Le Petit Larousse Illustré de l'An Deux Mille - Paris, France : Larousse

ISBN 2-03-301-200-X
Reviewed by Françoise Herrmann

Le Petit Larousse Illustré is a dictionary that I remember consulting prior to knowing how to read. The new Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 continues to fascinate me with its crisp, sharp, true color, and wonderfully detailed 3800 illustrations, including 289 maps, 80 antiques reproductions and photographs, and 1500 pictures; some stand-alone and most designated to explain and clarify the meaning of words. When not using the illustrations of Le Petit Larousse 2000 to better understand what a term refers to in translation, I still love to just leaf through this dictionary to discover the story that the illustrations tell.

There are for example, as a tribute to the new millennium, a series of full page, illustrated historical synopsis. A synopsis of objects that have changed the course of history, from needle to cell phone and CD-roms, through paper, forks, and bicycles; an illustrated synopsis of the history of ships, trains, cars, airplanes, spacecrafts and communications, (from the drum to the world wide web), each of whose development across time makes you wonder whether the stone age is not simply repeating itself.

Similarly there are twentieth century full page historical synopsis for the arts : painting and sculpture, architecture, film, literature and music, including a full page dedicated to jazz, and another separate page dedicated to rock, folk, blues and soul music. You may of course bemoan the exclusion of one of your favorite artists (both Keith Harring and Georgia O'Keefe are missing for example for painting, and with film you will definitely think it is "outrageous" to have omitted small and brilliant, independent filmakers), but in a less judgmental perspective (this is a French language monolingual and encyclopedic dictionary, in contrast to a dictionary of twentieth century art), you will have taken a lavish and laser sharp, true color tour of the artistic highlights of the past century, as carefully and admiringly selected by the Petit Larousse.

Add to that, still much more in two sections containing beautiful botanical and zoological full page plates illustrating flowers and trees, fruits and vegetables, butterflies and insects, sea algae, fish and crustaceans, reptiles, eggs, feathers, birds and mammals, which will point you to creatures and foliage that you have never imagined existed, and conversely to the terms for those you commonly find in your garden, your public park, or your local fish market.

And finally there are the equally colorful, clear and sharp figures, drawings, pictures and photos that mingle with the text of every page, to zoom you in and out of the meaning of terms. So that if you really want a succinct and clear visual explanation of the structure and function of the laser beam, for example, or if you are not quite sure how different skeletal muscles are in comparison to heart muscles, you will find these in the Petit Larousse Illustré 2000.

In sum, Le Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 contains a treasure of illustrations that supply both invaluable help for circumscribing meanings, and a bonus of aesthetic pleasure.

Le Petit Larousse Illustré 2000, like the previous edition of my childhood, is perhaps only "petit" (small) in comparison to the Encyclopedia Britanica. It is 5 inches thick, weighs 5.5 lbs., and contains 1785 pages. There are still two main sections in the Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 : an illustrated, monolingual French language dictionary (constituting approximately two thirds of the dictionary), and an illustrated dictionary of Proper Nouns (or encyclopedia), where if you like, you can check out the names of all your favorite streets in Paris, or if you are not sure whether Mme de Staël was a writer or a painter, you can find out .

The monolingual French language section is useful to translators on several important counts. First, because of the illustrations that mingle with the text to supply additional visual explanation. For example, if you are unsure what a "setter" (setter) or a "teckel" (dachshund) look like, or a "bouleau" (birch tree) and a "cèdre" (cedar), or where the cryogenic stage is located on a space launcher, or of the striking difference between a Roman and Gothic column, you can find out.

Secondly and equally important, the Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 is useful as a monolingual language dictionary that includes considerable breadth of technical terms, in contrast to both literary listing, and in-depth specialization. Thus, you will find both illustrated and defined, the major terms referring to such varied artifacts as turbines, speakers, windows, cameras, tires and construction frameworks; the manufacture of products such as bread, wine, and beer; the industrial processes of such products as paper, oil, lumber and electricity; the anatomy of the hand, the neck and the eye; the physiological processes of immunity, digestion and kidney function. This breadth and wealth of terminology however, is certainly the downside of depth, as translators specializing in one area will no doubt find the lists of terms incomplete for their particular domain. The Petit Larousse Illustré 2000, thus stands out as an excellent reference for general and un-specialized translations.

The Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 is also useful as it supplies in addition to word definitions in the monolingual language section, small encyclopedic reference articles for words that lend themselves to such archiving. Thus, you will find encyclopedic articles for such terms as "or" (gold), "marée" (tide), or "écologie" (ecology). And finally, the monolingual language section is particularly useful with its welcome inclusion of terms from French used outside of France (in Canada, in Africa, in Switzerland and Belgium for example), as well as imported Anglo-Saxon terms. Thus, you will find the terms "magaziner" (to shop in Quebec) and "flat" (a flat in the USA and Belgium). And you will find Anglo-Saxon terms such as "ice-cream", "cookie", "hamburger", "fun" and "Kleenex" (trademarked paper tisssue), as well as "e-mail" with an official recommendation : "emél". Add to that, updated terminology arising out of the New Economy, such as "caméoscope" (camcorder), "manche à balai" (joystick), "organiseur" (electronic organizer), "cédérom" (CD-Rom), and "Tchatche" (on-line chat), and the Petit Larousse Illustré 2000 will assist you with language use that is now current.

As for the Proper Noun, or encyclopedic section, this section provides, in addition to the monolingual language dictionary, a useful reference to just about any commonly used, non specialized, language reference, and for which illustration supplies additional explanation and detail. Try it! If you are unsure whether Folon, is a French or a Belgian artist, you can find out. If you are wondering which part of France the "Finist?re" refers to, you will find a small map supplying you with details, and ditto for the "Landes", the "Languedoc-Rousillon", the "Orne", or the "Picardie" regions of France. Alternatively, you may wonder which countries are considered "Francophone" (French-speaking), again you can find out. The encyclopedic section was designed to regroup all the terms that do not fit in a language dictionary but whose knowledge is nonetheless essential to speakers of French. And this is a goal that is most generously achieved.

Finally, nestled between both the encyclopedic and monolingual language dictionary sections, there is a famed "Pink section". This section (unlike the Financial Times!) offers a small listing of proverbs, Latin and foreign expressions and historical quotes. That is, just in case you always wondered what "Veni, vidi, vici" meant or "Fiat Lux!" or "Carpe diem!" .

The Petit Larousse Illustré is a dictionary that I have used all of my literate life. With the publication of the Y2K edition, I would be tempted to say that this is a dictionary of all seasons. However, as a translator, I recommend it as an excellent and wealthy, general encyclopedic, visual and French monolingual dictionary reference tool; and, as ever, one that offers special aesthetic pleasure.