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THE MANIFOLD OBLIGATIONS OF THE DICTIONARY TO ITS USERS Salikoko S. Mufwene The concern of this paper is in part the dictionary/encyclopedia debate, with which Haiman (1980) and Frawley (1981) in particular have concerned themselves recently. It defends the position that dictionaries and encyclopedias are indeed different, though overlapping, kinds of reference works. It argues, for different reasons than Frawley (even though in support of his position), that this distinction is worth preserving not only for theoretical but also for practical purposes, in particular if lexicographers still care to make dictionaries (more) efficient and affordable. However, it also argues that dictionaries should still remain encyclopedic (which is different from being the same as encyclopedias, see Mufwene, 1983a); otherwise they would be of limited practical help to their users. Strictly linguistic dictionaries would fail to account for one of the most important functions of lexical items,1 viz., labels for cognitive categories by and into which speakers' universes of knowledge are articulated/organized (see German field theory's ergliedern). Much to the partial credit of traditional lexicographic practice, a linguistic dictionary (interpreted literally as such) would account for less than the lexical competence of a normal speaker. The average user of a language knows not only how to pronounce its words and combine them together into grammatical sentences but also what contributions each of the individual lexical items used in the sentences makes to the scenarios he/she wishes to share about some world with his/her addressee. The second concern of this paper is those aspects of the dictionary which have been neglected in some or other dictionaries to varying extents. The first of these aspects regards proper names. For reasons which so far remain unjustified to this writer (see below) most dictionaries omit Obligations of the Dictionary them and thus do not provide some much needed information about their linguistic usage. For instance, they do not indicate: a)whether or not in languages such as French and German a proper name is masculine, feminine, or neuter (e. g., l'Allemagne, l'Angola, Les Pyrénées and Les Alpes in French); b)whether the unmarked usage of a name is with or without a definite article (e. g., Paris vs. le Caire, and Versailles vs. Ie Louvre in French, or Cairo vs. The Hague, and Holland vs. The Netherlands in English); c)whether the name in some less obvious cases behaves as a singular or plural name (e. g., Bahamas-xA. vs. the United States-sing, in English); d)whether a proper name for persons is most commonly used for males or females or is unspecified with regard to gender (e. g. Christopher, and Gail in English). In some languages there may be no way of telling the latter distinction either by the use of personal pronouns or by some particular marks on the noun; yet knowing this is often relevant to the development of a discourse. Secondly, in a rather different vein but in line with the conception of lexical items (qua linguistic signs) as complexes of features [which determine their behavior in the language], a variety of formal and pragmatic aspects of lexical competence will be surveyed which are not always accounted for in traditional lexicography.2 It is argued that their neglect is not consonant with current positions on what it takes a normal person to speak a language fluently. The lexicographic shortcomings uncovered in or emerging from McCawley (1975a and b, 1978 and 1983) in regard to dictionary definitions are endorsed here and will not be discussed any further. The main reason for this is that there is little significant contribution to add to them here which would go beyond the limited proposals in Mufwene (1983b) in regard to the linguistic meanings of proper and common Salikoko S. Mufwene nouns. Many of the aspects of lexicography discussed by, e. g., Fillmore (1971a)3 will not be dealt with here either. They will just be partly enumerated as a reminder so that the space available may be devoted more usefully to those aspects of lexical competence which have generally been overlooked in the lexicographic literature. Dictionaries vs. Encyclopedias Dictionary is being used here essentially with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 1-30
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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