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A DICTIONARY OF BRITICISMS JOHN ALGEO The Dictionary of American English was prepared by a Briton, Sir William Craigie. It seems only fitting that Americans should return the favor, at least in some small way, by producing a dictionary for British English. These remarks describe a project underway to do just that. The participants in the project are Allen Walker Read, Emeritus of Columbia University, and John Algeo. This essay briefly characterizes the scope and aim of the project, its history and present status, and some problems in connection with its implementation; it ends with a few remarks about how this dictionary will be distinctive and what uses can be anticipated for it.1 Scope and Aim First, the project Read and I envision has a range less like Craigie's Dictionary ofAmerican English than like Mitford M. Mathews's Dictionary of Americanisms. As a short working title, we are now calling the project A Dictionary ofBriticisms, although it has gone by a variety of titles in earlier reports, including A Dictionary of the English ofEngland, which Read used in his MLA paper of 1968, published in this issue of Dictionaries (149-63). Changes in the working title of the project mirror some of the difficulties in its subject. The title A Dictionary of the English ofEngland was adopted because a prospective British publisher had objected to the word Briticisms. There is an attitude common even among otherwise educated and linguistically sophisticated persons that regards the standard form of the English language used in the United Kingdom as "English" per se and all other forms as variations from that standard. For those who adopt such an attitude, the term Briticism is empty of meaning and useless, since there is pure English on the one hand and Americanisms, Australianisms, Canadianisms, etc. on the other hand. 164 John Algeo165 That attitude is, of course, insular nonsense. A single national standard for English arose during the Renaissance, only to be fragmented by the settlement of the New World, the independence of the United States, the growth of the Empire, and the fragmentation of the last into a number of culturally linked but politically separate states. Today there are as many national standards for English as there are independent English-speaking nations. The United Kingdom is only one of them, by no means any longer primus inter pares. Therefore, its distinctive linguistic features—Briticisms—are as much in need of a name and of descriptions as those of any other English-speaking country (Algeo, "Americanisms, Briticisms"). General dictionaries of English have been weak in listing and identifying national variations. American dictionaries are weaker than British ones in this regard, although there are various reasons why that should be the case (Algeo, rev. of Lexicography as a Profession), and Briticisms have usually been less well recorded than Americanisms. Specialized glossaries of Briticisms have tended to fall into one of two partially overlapping genres: (1) the humorous description of regional dialects like those in Richard W. Bailey's bibliography "Teach Yourself Speechways", or (2) the parallel list, whose history has been chronicled by Allen Walker Read in his paper on "The Making of Parallel Lists." On the whole, then, Briticisms have been described infrequently, inadequately, unseriously, and unprofessionally. Most comparative studies of British and American English have focused on American, characterizing it as it differs from present-day British English. As Allen Walker Read wrote in 1938, in a statement that is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago: 166A Dictionary of Briticisms Studies of present-day English are usually based on the assumption that the English of England is the norm of the language and that American English is a variant form of it. But inasmuch as Americans have received their language by inheritance from the past, springing from colonists who spoke English as their mother tongue, it would be a reasonable experiment to judge British English upon the norm of American English. On this assumption, which has much to be said for it, the words found in England but not in America could justly be called "Briticisms" (186). Historically speaking, British English and American English are equally old, both dating from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 164-178
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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