Collins French Dictionary on CD-ROM - English-French, French-English (Second Edition)
Reviewed by Françoise Herrmann

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 2002.
Softissimo 2002
Second Edition January 2003, version 2.0
ISBN 0-00-714234-X
£29.99 (approx. $50)
Available from: HarperCollins Distribution Services (tel: 00 44 (0) 141 306 3767)

For translators to and from French, the new millennium has ushered in the publication of electronic versions of major institutional giants such as the Harrap’s Shorter, Le Petit Larousse, Le Petit Robert and the Larousse Chambers, and you have probably wondered about an electronic version of the Robert & Collins. Currently, you will find two electronic products that correspond to the printed Robert & Collins: one published by HarperCollins, in the United Kingdom, called the Collins French Dictionary on CD-ROM, and another published by the French software design firm, Softissimo (in two versions, respectively called Lexibase Collins Pro and Lexibase Collins Standard, English <> French bilingual dictionaries). This review covers the HarperCollins product from the UK (with Softissimo as the design firm). In the future, yet another electronic Robert & Collins product is expected to appear, published by Le Robert in France. In the interim, beyond navigating through the thickets of the marketing and business maze, the following highlights major features and specifications of the Collins French Dictionary on CD-ROM (Second Edition): a welcome, lightweight and low-cost addition to your electronic library of institutional giants.

The Collins French Dictionary on CD-ROM is based on the printed Collins Robert French Dictionary 6th Edition, sold in France as the Senior Robert & Collins. With 350,000 words and expressions, and more than 480,000 translations, this product includes as part of the corpus, all the research that is performed on the Collins Wordbanks. These databases, collected for English and French, (Spanish and German), contain source texts, both written and recorded, culled from a wide variety of media such as newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and websites, with a combined total of 800 million terms. They are used systematically both to compile dictionary entries and translations, to determine collocations, and to ensure that the content of the dictionary reflects true, everyday usage. In fact, it is this lexicographic research performed on a live and constantly updated corpus that has become the hallmark of the Robert & Collins dictionaries in France (Collins - Robert in the UK).

In addition to the already established excellence of the content of the dictionary, you will also find new features, owing to the new CD-ROM support medium. These media-specific features tend to transform and enhance both the original printed tool and the experience of consultation. Among these features you will find a pop-up mode (allowing you to consult the dictionary while you are working with another application); hypertext-enabled searching (allowing you to click and find translations for any term appearing in an article); reverse, progressive and full-text, search engines (allowing you to switch directions of translations, to search articles, or all occurrences of an item on both sides of the dictionary); and a well-designed parser (allowing you type your search words incorrectly, or partially), along with display options via a Preferences menu, and a Zoom function (allowing you to customize the display). Each of these features is reviewed, as related to consultation and usage of the dictionary tool.

The Collins French Dictionary (Second Edition), on CD-ROM, is compatible with PCs running Windows 95/98/NT4/ME or XP, and requires 32 MB of RAM (64 recommended) and 32 MB of disk space. A small, succinct, and easy-to-follow, 12-page, User Manual is included in the CD packaging which will supply you with instructions for loading and using the software. The Installation Wizard has a single option for complete installation “so you can use your CD-ROM drive for another application”. This tradeoff, in comparison with other partial or minimum, space-saving options, appears to be a major tour de force in compression, since the whole package actually fits into 27 MB of space and does not cause crashes. This also means that once your Collins French Dictionary is installed, it is there permanently, for whenever you want to use it, without having to load the CD-ROM.

During the installation you are prompted to choose a “hotkey” sequence for the pop-up mode. The default is “Ctrl+Shift+C”. With this hotkey sequence you can highlight any word in an application you are using to call up Collins French Dictionary translations. This works instantaneously, without glitches, and allows you to bypass launching the application from either the Windows toolbar or the Start menu. Once launched the display appears as in Figure 1.

Like driving on the left side of the road in the UK, hypertext searching in this electronic dictionary is enabled in a slightly different way. To call-up hyperlinked translations for any of the words in an article, rather than double-clicking, you must right-click on the item. The menu that then appears supplies you with the option to Search or to Copy. Selecting Search will send you to the translation for the right-clicked term via hyperlink. Selecting Copy allows you to copy the right-clicked term into any application you are using. Words that are underlined in an article are links that send you, via left click, to cross-referenced articles and translations. In general, both hypertext searches and cross-linked references allow you to access any translation or cross-reference immediately, upon left or right click, without having to re-type the searched word, in turn supplying you with easy and immediate access to a new translation.

Beyond these quite standard electronic dictionary features, there are two search modes in the Collins French Dictionary on CD-ROM, one of which uniquely transforms consultation and usage since it supplies you with far more complete access to the contents of the dictionary. The two search modes are called: progressive and full-text, both of which are activated via icons on the toolbar of the display, or via the Search menu.

The progressive search mode is the basic default search mode. It allows you to replicate, with the added convenience of electronic immediacy and ease, the kinds of searches you perform in the print dictionary. You type your search word in the input line, and on the left side of the display, the tool returns your searched term and the surrounding list of words; and on the right side of the display, a corresponding article with translations. The display of articles is particularly clear, with color codes for source and target text, divisions according to parts of speech, and within parts of speech according to semantic dimensions (boldface for compounds and expressions); and a highlight of the targeted term, when this term is embedded in a long article.

The full-text search mode transforms both usage and consultation of the dictionary. It allows you to find all of the occurrences of a particular term anywhere in the dictionary, with results returned in a structured summary format, as the targeted term appears in entries and compounds, examples and phrases, contexts, and translations, elsewhere than as headword in the dictionary (see Figure 2). This is particularly useful when you are searching for compounds or expressions, or when the target term does not appear in the list of entries and headwords of the progressive search mode. For example, say you are searching for translation of the expression “Long live […]!” and you do not know whether it is listed under “long” or “live”, and it is not listed as a separate entry in the progressive search mode. You can use the full-text search mode to further search, and find, a translation for the expression. Most importantly, however, since the full-text search mode returns occurrences of a targeted term anywhere in the dictionary, it vastly optimizes consultation, yielding the dictionary’s full capacity to supply translations. For example, say that you are searching for a translation of the term “committed”. In the progressive search mode, you will find three translations (as displayed in Figure 1), whereas in the full-text mode, you will find all the occurrences of the term “committed” and its translations, sorted according to entries and compounds, examples and phrases, and contexts anywhere in the English to French direction (as displayed in Figure 2). Furthermore, you can access all of the occurrences of the targeted term in the other direction of the dictionary, from French to English, when you reverse the direction of the full-text search (as displayed in Figure 3). This means that you can finally take full advantage of your Collins-Robert dictionary since such a feature supplies you with vastly augmented access to content anywhere on both sides of the dictionary, in comparison with the kinds of flip-page searches you can perform in print versions.

Reversing the direction of your search occurs instantaneously with a click on the flag icons of the display toolbar. And the program reverses the direction of the search automatically when, for a new hyperlinked search, you right-click on a source item listed in an article. A well-designed parser allows you to input searched terms either incorrectly or partially, which also means that in French you do not have to type accents. And you can customize an already crystal clear display, according to font size, type, color and style, for each of the fields of information that appear. This will both preserve your eyesight and appeal to your sense of aesthetics since you can choose your color preferences. Add to these elaborate, and easy-to-set Preferences, a Find function to locate an item within a long article; Arrow keys to navigate backwards and forwards on your search path; a Zoom function to magnify the current display; Print, Copy and Paste clipboard functions; and mouseover definitions for every button on the display appearing at the bottom of the screen so that you do not have to remember what the icons mean, and you will have, at your fingertips, a well designed tool affording vastly increased access to the full contents of the Collins -Robert dictionary, including translations that you would otherwise not be able to find, or at least not without un-realistic effort.

There are many more familiar features of electronic mediation that are unexploited in the Collins French Dictionary (Second Edition) on CD-ROM. You will find, for example, no links to the web, no audio pronunciation of terms, no verb conjugator, no metric conversion tool, and no cross-indexing according to regional and stylistic varieties. However, and perhaps as a tradeoff, the Collins French Dictionary (Second Edition) on CD-ROM is both a bargain (at $50.00), and a really portable, glitch-free, tool that stores easily on your hard drive, and it is both friendly to use and to navigate. Additionally, and of prime importance, the full-text search mode supplies you with structured access to the translations and occurrences of a targeted term on both sides of the dictionary. This feature alone, and its design, comes as a new way of harnessing the unique functions of the medium, and in comparison with print modes, it dramatically transforms and vastly augments consultation and usage of the dictionary. For translators in constant search of fast and reliable resources, who do not want to spend too much money, and who love the Collins-Robert dictionaries, this is another electronic turbo tool. Enjoy!

Figure 1: Main window of the Collins French Dictionary displaying results of a progressive search on the term “committed”.

Figure 2: Results of a full-text search on the term “committed”.

Figure 3: Reversed, full-text search on the term “committed”.