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Some Thoughts about Neologisms Before Starting BDNE IV Robert K. Barnhart A dictionary made up of terms from New English is an obvious departure from the standard dictionary. In particular the dictionary of new terminology enters many terms that in a decade will be quaint reminders of the past or recognizable milestones of previous achievements and recollections of sad debacles. All of its entries, however , are grist for the sociological survey, a fact that has been noted by several linguists from time to time but largely overlooked by most scholars in the fields of social study. The development of vocabulary has been compared to the tide. Words wash up and fade as activities of a society flow and then ebb, each tide reaching a high point in its generation, then subsiding into the oceanic swirl of language. Some words sink into the sand; others join the body of the language for an effect (foodie), for a generation (Savings Bond, McCarthyism), for a lifetime (H-bomb), for an age (acronym). One of the more surprising characteristics of new words/meanings and new collocations is how easily they are created and in what a steady stream they flow. As successive compilations appear, the editors remark on how events of their time seem to spawn unusually large numbers of terms as yet unrecorded or new to the language. Benjamin E. Smith, managing editor of The Century Dictionary, wrote in the preface to the Supplement of that work (1909, vii), which he claimed contained about 120,000 new entries: During the past twenty-five years ... a period probably more productive of neologisms than any other of the same length in the history of the language . . . have come new vocabularies , often of great extent, or new uses of old terms, which the dictionary must record. 52Robert K. Barnhart Perhaps what this passage really means is that if we had funds sufficient to achieve a balanced sampling of contemporary writing, we would find that English generates new terms and collocations to an extent much greater than commonly supposed. Several years ago, it was estimated by one dictionary maker of long experience in monitoring developing English, that "there are perhaps 10,000 new words and meanings a year of which probably over 1,000 are important" (Barnhart 1982, 33-34). This statement supports Benjamin Smith's opinion that the Century staff was working during an unusually active period of Modern English and that its editor was well on the mark in describing the rapid growth of English. Unfortunately, those who study the development of English must rely heavily on written sources of record to find new terms and usages. Several factors contribute to this lamentable situation, not the least of which is a lack of available funds. Funding, or a lack of adequate funding, is probably the most significant factor in determining the quality of a reference book of any kind and is surely the one factor that makes most dictionaries such derivative works. It is primarily a shortage of funds that prevents the collection of vocabulary from achieving any systematic monitoring of written or oral English. Radio and television transcripts are in short supply in our age of talk shows, with only a few outstanding exceptions; video tapes are expensive, especially if they must be purchased consistently and in significant numbers. So too are books and even magazine and newspaper subscriptions. The latter of these has been increasingly costly since governments have withdrawn their subsidy for disseminating information by raising postal rates on so-called third-class matter. However, with careful management, and in spite of the expense of research materials, it is possible to achieve a balanced, modest reading program that will yield a reliable sample of what is happening in written English. In order to do this, it is necessary to pay consistent attention to the mechanics of collecting, that is, to determine average rates of reading time and an average yield for each publication, in order to assess the value of such an investment in collecting. Another important technique is to select and review the reading in publications, such as newspapers, which produce a large volume of printed matter. Establishing average levels of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 51-64
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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