Historical development of lexicography

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What is the lexicography?

Lexicography is the study of the meaning, evolution, and function of the vocabulary units of a language for the purpose of compilation in book form-in short, the process of dictionary making.

An encyclopedic dictionary typically includes a large number of short listings, arranged alphabetically, and discussing a wide range of topics. Encyclopedic dictionaries can be general, containing articles on topics in many different fields; or they can specialize in a particular field (such as art, law, medicine, or philosophy). They may also be organized around a particular academic, cultural, ethnic, or national perspective.

Linguistic dictionaries. Specialized dictionaries focus on linguistic and factual matters relating to specific subject fields. A specialized dictionary may have a relatively broad coverage, in that it covers several subject fields such as science and technology (a multi-field dictionary), 
Eng. learner’s dictionaries. A dictionary can be a powerful vocabulary learning tool 
- Encourage students to choose a dictionary that fits their needs. 
- Teach students to mine as much information as possible from a dictionary entry (pronunciation, grammar usage, synonyms or antonyms, associated words).

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is the world’s bestselling advanced learner’s dictionary, recommended by learners of English and their teachers

Oxford dictionaries. The aim of this Dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records down to the present day, with all the relevant facts concerning their form, sense-history, pronunciation, and etymology.



























Although, as we have seen from the preceding paragraph, there is as yet no coherent doctrine in English lexicography, its richness and variety are everywhere admitted and appreciated. Its history is in its way one of the most remarkable developments in linguistics, and is therefore worthy of special attention. In the following pages a short outline of its various phases is given. A need for a dictionary or glossary has been felt in the cultural growth of many civilised peoples at a fairly early period. The history of dictionary-making for the English language goes as far back as the Old English period where its first traces are found in the form of glosses of religious books with interlinear translation from Latin. Regular bilingual English-Latin dictionaries were already in existence in the 15th century. The unilingual dictionary is a comparatively recent type. The first unilingual English dictionary, explaining words by English equivalents, appeared in 1604. It was meant to explain difficult words occurring in books. Its title was "A Table Alphabeticall, containing and teaching the true writing and understanding of hard usuall English words borrowed from the Hebrew, Greeke, Latine or French”. The little volume of 120 pages explaining about 3000 words was compiled by one Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster. Other books followed, each longer than the preceding one. The first attempt at a dictionary including all the words of the language, not only the difficult ones, was made by Nathaniel Bailey who in 1721 published the first edition of his "Universal Etymological English Dictionary”. He was the first to include pronunciation and etymology. Big explanatory dictionaries were created in France and Italy before they appeared for the English language. Learned academies on the continent had been established to preserve the purity of their respective languages. This was also the purpose of Dr Samuel Johnson’s famous Dictionary published in 1755.1 The idea of purity involved a tendency to oppose change, and S. Johnson’s Dictionary was meant to establish the English language in its classical form, to preserve it in all its glory as used by J. Dryden, A. Pope, J. Addison and their contemporaries. In conformity with the social order of his time, S. Johnson attempted to "fix” and regulate English. This was the period of much discussion about the necessity of "purifying” and "fixing” English, and S. Johnson wrote that every change was undesirable, even a change for the best. When his work was accomplished, however, he had to admit he had been wrong and confessed in his preface that "no dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding and some falling away”. The most important innovation of S. Johnson’s Dictionary was the introduction of illustrations of the meanings of the words "by examples from the best writers", as had been done before him in the dictionary of the French Academy. Since then such illustrations have become a "sine qua non” in lexicography; S. Johnson, however, only mentioned the authors and never gave any specific references for his quotations. Most probably he reproduced some of his quotations from memory, not always very exactly, which would have been unthinkable in modern lexicology. The definitions he gave were often very ingenious. He was called "a skilful definer”, but sometimes he preferred to give way to sarcasm or humour and did not hesitate to be partial in his definitions. The epithet he gave to lexicographer, for instance, is famous even in our time: a lexicographer was ‘a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge ...’. The dictionary dealt with separate words only, almost no set expressions were entered. Pronunciation was not marked, because S. Johnson was keenly aware of the wide variety of the English pronunciation and thought it impossible to set up a standard there; he paid attention only to those aspects of vocabulary where he believed he could improve linguistic usage. S. Johnson’s influence was tremendous. He remained the unquestionable authority on style and diction for more than 75 years. The result was a lofty bookish style which received the name of "Johnsonian” or "Johnsonese”. As to pronunciation, attention was turned to it somewhat later. A pronouncing dictionary that must be mentioned first was published in 1780 by Thomas Sheridan, grandfather of the great dramatist. In 1791 appeared "The Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language” by John Walker, an actor. The vogue of this second dictionary was very great, and in later publications Walker’s pronunciations were inserted into S. Johnson’s text — a further step to a unilingual dictionary in its present-day form. The Golden Age of English lexicography began in the last quarter of the 19th century when the English Philological Society started work on compiling what is now known as "The Oxford English Dictionary” (OED), but was originally named "New English Dictionary on Historical Principles”. It is still occasionally referred to as NED. The purpose of this monumental work is to trace the development of English words from their form in Old English, and if they were not found in Old English, to show when they were introduced into the language, and also to show the development of each meaning and its historical relation to other meanings of the same word. For words and meanings which have become obsolete the date of the latest occurrence is given. All this is done by means of dated quotations ranging from the oldest to recent appearances of the words in question. The English of G. Chaucer, of the "Bible” and of W. Shakespeare is given as much attention as that of the most modern authors. The dictionary includes spellings, pronunciations and detailed etymologies. The completion of the work required more than 75 years. The result is a kind of encyclopaedia of language used not only for reference purposes but also as a basis for lexicological research. The lexicographic concept here is very different from the prescriptive tradition of Dr S. Johnson: the lexicographer is the objective recorder of the language. The purpose of OED, as stated by its editors, has nothing to do with prescription or proscription of any kind. The conception of this new type of dictionary was born in a discussion at the English Philological Society. It was suggested by Frederick Furnivall, later its second titular editor, to Richard Trench, the author of the first book on lexicology of the English language. Richard Trench read before the society his paper "On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries", and that was how the big enterprise was started. At once the Philological Society set to work to gather the material, volunteers offered to help by collecting quotations. Dictionary-making became a sort of national enterprise. A special committee prepared a list of books to be read and assigned them to the volunteers, sending them also special standard slips for quotations. By 1881 the number of readers was 800, and they sent in many thousands of slips. The tremendous amount of work done by these volunteers testifies to the keen interest the English take in their language. The first part of the Dictionary appeared in 1884 and the last in 1928. Later it was issued in twelve volumes and in order to accommodate new words a three volume Supplement was issued in 1933. These volumes were revised in the seventies. Nearly all the material of the original Supplement was retained and a large body of the most recent accessions to the English language added. The principles, structure and scope of "The Oxford English Dictionary", its merits and demerits are discussed in the most comprehensive treaty by L.V. Malakhovsky. Its prestige is enormous. It is considered superior to corresponding major dictionaries for other languages. The Oxford University Press published different abridged versions. "The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles” formerly appeared in two volumes, now printed on thinner paper it is bound in one volume of 2,538 pages. It differs from the complete edition in that it contains a smaller number of quotations. It keeps to all the main principles of historical presentation and covers not only the current literary and colloquial English but also its previous stages. Words are defined and illustrated with key quotations. "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English” was first published in 1911, i.e. before the work on the main version was completed. It is not a historical dictionary but one of current usage. A still shorter form is "The Pocket Oxford Dictionary”. Another big dictionary, also created by joined effort of enthusiasts, is Joseph Wright’s "English Dialect Dictionary”. Before this dictionary could be started upon, a thorough study of English dialects had to be completed. With this aim in view W.W. Skeat, famous for his "Etymological English Dictionary” founded the English Dialect Society as far back as 1873. Dialects are of great importance for the historical study of the language. In the 19th century they were very pronounced though now they are almost disappearing. The Society existed till 1896 and issued 80 publications, mostly monographs. Curiously enough, the first American dictionary of the English language was compiled by a man whose name was also Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson Jr., a Connecticut schoolmaster, published in 1798 a small book entitled "A School Dictionary”. This book was followed in 1800 by another dictionary by the same author, which showed already some signs of Americanisation. It included, for instance, words like tomahawk and wampum, borrowed into English from the Indian languages. It was Noah Webster, universally considered to be the father of American lexicography, who emphatically broke away from English idiom, and embodied in his book the specifically American usage of his time. His great work, "The American Dictionary of the English Language", appeared in two volumes in 1828 and later sustained numerous revised and enlarged editions. In many respects N. Webster follows the lead of Dr S. Johnson (the British lexicographer). But he has also improved and corrected many of S. Johnson’s etymologies and his definitions are often more exact. N. Webster attempted to simplify the spelling and pronunciation that were current in the USA of the period. He devoted many years to the collection of words and the preparation of more accurate definitions. N. Webster realised the importance of language for the development of a nation, and devoted his energy to giving the American English the status of an independent language, distinct from British English. At that time the idea was progressive as it helped the unification of separate states into one federation. The tendency became reactionary later on, when some modern linguists like H. Mencken shaped it into the theory of a separate American language, not only different from British English, but surpassing it in efficiency and therefore deserving to dominate and supersede all the languages of the world. Even if we keep within purely linguistic or purely lexical concepts, we shall readily see that the difference is not so great as to warrant American English the rank of a separate language, not a variant of English (see p. 265). The set of morphemes is the same. Some words have acquired a new meaning on American soil and this meaning has or has not penetrated into British English. Other words kept their earlier meanings that are obsolete and not used in Great Britain. As civilisation progressed different names were given to new inventions on either side of the Atlantic. Words were borrowed from different Indian languages and from Spanish. All these had to be recorded in a dictionary and so accounted for the existence of specific American lexicography. The world of today with its ever-growing efficiency and intensity of communication and personal contacts, with its press, radio and television creates conditions which tend to foster not an isolation of dialects and variants but, on the contrary, their mutual penetration and integration. Later on, the title "International Dictionary of the English Language” was adopted, and in the latest edition not Americanisms but words not used in America (Britishisms) are marked off. N. Webster’s dictionary enjoyed great popularity from its first editions. This popularity was due not only to the accuracy and clarity of definitions but also to the richness of additional information of encyclopaedic character, which had become a tradition in American lexicography. As a dictionary N. Webster’s book aims to treat the entire vocabulary of the language providing definitions, pronunciation and etymology. As an encyclopaedia it gives explanations about things named, including scientific and technical subjects. It does so more concisely than a full-scale encyclopaedia, but it is worthy of note that the definitions are as a rule up-to-date and rigorous scientifically. Soon after N. Webster’s death two printers and booksellers of Massachusetts, George and Charles Merriam, secured the rights of his dictionary from his family and started the publication of revised single volume editions under the name "Merriam-Webster”. The staff working for the modern editions is a big institution numbering hundreds of specialists in different branches of human activity. It is important to note that the name "Webster” may be attached for publicity’s sake by anyone to any dictionary. Many publishers concerned with their profits have taken this opportunity to issue dictionaries called "Webster’s”. Some of the books so named are cheaply-made reprints of old editions, others are said to be entirely new works. The practice of advertising by coupling N. Webster’s name to a dictionary which has no connection with him, continues up to the present day. A complete revision of N. Webster’s dictionary is achieved with a certain degree of regularity. The recent "Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language” has called forth much comment, both favourable and unfavourable. It has been greatly changed as compared with the previous edition, in word selection as well as in other matters. The emphasis is on the present-day state of the language. The number of illustrative quotations is increased. To accommodate the great number of new words and meanings without increasing the bulk of the volume, the editors excluded much encyclopaedic material. The other great American dictionaries are the "Century Dictionary", first completed in 1891; "Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary", first completed in 1895; the "Random House Dictionary of the English Language", completed in 1967; "The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary of the English Language", first published in 1969, and C.L. Barnhart’s et al. "The World Book Dictionary” presenting a synchronic review of the language in the 20th century. The first three continue to appear in variously named subsequent editions including abridged versions. Many small handy popular dictionaries for office, school and home use are prepared to meet the demand in reference books on spelling, pronunciation, meaning and usage. An adequate idea of the dictionaries cannot be formed from a mere description and it is no substitute for actually using them. To conclude we would like to mention that for a specialist in linguistics and a teacher of foreign languages systematic work with a good dictionary in conjunction with his reading is an absolute necessity.


















Lexicography, that is the theory and practice of compiling dictionaries, is an important branch of applied linguistics. The fundamental paper in lexicographic theory was written by L.V. Shcherba as far back as 1940. A complete bibliography of the subject may be found in L.P. Stupin’s works. Lexicography has a common object of study with lexicology, both describe the vocabulary of a language. The essential difference between the two lies in the degree of systematisation and completeness each of them is able to achieve. Lexicology aims at systematisation revealing characteristic features of words. It cannot, however, claim any completeness as regards the units themselves, because the number of these units being very great, systematisation and completeness could not be achieved simultaneously. The province of lexicography, on the other hand, is the semantic, formal, and functional description of all individual words. Dictionaries aim at a more or less complete description, but in so doing cannot attain systematic treatment, so that every dictionary entry presents, as it were, an independent problem. Lexicologists sort and present their material in a sequence depending upon their views concerning the vocabulary system, whereas lexicographers have to arrange it most often according to a purely external characteristic, namely alphabetically. It goes without saying that neither of these branches of linguistics could develop successfully without the other, their relationship being essentially that of theory and practice dealing with the same objects of reality. The term dictionary is used to denote a book listing words of a language with their meanings and often with data regarding pronunciation, usage and/or origin. There are also dictionaries that concentrate their attention upon only one of these aspects: pronouncing (phonetical) dictionaries (by Daniel Jones) and etymological dictionaries (by Walter Skeat, by Erik Partridge, "The Oxford English Dictionary"). For dictionaries in which the words and their definitions belong to the same language the term unilingual or explanatory is used, whereas bilingual or translation dictionaries are those that explain words by giving their equivalents in another language.1 Multilingual or polyglot dictionaries are not numerous, they serve chiefly the purpose of comparing synonyms and terminology in various languages. 1 Unilingual dictionaries are further subdivided with regard to the time. Diachronic dictionaries, of which "The Oxford English Dictionary” is the main example, reflect the development of the English vocabulary by recording the history of form and meaning for every word registered. They may be contrasted to synchronic or descriptive dictionaries of current English concerned with present-day meaning and usage of words. 2 The boundary between the two is, however, not very rigid: that is to say, few dictionaries are consistently synchronic, chiefly, perhaps, because their methodology is not developed as yet, so that in many cases the two principles are blended. 3 Some synchronic dictionaries are at the same time historical when they represent the state of vocabulary at some past stage of its development. 4 Both bilingual and unilingual dictionaries can be general and special. General dictionaries represent the vocabulary as a whole with a degree of completeness depending upon the scope and bulk of the book in question. The group includes the thirteen volumes of "The Oxford English Dictionary” alongside with any miniature pocket dictionary. Some general dictionaries may have very specific aims and still be considered general due to their coverage. They include, for instance, frequency dictionaries, i.e. lists of words, each of which is followed by a record of its frequency of occurrence in one or several sets of reading matter. 5 A rhyming dictionary is also a general dictionary, though arranged in inverse order, and so is a thesaurus in spite of its unusual arrangement. General dictionaries are contrasted to special dictionaries whose stated aim is to cover only a certain specific part of the vocabulary. Special dictionaries may be further subdivided depending on whether the words are chosen according to the sphere of human activity in which they are used (technical dictionaries), the type of the units themselves (e. g. phraseological dictionaries) or the relationships existing between them (e. g. dictionaries of synonyms). The first subgroup embraces highly specialised dictionaries of limited scope which may appeal to a particular kind of reader. They register and explain technical terms for various branches of knowledge, art and trade: linguistic, medical, technical, economical terms, etc. Unilingual books of this type giving definitions of terms are called glossaries. They are often prepared by boards or commissions specially appointed for the task of improving technical terminology and nomenclature. The second subgroup deals with specific language units, i.e. with phraseology, abbreviations, neologisms, borrowings, surnames, toponyms, proverbs and. sayings, etc. The third subgroup contains a formidable array of synonymic dictionaries that have been mentioned in the chapter on synonyms. Dictionaries recording the complete vocabulary of some author are called concordances,1 they should be distinguished from those that deal only with difficult words, i.e. glossaries. Taking up territorial considerations one comes across dialect dictionaries and dictionaries of Americanisms. The main types of dictionaries are classified in the accompanying table. Finally, dictionaries may be classified into linguistic and non-linguistic. The latter are dictionaries giving information on all branches of knowledge, the encyclopaedias. They deal not with words, but with facts and concepts. The best known encyclopaedias of the English-speaking world are "The Encyclopaedia Britannica”1 and "The Encyclopaedia Americana”.2 There exist also biographical dictionaries and many minor encyclopaedias. English lexicography is probably the richest in the world with respect to variety and scope of the dictionaries published. The demand for dictionaries is very great. One of the duties of school teachers of native language is to instil in their pupils the "dictionary habit”. Boys and girls are required by their teachers to obtain a dictionary and regularly consult it. There is a great variety of unilingual dictionaries for children. They help children to learn the meaning, spelling and pronunciation of words. An interesting example is the Thorndike dictionary.3 Its basic principle is that the words and meanings included should be only those which schoolchildren are likely to hear or to encounter in reading. The selection of words is therefore determined statistically by counts of the actual occurrence of words in reading matter of importance to boys and girls between 10 and 15. Definitions are also made specially to meet the needs of readers of that age, and this accounts for the ample use of illustrative sentences and pictures as well as for the encyclopaedic bias of the book. A dictionary is the most widely used reference book in English homes and business offices. Correct pronunciation and correct spelling are of great social importance, because they are necessary for efficient communication. A bilingual dictionary is useful to several kinds of people: to those who study foreign languages, to specialists reading foreign literature, to translators, to travellers, and to linguists. It may have two principal purposes: reference for translation and guidance for expression. It must provide an adequate translation in the target language of every word and expression in the source language. It is also supposed to contain all the inflectional, derivational, semantic and syntactic information that its reader might ever need, and also information on spelling and pronunciation. Data on the levels of usage are also considered necessary, including special warnings about the word being rare or poetical or slangy and unfit to be used in the presence of "one’s betters”. The number of special bilingual dictionaries for various branches of knowledge and engineering is ever increasing. A completely new type are the machine translation dictionaries which present their own specific problems, naturally differing from those presented by bilingual dictionaries for human translation. It is highly probable, however, that their development will eventually lead to improving dictionaries for general use. The entries of a dictionary are usually arranged in alphabetical order, except that derivatives and compounds are given under the same head-word. In the ideographic dictionaries the main body is arranged according to a logical classification of notions expressed.1 But dictionaries of this type always have an alphabetical index attached to facilitate the search for the necessary word.2 The ideographic type of dictionary is in a way the converse of the usual type: the purpose of the latter is to explain the meaning when the word is given. The Thesaurus, on the contrary, supplies the word or words by which a given idea may be expressed. Sometimes the grouping is in parallel columns with the opposite notions. The book is meant only for readers (either native or foreign) having a good knowledge of English, and enables them to pick up an adequate expression and avoid overuse of the same words. The Latin word thesaurus means ‘treasury’. P. Roget’s book gave the word a new figurative meaning, namely, ‘a store of knowledge’, and hence ‘a dictionary containing all the words of a language’. A consistent classification of notions presents almost insuperable difficulties. Only relatively few "semantic fields", such as kinship terms, colour terms, names for parts of human body and some others fit into a neat scheme. For the most part, however, there is no one-to-one correlation between notions and words, and the classification of notions, even if it were feasible, is a very poor help for classification of meanings and their systematic presentation. The system of meanings stands in a very complex relationship to the system of notions because of the polysemantic character of most words. The semantic structure of words and the semantic system of vocabulary depend on many linguistic, historical and cultural factors.


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Lexicography is divided into two related disciplines:
• Practical lexicography is the art or craft of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries.
• Theoretical lexicography is the scholarly discipline of analyzing and describing the semantic, syntagmatic and paradigmaticrelationships within the lexicon (vocabulary) of a language, developing theories of dictionary components and structures linking the data in dictionaries, the needs for information by users in specific types of situation, and how users may best access the data incorporated in printed and electronic dictionaries. This is sometimes referred to as 'metalexicography'.
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