A translation dictionary (or sometimes translator) is a specialized lexicon designed for giving users rough equivalences of words and phrase equivalences between two distinct languages. A user desiring a translation using a translation dictionary may start with the words or phrases in his own language, the source language, and reference words or phrases in the foreign language, or target language, for speaking and writing. Conversely, for listening and reading works in a foreign tongue, there is a second section of the dictionary designed for converting the foreign expressions as the source back to the user's own language (as the target). For example, an "English-Spanish Translation Dictionary" will include one section for translations from English to Spanish, and one for Spanish to English, though both sections will be designed with the English speaker in mind, as indicated by the primacy (and lexical form) given the word 'English' in the name of the volume.
Driven by market forces and the ambitions of linguists, translation dictionaries exist for nearly every combination of popular languages:
Translation dictionaries range greatly in size, scope, and in form. Some are included as compilations in larger dictionaries. Many travelling translation dictionaries are of a hand-held or vest-pocket variety, designed as instant on-the-spot aids to travellers to foreign countries. Many vest-pocket sized electronic varieties also exist, and are often simply called translators. Many of these that even offer audio clips of pronunciations.
In Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a mythical creature called a Babel Fish was inserted into a traveller's ear to provide instant, fluid translations between interstellar travellers. The utopian idea of such a creature lead to SYSTRAN's licensing of the name for their own computer-assisted translation software, though it has been described as somewhat less fluid in the user's ear (see round-trip translation).
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