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ENGAGED LEXICOGRAPHY: COMMENT ON AN EAST GERMAN DICTIONARY D. B. Sands In 1977, the Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften in East Berlin completed a comprehensive dictionary of the German language. Its six volumes list some eighty to ninety thousand words in well over two thousand double-column pages. Its title, Wörterbuch der deutschen Gegenwartssprache (WDGS), indicates intended coverage.1 It is, presumably, a synchronic treatment of the contemporary language. A casual look at entries, especially those of high frequency words, suggests it is also inductive and descriptive since present are numerous attested quotations which not only illustrate definitions, but also appear to have generated them. The dictionary is a significant publication, but to lexicographic eyes it has flaws which balance off its virtues, and the former in particular invite comment. Pointing them out is an easy matter. Less easy is arriving at an understanding of why they are there. To be sure, the WDGS suffers in comparison with its West German counterpart, Das grosse Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (GWDS), which was begun a year before the completion of the WDGS and which, except for its sixth and final volume, is also complete.2 Comparison of the two inevitably leads to pointless denigration of the East German effort. More profitable is a description of the particular goals, implicit and explicit, which were set for the East German editors and a determination of how such goals were met. Approaching the WDGS in this manner is an enlightening procedure. First, a general comment, perhaps an obvious one. For the German language there is no equivalent to the Merriam Internationals or to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary—certainly not to the multivolume Littré (1961) or to the multivolume Robert (1966). The same can be said for desk-size dictionaries . Only Gerhard Wahrig's Grosses deutsches Wörterbuch of 1967 and its subsequent revision and printings is more or less comparable to a Merriam Collegiate. What serves as the overall dictionary in German speaking areas is the modest-size Duden Rechtschreibungswörterbuch, whether produced in Mannheim or Leipzig, and this retains the function it had when the first edition appeared in 1800-—it is still primarily an orthographic tool.3 What this means is that when East German authorities began planning the WDGS in the early fifties, they had no national prototypes which could serve as guides for describing and codifying the language. They may have derived some guidance from a Russian dictionary published in the late thirties, and brief note of this is taken later. For the most part, however, they seem to have formulated editorial principles on the spot once they began to take seriously the production of a multi-volume dictionary. Keeping this in mind makes the occasional technical ineptitudes of the finished product forgivable. In a talk given April 1952 at the opening of the Institut für deutsche Sprache und Literatur in East Berlin, Wolfgang Steinitz outlined the then current ideas behind the WDGS* German, he said, needs, in addition to a descriptive grammar and a Marx-Engels lexicon, a synchronic dictionary of the contempo39 40Engaged Lexicography rary language, for which one model exists—"das ausgezeichnete 1935-1940 in 4 Bänden abgeschlossene Wörterbuch des Russischen unter Redaktion von Uschakow" (500).5 This, he said, is the only dictionary known to him where the "Wortschatz einer modernen Kultursprache" is provided with "weitgehend differenzierten stilistischen Vermerken" indicating "verschiedene Stile und Gebrauchsweisen" (500), a remark which presages the numerous style, usage, and politically derived guide labels which distinguish the completed WDGS. The proposed Textcorpus for the dictionary, Steinitz said, will be a "grundlegender Wortschatz" (essentially, a core language) derived from the "bildungstragenden Schicht von heute"—in other words, from the socio-politically active masses.6 In the completed WDGS, as noted later, the Textcorpus appears to have been predominantly printed material of an overwhelmingly belletristic nature. This, at least, gives the text a lexicographic appearance, although one which constantly contrasts with an overlay of socialistically oriented definitions , which are, whatever else, strongly encyclopedic. Steinitz makes no definite remark concerning the purpose of the WDGS. Günther Drosdowski, however , the chief editor of the GWDS, says that the WDGS "stellt sich...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 39-51
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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