The Dictionary Society of North America: A History of the Early Years (Part II)
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The Dictionary Society of North America:
A History of the Early Years (Part II)

The present article—in four parts, of which this is the second—is a history of the Dictionary Society of North America (DSNA) in its infancy and youth, thus also a chapter in the history of the language sciences more generally, as well as a contribution to the sociology of organizations. This installment outlines the network of early leaders who formed DSNA and promoted its development, partly on the basis of organizational and social intelligence, partly from mundane labor, and partly from the interactions of their agendas and personalities. Beyond the network, this installment describes various complementary styles of leadership, some focused on members, some on structures and systems, some supportive and some critical, but all instrumental in DSNA's progress during the society's early period and tested in the challenges the fledgling society's leaders faced. The third part of this history will describe DSNA's members, and the fourth its varied activities from 1977 to 1989, the first "period" of the society's history.


Dictionary Society of North America, Dictionaries (journal), history of learned societies, history of language sciences, sociology of organizations[End Page 1]


Previously (Adams 2014), I described a decade-long series of conferences and intellectual impulses along the circuit of American lexicography—beginning with the original donation of dictionaries by Warren and Suzanne Cordell to the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University (ISU) in 1969 and ending with publication of the first volume of Dictionaries in 1979—that led to the founding of the Dictionary Society of North America (DSNA), by no means inevitably. Indeed, an archival view of a learned society's early years points up the frequent, critical contingencies that motivate all history, but does so at a human scale, all the more evident to senior members of DSNA who helped to found and organize it—or knew or know those who did, for some are active in the society at this writing—as well as practitioners of the language sciences who aren't members, but who knew the founders and organizers who populate my account.

That first decade is arguably DSNA's prehistory, but just as arguably the prehistory of a thing is part of its history, though usefully distinguished within it. DSNA began when the society was founded in 1977. Of course, it was a paper beginning, one that required ratification in subsequent events and processes, not only those of governance, but centrally those, since governance of a society like DSNA is implicated in its publications program and other activities. Having already dealt with the founding decade, here I focus on the long first decade or so of DSNA's life—the ratifying decade—from 1977 through 1990. Dividing the complex life of an organization into calendar decades is obviously arbitrary and artificial. DSNA's history can be cut sensibly along various lines in distinct yet truthful patterns. I've chosen to stop in 1990 and to denominate the preceding decades as DSNA's "early period" because 1989–1990 marks the transition away from ISU—until then, the society's home—thus also from the original secretary-treasurer team of J. Edward Gates and Donald Hobar, both of whom taught there. In the same year, Dictionaries passed from Richard W. Bailey's originating editorship. The amount and types of change, still more of which figures later in this account, indicate some sort of organizational watershed.

In the previous installment, I announced a two-part history. Part I covered DSNA's prehistory and founding; Part II, I projected, would characterize both leaders and members of DSNA during the society's early [End Page 2] period, as well as their activities then. I have since realized, while working through DSNA's archives, not only that each of those three subjects deserves its own installment, but that the archives can bear the requisite depth of inquiry, so what was once supposed to be a two-part history will comprise four parts, instead. Thus, a third installment will outline membership trends and consider members in the aggregate, as well as through particular members...