downloaded the Weblio 国語辞典 app and looked up a few things and again I’m amazed at how little I know. Unknown words used to describe other unknown words used to describe other unknown words… But frustrating as that might be, it looks like it does actually increase exposure and that’s always a good thing. To look up one word and walk away with ten more will help get those 90,000 words in even faster and surely help to connect your vocabulary together rather than atomize it. (Could you imagine what 90,000 flashcards would look like stacked up on a table??) It might take longer but I might try to consult the J-J dictionary first and fill in the gaps with J-E. Thanks for posting about this!

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I’ll look into those ^^I only have the 例解学習国語辞典 myself (though I can highly recommend that one, as it’s the one that I got my feet wet with first when starting to go monolingual :smile_cat: ) but I’ll see what I can find out about some others / if I can order some if there isn’t too much information available online.

Good idea! I do use goo.ne.jp and kotobank.jp quite often. I’ll add writing guides about those up to my to-do list ^^

Though I recently bought the 漢検 漢字辞典第二版 as well as the 全訳 漢辞海 第四版 and 角川新字源 改訂新版 digital Kanji dictionaries, I must admit that I haven’t used them all that much yet. I’ll see what I can figure out, but it will be a while before I write anything about them, as I’m not familiar enough with how to properly use them (or any online Kanji reference) yet. Though if anyone else knows about them and is willing, please feel free to write something up ^^

You make some great points in your post :smile_cat: And I do believe that consulting a J-J dictionary before falling back on J-E will be a boost in your learning. Best of luck either way, and feel free to keep us updated here!

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For iPads there is 例解学習国語辞典 第九版, which is a dictionary intended for elementary school students. Personally I had the opposite experience, that dictionaries intended for children ended up being less useful. Having a couple somewhat different dictionaries in the monokakido app so I get multiple, slightly different definitions worked out best for me.

If this is the first time you’re using a monolingual dictionary, it might just be that you’re unfamiliar with words that are frequently used within monolingual definitions. I don’t even know 8.000 words yet, but more often than not I can find a definition that uses only known words within one of my dictionaries. (Dictionary apps like Monokakido Dictionaries make looking into multiple dictionaries fairly easy) And if there is a word I don’t know, I usually can at least understand the definition for that one. It’s rather infrequent that I have to go on long dictionaries dives, and more reasonable people can just consult a J-E dictionary in those cases.

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I agree as it mirrors my experience exactly, but the “friendliness” and ease of explanations in the 例解学習国語辞典 is what allowed me to take the plunge into “big boy” dictionaries in the first place. I would recommend people starting out with comparing for example between 明鏡国語辞典 and 三省堂国語辞典 as some good starter dictionaries on the monokakido app, but it might be a bit much and overwhelming, so easing into it with a children’s dictionary is never a bad idea in my opinion.

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On that note, since monokakido does get mentioned a lot, do you all know if they have any regular sales? There’s usually a “Back to school”-sale going on around April. Are there any others? :thinking:

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Personally I tend to do it the other way around – a JE dictionary lookup is fast and for many words is entirely sufficient. I save JJ lookups for when the word seems to be one of those “multiple senses that feel like maybe there’s a common underlying thing” – the JJ dictionary entry is usually better there because it isn’t refracting the meaning of the word through the prism of how English happens to split meanings between words. I do have access to a good JE dictionary, though (Kenkyusha 新和英大辞典, aka the ‘Green Goddess’).

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