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HISTORICAL PRINCIPLES IN DICTIONARIES OF NON-STANDARDIZED VOCABULARIES RICHARD A. SPEARS Basing a dictionary on historical material constitutes the technique of dictionary making most widely known and most acceptable to scholars. It is not surprising that the great dictionary project proposed by the Philological Society utilized both the methodology and the findings of historical and comparative philology. Like the Oxford English Dictionary , Craigie's A Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, and Mathews' A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles are historically based in that they present numerous citations, but it is not the presence of citations alone that constitutes a historical basis. It is the special goals of the theory or philosophy underlying the use of citations that is central to historical principles. The OED's full title, A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, suggests that history is used in contrast to other possible orientations, such as an obsession with correctness , a bias toward or against Latin, a bias in selecting citations or entry words, or other practices. The philosophy of lexicography set down by James A. H. Murray in the introduction to the OED provides a rationale for dealing with or containing the need for deterrnining correctness in language . The historical basis is that the history of the use of a word—as evidenced by a chronology of citations—should be the primary evidence for the word's Englishness, sense divisions, form, spelling, and usage. 97 98Richard A. Spears This philosophy covered the standard variety of English almost exclusively and relied on printed citations at a time when standard English dominated the universe ofprinted English . In effect, the data was skewed towards standard English . Despite Murray's assertion that the great dictionary embraced "a large measure of dialectal usage and slang," it contained only a small amount of the slang fisted in Farmer and Henley's Slang and Its Analogs. Similarly, Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary goes far beyond the dialect material found in the OED. The OED philosophy was not tested against slang, jargon, colloquialisms, and other similar vocabulary types. For some, the OED format of printing citations at each entry is equated with historical principles, but the original use of history in a dictionary of standard vocabulary has to do with demonstrating a historical basis for favoring certain senses, spellings, and etymologies of words. Resolving such matters may be important for the standard vocabulary, but it is typically irrelevant for slang, jargon, regionalisms, colloquialisms , argot, dialect, and similar registers. A few illustrative citations do not provide the historical information needed to decide matters of phonological change, morphological change, new senses, expired senses, and all the many other things that are evident in a continuous chronology of quotations. Nonetheless, some people seem satisfied that the use of illustrative quotations constitutes evidence that some type of historical principle has been exercised. Some specialized dictionaries are concerned with types of vocabulary that have been termed slang, jargon, regionalisms , colloquialisms, and the like. These vocabulary types have many casual users, but no usage monitors or exemplary users. Users of these registers may be under social pressure to conform to the rapidly changing social setting of which Historical Principles in Non-Standardized Vocabularies 99 they are a part, but they are not under pressure to conform to a historical, pre-existing, traditional norm. In fact, innovation in these registers is desirable. This contrasts sharply with the pressures in society to use standard English. Standard dictionaries aim at being as complete as possible , while non-standardized dictionaries are totally openended . The absence of an item from a standard dictionary may signify that the item is not a legitimate part of standard English. The absence of a particular item from a slang dictionary , however, says nothing about the item's legitimacy. In these specialized dictionaries, there is no thought that the forms and senses occurring in the printed citations are the only valid forms. Citations for standard dictionaries are gathered by an exhaustive study of printed material. The nonprint sources for a collection of slang, jargon, colloquialisms, or dialect can never be studied exhaustively. Unlike standard English, slang, jargon, regionalisms, colloquialisms , and so forth have no codified or documented standards...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 97-109
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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