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Reviewed by:
  • Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  • Elaine Gold (bio)
Katherine Barber, editor. Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition Oxford University Press. xix, 1830. $59.95

The first edition of this dictionary (1998) was greeted with great enthusiasm. Here was an excellent dictionary based on extensive research into the characteristics of Canadian English. It included words and expressions unique to Canada, such as toonie and Nanaimo bar; place names such as Kawartha Lakes and Jacques Cartier Strait; and such people as David Suzuki and Jane Jacobs. It included Canadian variations of pronunciation, spelling and meanings, and regional vocabulary such as hangashore ('an idle person, esp. one regarded as too lazy to fish') from Newfoundland and the Maritimes.

The second edition has now been published, only seven years after the first, and, according to the editor, Katherine Barber, it has been completely revised, with five thousand new words, senses, and phrases. These include more Canadianisms, more biographies, and two hundred derivatives of place names – that is, the name for the inhabitants of a particular place. I have now discovered that there are Canadians who are also Moose Javians, Nanaimoites, or Ottawans, although we must await a future edition to learn what to call someone from Oshawa. The range of Canadian culture, from the tundra to the streets of Toronto, is apparent in such new listings as muktuk ('traditional Inuit food consisting of the skin and surface blubber of a whale'), and shtreimel ('a round broad-brimmed hat, edged with fur worn by some Hasidic Jews').

There are more people, places, and events: for example, Michael J. Fox has now joined Terry Fox, Mississippi Mills has joined Mississippi River, and Nunavut Day is listed alongside Nunavut. While much information has been added, some has also been deleted: surprisingly, for this linguistic endeavour, the second edition no longer includes official languages in a country's entry. You will have to consult the first edition to learn that the official languages of Rwanda are both Rwanda (a Bantu language) and French, and that Romansh is one of the four official languages of Switzerland.

Also new to this edition are recommended word breaks in the headwords. These are provided in the optimistic hope that writers will consult this dictionary rather than relying on computer programs to divide words at the end of lines. The breaks suggested reflect the derivation and meaning of the words rather than traditional rules of syllable division. Thus alpine is listed as alp-ine, preserving the structure of alp + ine, rather than al-pine. Although this division better represents the word's meaning (no pines are involved), it does not reflect pronunciation; such unexpected breaks might actually slow readers rather than aid them.

Pronunciation is, in any case, less of a priority for this edition, and this is, for me, its main drawback. While the first edition gave a pronunciation [End Page 321] for every entry, the second edition provides pronunciations 'where necessary.' The guidelines used to decide where pronunciations were necessary are not explained; it appears that pronunciations are given for less familiar words and for words that show variation across Canada. The entries for schedule, tomato,drama, and student all include the two pronunciations found in Canada, but this pattern is not consistent: no pronunciation is given for new, although the first edition provides the two Canadian variants. It was also not considered necessary to provide pronunciations for short words like mush. But if readers have to consult this dictionary for the meaning of mush, they may need guidance on whether it rhymes with bush or brush. New Canadians might wonder whether skew sounds like skyou or skoo. Does lethal rhyme with methyl (which is supplied with a pronunciation)? What about Lethbridge? Information that might not be necessary for native speakers of Canadian English could indeed be necessary for English speakers from other lands and for those who have English as a second language. These readers will prefer the first edition for its complete pronunciation information.

Overall, however, this dictionary is a delight. It is clear, easy to read, with the reliable etymologies one expects from Oxford dictionaries. It provides extensive information about international English as well as vocabulary and usages particular...


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