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Dictionaries, 1(1979) THE BEST OF BRITISH AND AMERICAN LEXICOGRAPHY * Gabriele Stein When reviewing the rather disappointing supplement to the Third International^, Webster's 6,000 Words*, I regretted the lack of originality and experimenting initiative in English lexicography of the seventies, in which the glorification of mere entry figures seemed to have become an end in itself. This attitude of lexicographers and publishers of trying to outdo rivalling dictionaries by advertising a higher number of dictionary entries has a tradition of more than four hundred years in English lexicography3. After the pioneering work of Philip B. Gove and his lexicographic team in Springfield, which made W3 one of the most discussed dictionaries of our time4, most of the more recent dictionaries , such as R. W. Burchfield's very worthy supplements to the OED5, Webster's New Collegiate6, The Bamhart Dictionary of New English Since 19631, and J. B. Sykes's new edition ofthe Concise Oxford6, strike us as rather traditional. They all are valuable reference books which supply us with the latest new words, meanings, and idioms used on both sides of the Atlantic, but when compared to W3 they can hardly be said to be the outcome of a new theory of lexicography embraced by their respective editors. One may wonder whether this state of the art is not intrinsically linked up with the public stir caused by the publication of W3. The publication of a major dictionary constitutes a considerable financial investment for a publishing house, even more so if its books are restricted to dictionaries alone. If the dictionary is not accepted, the financial loss is very serious indeed. Gove and his team stepped from the trodden paths of traditional lexicography and tried to produce a dictionary of the English language which incorporated many of the findings and attitudes of modern linguistics and in which the description of actual language usage was the overall guiding principle. The way had already been prepared for this new development by another American lexicographer, C. L. Barnhart9. The general outcry at the publication of W3 was due to a clash between this lexicographic principle and the traditional public opinion which expects a dictionary to be much more than purely descriptive. Webster's descriptivism was thus not taken for what it was, but interpreted as authorizing language permissiveness. Yet W3 did not only offer a new underlying theory of lexicography, it also excelled in the detail and comprehensiveness of its lexical entries, and in doing so it had opened the field for more experimentation and progress in lexicography. The *I would like to express my thanks to Richard W. Bailey for his much appreciated comments on an earlier version of this paper. 2 GABRIELE STEIN field was left untouched, however. It may be that W3's hovering between commercial success and failure made established publishing houses shrink from trying out the newly opened-up ground. Change could therefore only come from a daring newcomer, and the venture was not to be a large quarto comprehensive dictionary but rather a small octavo one. And it came from a different lexicographic background, namely that which focuses on the teaching of English as a foreign language. With "over 55,000 entries" the coverage of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE)10 is slightly smaller than that of the sixth edition of the COD, but slightly larger than that of its most obvious competitor, the Advanced Learner's Dictionary^1. The vocabulary covered is regarded as the "central 'core' of the language", although, as with all other smaller size dictionaries , the principles according to which the selection was made out of the vast vocabulary stock of English have never been disclosed. The LDOCE advertises itself on the cover as "the up-to-date learning dictionary". The up-to-dateness lies in the inclusion of material reflecting the latest developments in the vocabulary of English and in its linguistic analysis, whilst the learning aspect is highlighted in the strong emphasis on explicitness. With this stress on explicitness, which I shall illustrate in greater detail below, the editors follow one of the crucial tenets of modern linguistics which became particularly prominent in transformational-generative grammar. The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 1-23
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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