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What’s in a Word?

The first multilanguage technical dictionaries were rich visual resources in small packages.

by Dr. Lee Gray, EW Correspondent

In 1906, German engineers Kurt Deinhardt and Alfred Schlomann, working with publisher R. Oldenbourg of Berlin, produced the first volume of what became known as the Schlomann-Oldenbourg Illustrated Technical Dictionaries in Six Languages. The languages were German, English, French, Russian, Italian and Spanish. Most of the books in the series were published between 1906 and 1920, with the final volume (Volume 17, on aeronautics) appearing in 1932. The series represented the first multilanguage technical dictionaries, and their design followed a unique format.
The subject matter was divided into discrete sections, with the terms grouped by common themes or topics, rather than being presented in a simple alphabetical listing. This allowed readers to easily access the terminology associated with individual system components, as well as overall machine design. The books also included hundreds of drawings and diagrams intended to serve as visual definitions. This feature expanded the utility of the books beyond resources that simply allowed users to find an equivalent term in another language. Schlomann served as the editor for most volumes, with each “compiled” by a lead author who gathered and vetted terms submitted by “contributors and revisors.” The latter groups were composed of engineers and manufacturers’ representatives who specialized in a given volume’s subject matter. In 1910, this methodology was applied to Hoisting and Conveying Machinery.

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