Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 11:29:28 -0500 (EST)
From: Donald F. Reindl
Subject: Lexicography: An Introduction
Jackson, Howard (2002) Lexicography: An Introduction, Routledge.
Donald F. Reindl, Indiana University, Bloomington
Howard Jackson's "Lexicography: An Introduction" is an
introduction to lexicography in the broadest sense, including
essential terms and definitions, overviews of historical trends in
the field, various "how to" aspects of lexicography, and suggestions
for the systematic evaluation of lexicographic works.
Chapter 1 "Words" defines basic linguistic concepts (e.g., word,
lexeme, morpheme) relevant to lexicography, while Chapter 2 "Facts
about words" examines the historical roots of the English language
and various word types (e.g., acronyms, loanwords, compounds,
synonyms, antonyms), often further subdividing these (e.g. gradable,
mutually exclusive and converse antonyms). This overview will chiefly
be informative to beginning students, although the examples provided
and their classification can also serve as a handy reference for
The role of the dictionary as part of our cultural fabric is
examined in Chapter 3 "The dictionary." Jackson looks at popular
perceptions of "the dictionary," and gives an overview of types
(historical, contemporary, general purpose, specialist, etc.) and
parts (front matter, body, appendices) of dictionaries. It is also
here that the primary scope of the book is established; namely, a
treatment of monolingual dictionaries. It readily becomes apparent
that the book is further restricted to English-language monolingual
dictionaries, and chiefly British ones at that. Nonetheless, a great
deal of what is addressed applies to other categories of
Chapters 4 through 6 give an overview of the historical
development of English dictionaries. Jackson is particularly good at
connecting the material at hand to its social and historical context.
Thus we read, for example, how the Renaissance dictionaries were
conceived of as lists of difficult words for the benefit of "the
unlearned Reader," "Ladies, Gentlewomen, or any other unskilfull
persons," the "curious" or "ignorant," or anyone else without the
benefits of a classical education (pp. 32-38).
The development of the idea of the Oxford English Dictionary
(OED) is covered extensively in chapter 5, from the founding of the
Philological Society in 1842 to the launching of the OED on-line in
March 2000. Along the way, there is detailed coverage of issues such
as the structure of entries in the OED as well as interspersed
references to decisions such as the introduction of International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) notation in the second edition of the OED.
Jackson briefly crosses the Atlantic in Chapter 6 to look at the
efforts by Noah Webster (1758-1843) to create a dictionary of
American English. In doing so, he provides interesting documentation
of Webster's own nationalist and economic motivations for
establishing an orthographically distinct variety of English, as well
as resistance to the idea by some of Webster's fellow Americans.
However, the assessment of Webster's influence is overly modest.
Jackson states that "the spelling reforms that were adopted in
American English were only a limited subset of those proposed by
Webster," (p. 62) citing three: -our > -or (Br. favour, Am. favor), -
re > -er (Br. theatre, Am. theater), and certain single consonants
(Br. traveller, Am. traveler). In fact, Webster's influence on
orthography was even greater, and in some cases extends to today's
British orthography, with changes such as -ck > -c (Old Br. publick,
Br./Am. public; this change was also occurring in Br. by the end of
the 18th century), -er > -or based on Latin spelling (Old Br. visiter
> Br./Am. visitor), and -ise > -ize based on Greek or Latin origin
(Br. organise, Br./Am. organize).
The volume's scant six pages devoted to American lexicography
end on a sour note, dwelling on negative reactions to the appearance
of Webster's Third New International in 1961.
Chapter 7 "Users and uses" examines two basic questions: who are
the users of dictionaries and for what purpose do they use them?
These are notoriously difficult to answer, except to say that a broad
range of users employs dictionaries for multiple purposes. It is
generally agreed that checking meaning and spelling predominate among
uses of the dictionary, although speakers of English as a foreign
language (EFL) frequently use monolingual English dictionaries to
check syntactic patterns and look for synonyms as well.
Chapters 8 "Meaning in dictionaries" and 9 "Beyond definition"
delve into the nuts and bolts of dictionary composition: what to
define, arrangement of material (lumping and splitting, ordering of
senses historically or by frequency), writing definitions, including
sense relations (synonyms, hyponyms, etc.), representation of
spelling and pronunciation, and indicating inflection, word class,
Regarding pronunciation, attention is drawn to the general (but
not exclusive) use of IPA in British lexicography versus a
"respelling" system in American dictionaries, with a useful
contrastive table on page 103. Inasmuch as "any transcription system
will constitute a learning task for the user" (p. 103), the British
use of IPA seems a clear advantage over the idiosyncratic dots,
digraphs, underlining, circumflexes and other conventions found in
In Chapter 10 "Etymology," Jackson observes that there is little
evidence that most dictionary users make use of etymological
information. Rather, it has become an established part of the English
dictionary through historical accident and tradition.
Jackson characterizes American lexicography as paying less
attention to etymology than British lexicography (p. 67). However,
the only modern American dictionary referred to in the book --
Webster's Third New International -- features etymologies equal to or
more complete than those cited from British sources. In this light,
it is also odd that there is no reference to the American Heritage
Dictionary (1969), which was groundbreaking in its inclusion of Indo-
European roots in its etymological material.
Chapter 11 "Dictionaries for learners" addresses the explosion
in dictionaries designed to assist EFL learners. For the last half-
century, these have sought to aid students by focusing on grammatical
patterns not readily derived from standard dictionaries and limiting
the range of vocabulary included. In this reviewer's experience,
however, learners are sometimes frustrated by the bewildering variety
of intermediate dictionaries they are expected to graduate from and
into. But, as Jackson observes, the "EFL market is a lucrative one
for publishers" and so we might expect this area of lexicography to
expand even further.
In Chapter 12 "Abandoning the alphabet," Jackson takes a look at
the millennium-long history of works based on the semantic
arrangement of vocabulary, culminating in the thesaurus. Nonetheless,
a reliance on alphabetized lists persists and the polysemy of many
words demands their multiple entry in thematic lists. Both of these
factors indicate that alphabetically arranged dictionaries will
remain the norm.
There is a return to nuts and bolts in Chapter 13 "Compiling
dictionaries," where planning, staffing, budgets, data banks, and
computer corpora all receive attention in turn.
Chapter 14 "Criticising dictionaries" is a particularly useful
section for anyone wishing to professionally evaluate a dictionary.
As Jackson points out, there are few general standards or criteria
for this purpose, and popular reviews often give the impression of
being written with no parameters in mind. As a remedy, Jackson offers
four categories for evaluating the presentation of a dictionary, and
twelve categories for critically examining its content.
A particular strength of Jackson's book lies in its relevant
biographical information about influential persons in the history of
lexicography. Reading details about the lives of Frederick Furnivall
(1825-1910, 48-49), James Murray (1837-1915, pp. 49-51) and Peter
Mark Roget (1779-1869, pp. 149-150) brings these characters to life,
contributing to an understanding of not only the motivations that
underlay their efforts, but the challenges they faced as well.
In general, the terms and examples provided conform to standard
linguistic usage. An exception is his characterization of "folk
etymology" as tracing a word to an old cultural practice, such as the
derivation of "bigwig" from the former practice of prominent men
wearing large wigs (p. 119). A folk etymology is, of course, an
erroneous explanation of a word's origin (e.g., sirloin < *Sir Loin)
or popular transformation of a word to a more familiar form (e.g.,
chaise longue > chaise lounge).
Each chapter ends with a useful annotated list of material
entitled "Further Reading" to guide those interested in learning more
about the topic. The internal organization of the chapters is quite
good, with numbered section headers (e.g., "9.6 Usage," "9.6.1
Dialect," "9.6.2 Formality," "9.6.3 Status," etc.). Unfortunately,
there is no concise overview of these section titles, neither in the
table of contents nor at the beginnings of the individual chapters.
One of the major shortcomings of the work is an occasional
tendency to become mired in detail. The description of the features
and use of the electronic version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary
(pp. 70-71) reads more like a user's manual or a sales plug than an
introduction to lexicography. The book becomes similarly bogged down
in the discussion of learner's dictionaries, for example, by citing
the page numbers of all of the color plates in the Oxford Advanced
Learner's Dictionary (p 140).
Repetition is another problem in the book. For example, one is
informed three times (pp. 25, 162, 177) that two columns of text is
usual on a page, but some dictionaries have three columns of text.
Similarly, the detailed explanation of how to use Boolean operators
and wildcards in electronic searches on pages 70-71 is encountered
again on page 141.
The volume could also be improved by expanding its relatively
brief index of 100 or so terms. At times, it is hard to see why some
relatively obscure items were included (e.g., meronymy) but others
omitted (e.g., cognate, etymological fallacy, IPA, Thorndike's block
system, etc.). The lack of better indexing (and the skeletal table of
contents) means that there is much useful information in the volume
that is not readily accessible for later consultation.
"Lexicography: An Introduction" is a work that will be enjoyed
by amateur and professional linguists alike. Its virtues more than
make up for its deficiencies, and the latter could easily be
addressed in a revised edition.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Donald F. Reindl is a doctoral candidate in Slavic linguistics at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. His research interests include historical linguistics, language planning, and language contact. He is currently working as a translator and lecturer at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.