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PEOPLE AND LANGUAGE NAMES IN ANGLO-AMERICAN DICTIONARIES JAMES RADER Since the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam, and other lexicographical enterprises began surveying a broad range of the English lexicon in the nineteenth century, the names of peoples and languages have gained acceptance as a part of what a user might expect to find in a dictionary. This paper discusses aspects of the nature of these words, their history in dictionaries, and some of the lessons of my own experience in selecting and defining them for a desk dictionary. What I mean by "the name of a language" is perhaps clear enough without elaboration, the notion "language" being a fairly well-accepted convention. Something needs to be said, though, about "name of a people." Aggregates of people are usually given names because there is some feature of the aggregate that makes it seem a group and not a random collection of individuals. One such feature is association with a geographic or political entity, whether through origin, residence, or citizenship. Most of the groups I wish to discuss are named to reflect such an association , though I leave out of consideration names of sport teams, street gangs, military units, and other aggregates, all of which can usually be associated with a particular place but for various reasons do not find their way into general dictionaries . I propose to call the labels to be discussed ethnonyms, suggesting both the Greek word éthnos and the term "ethnic group." However, there are ethnic groups, or what are 125 126James Rader conventionally called so, that are not named by ethnonyms. The words Jew or Sikh could be taken as labels for ethnic groups, and frequently are so taken in the United States, but the most distinctive characteristic of these groups is shared religious belief, so that they fit better with, say, Christian or Muslim. 1 American black could be taken as the label for an ethnic group, but since the term singles out supposed physical characteristics, I will not call it an ethnonym—AfricanAmerican , on the other hand, singles out common origin and is an ethnonym. On the other hand, not all ethnonyms name ethnic groups. Members of an ethnic group are usually characterized by an "internal sense of distinctiveness" or "external perception of distinctiveness," to borrow phrases from the Harvard Encyclopedia of Ethnic Groups.2 A label like Asian, referring to nothing more than residence on a continent, I will call an ethnonym , but that implies nothing about whether or not such people perceive themselves or are perceived in a distinctive way.3 When I want to refer specifically to a label for a language, I will use the term glossonym, though the treatment of language labels in dictionaries is very closely linked with the treatment of labels for peoples, so unless I specify otherwise, much of what is said below about ethnonyms is true also of glossonyms. The history of the inclusion of ethnonyms in dictionaries is rather idiosyncratic. An ethnonym is, after all, a given name with unique reference, rather like a placename in nature . There is often a close derivational or etymological relation between a placename and an ethnonym. Placenames either have or have not been included in English dictionaries, in the text or in an addendum, presumably by a conscious decision of the editors. Ethnonyms, on the other hand, have People and Language Names in Dictionaries127 crept into dictionaries very gradually. Dr. Johnson's dictionary , including its post-Johnsonian incarnations, leaves out virtually anything that could be considered an ethnonym or glossonym, with a trifling number of exceptions, such as the crucial word English. The ethnonyms that first get into a dictionary appear to be those that are also adjectives linked with a placename, as, for example, Italian 'of Italy' or French 'of France'. Given the admissibility of these, it would be perverse not to also enter the nominal sense of Italian, 'an inhabitant of Italy', 'the language of Italy's inhabitants'. These kinds of ethnonyms we find in Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of 1828, though Webster does not appear to go beyond this. To make a comparative index of ethnonyms in dictionaries , I chose as a corpus for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 125-138
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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