Le Petit Robert CD-ROM New Edition
Reviewed by Françoise Herrmann

Dictionnaires Le Robert / VUEF 2001
Bureau Van DIJK
Distributed by Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing France
68.37 €

Le Petit Robert is simply, and unanimously recognized as, the best monolingual dictionary of the French language. Famed for its well-chosen, user-friendly, examples and literary citations to illustrate language uses, and the semantic (analogic) organization of the corpus that includes for each applicable term, lists of synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms, as well as etymological information, this dictionary has become the best and most reliable reference for lovers of the French language. Coupled, in the new millennium with added electronic functionality, outstanding and sophisticated design supplied by the Belgium design firm, Bureau Van DIJK, you will be thrilled to discover the New Edition of the Le Petit Robert on CD-ROM.

Prior to reviewing each of the new and pristine electronic features that have transformed the printed Petit Robert into an exceptional computer mediated tool, you will immediately be surprised and pleased to notice that the New Edition of the CD-ROM is both PC and MAC compatible. Minimum system requirements are thus dual, and for MAC users this is a blessing since so few electronic dictionaries have been designed to run on Macintosh systems. For PC users you will need at least a Pentium 100, 16 MB of RAM, Windows 95/98/2000 or NT, a 4x CD-ROM drive, a sound card compatible with Sound Blaster, and a monitor with 640x480 screen resolution and millions of colors. For MAC users, you will need a Power Mac or beyond, 16 MB of RAM, System 8.1 or beyond, a 4x CD-ROM drive, and a monitor with 640x480 screen resolution and millions of colors. An interactive Wizard program drives the installation of the application into your system, and standard minimum, partial or complete installation options exist for both systems, so that you can use your electronic Petit Robert in conjunction with other electronic dictionaries, even when you are short on space.

Also, just prior to actually using your new edition of Le Petit Robert of CD-ROM you will notice, tucked into the CD-ROM case cover, a small, and wonderfully detailed 20 page user manual. This small user manual, written in French, clearly and succinctly provides you with all the information you need to work the installation and the application, in addition to informing you that further help is available via the application help function. For all who miss the genre of printed user manuals that used to come in almost phonebook volume with all major applications; dislike on-line help; or bemoan the complete absence of such support, either in print or on-line, this slim pocket-size user manual is a real guiding treat!

Beyond these preliminary goodies of substance, you will now be treated to an extraordinary array of cleverly harnessed features in support of the Petit Robert institutional giant, which may actually sway you irrevocably in the direction of electronic formats for your dictionary needs.

First, you will notice a series of familiar features whose updated toolbar design and extra functionality, you will delight in discovering. Among these familiar and re-visited features, you will find:

Beyond these familiar electronic features that you will discover in their expanded and updated functionality, you will also find a series of functions specifically designed to allow for easy and smooth navigation of Le Petit Robert articles. These are termed "visualization functions" and they each correlate with a particular aspect of the semantic organization of Le Petit Robert. Mapped onto the MS Word toolbar design, these functions are accessible both in the "View" drop-down menu, and as iconized buttons, positioned as a horizontal toolbar across the display, each activated as an option when they apply to a particular item searched (See Figure 1 of the main program screen for their location]. There are six of these functions displayed below in their button format:

• Renvois & contraires [synonyms & antonyms]

• Homonymes [homonyms]

• Etymologie [etymology]

• Plan [explorer]

• Expressions & exemples [expressions & examples]

• Citations [citations]

Thus, for example, say that you would like to find synonyms and antonyms for the term "formidable" [terrific]. You do not have to peruse the whole article related to the search term “formidable” [terrific] to extract them, nor do you even have to bother using the article "explorer" function for a summarized semantic mapping of the article, all you have to do is click on the "syn/ant" button (or select the option in the "View" drop-down menu). An organized list of the synomyms and antonyms for the term "formidable" will then appear in the results portion of the screen, including clickable links for each of items returned, in a hypertext mode. Similarly, for the same term "formidable" [terrific], you can also request a list of citations, using either the "citations" button, or the "citations" option in the "View" Drop-down menu; or a list of examples, using either the "examples & expressions" button, or the "View" drop-down menu option; or even the etymology of the term, using either the "etymology" button, or the drop-down menu option. However, you will notice immediately that there are no homonyms to worry about, since neither the "homonym" button, nor the drop-down menu option have been activated.

These six visualization functions (synonyms/antonyms, homonyms, etymology, citations, expressions & examples, and the explorer), accessible either in toolbar format or as options in the "View" drop down menu, thus capture the unique organization of Le Petit Robert corpus, inclusive of semantic relations among words, historical information and descriptive usage. The advantage of this extra set of fabulously harnessed electronic functions is that they transform perusal, search and navigation into an easy, effortless, swift and immediate experience. And consequently, you will perhaps concur that these features are indeed, simply terrific!

Add to these outstanding visualization functions, carefully designed article presentation with color-coding of the article contents, and you can enjoy the added clarity and benefits of a well thought out display of information. You will discover that the color aqua corresponds to all the dictionary abbreviations; the color blue is used for the main definition divisions of an article; the color purple is used for synonyms and antonyms; the color brown is used for etymological information; the color red for all “hidden words” whose definitions are included in a particular article; and black print covers all the citations, examples and expressions.

Add still more electronic functionality to your Petit Robert with the conjugate and the feminine/plural functions (accessible as a toolbar button or as options via the "Edit" drop-down menu), and you can call up, for any verb, a dialog box that will display all the conjugated forms with highlighted, endings and spelling difficulties, for all aspects and all tenses, including alerts or verbal group characteristics; and for any term, all of its morphological variations according to gender and number, including a brief grammatical description of the morphological rules that apply for that particular item. You will be delighted to use these functions, not only because they provide a shortcut to locating correct forms, but also because the window information is presented with outstanding clarity (see Figure 2 for an example of the dialog box displaying results returned by the feminine/plural function for the term "belle"; and Figure 3 for an example of the dialog box displaying results returned by the conjugate function for the verb "quintessencier").

Add still more electronic functionality to the Petit Robertwith the adjustable text size function (accessible as a toolbar button or as a selection in the "Options" drop-down menu) and you can choose the size of the print appearing on screen. You will delight in using this function because your options for print size are not limited to "small" or "big", you can actually choose from an array of about 10 sizes, ranging from 8 to 24 pts. And this will ultimately save you from any undue eyestrain, resulting all too frequently from tiny print size, whether electronically mediated or not.

In the search mode, you will also be pleasantly surprised to discover a series of options for advanced searching and processing of searches. The Advanced search mode, accessible either via a toolbar button or a selection in the "Research" drop-down menu, is launched from a dialog box that includes five tabs for directing searches: list of terms, phonetics, etymology, citations and complete corpus. From within each of the tabs, drop down menus, tables and check boxes guide you through the selection of criteria so that you do not have to remember wildcard shortcuts or write your own Boolean expressions, or even toggle into a phonetics keyboard for phonetic transcriptions. Thus, for example, you can search the Petit Robert corpus for all the citations of a particular author; all the articles that contain reference to a particular term; all terms with a particular suffix or prefix; or a list of terms containing a particular phonetic sequence or sound. Results are returned in the main screen, where both bookmarking functions and a research tab, allow you to keep track of your searches.

On a linguistic level, at a glance, you will find Le Petit Robert inclusive of the following:

60,000 words
 1000 authors cited
 12,000 audio pronunciations
 300,000 meanings
 150,000 semantic links (synonyms, antonyms & homonyms)
 180,000 examples
 40,000 citations
 8000 expressions
 200 etymological notes

Missing from this quantitative data however, is that exceptional qualitative dimension that has given Le Petit Robert its stature as an institutional giant. Quality measured in the clarity and succinctness of definitions and their semantic organization; in the examples that leave little room for doubt, and truly illuminate both the meanings of terms and their usage; in the citations that capture twists and turns of meanings both literary and poetic; in the semantic horizons that are opened with the choice of synonyms and antonyms; in the clear indexing of terms according to various registers, including updated official recommendations for usage when there are competing imports; and in the historical information supplied as etymological reference. Le Petit Robert is a dictionary that is a pleasure to consult. As a translator, you will love it, both as a reference to the French language, and as a tool that will supply you with a wealth of vocabulary options, and richly composed expressions. And perhaps that as a result of using this tool you will also sharpen your stylistic skills and extend your own frontiers of language use.

With this much linguistic benefit, and too many reviewed electronic features to recapitulate in conclusion for their outstanding support of navigation, perusal and search, you will not be wasting your well-earned money with the purchase of Le Petit-Robert on CD-ROM. This is the very best dictionary of French, enhanced to the power of n -and to the point of no-return- by the latest, and state-of-the-art benefits of electronic design. When your language is French, whether Mac or PC user, get it! And enjoy!

Figure 1: Le Petit Robert CD-ROM main display screen opened for a search of the term "formidable" [terrific]

Figure 2: Dialog box displaying results returned by the feminine/plural function for the term "belle" [beautiful].

Figure 3: Dialog box displaying results returned by the conjugate function for the verb "quintessencier" [quintessence].