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Dictionary Definitions of Linguistic Terms P. K. Saha JLIictionary definitions of some linguistic terms exemplify an old South Asian proverb which notes that the darkest spot is right beneath the lamp. Since language is the main concern of dictionaries, one might expect dictionaries to pay special attention to linguistic terminology. In keeping with the logic of the proverb, however, it is this particular area that needs some extra illumination. The average college dictionary contains about a thousand words that involve language in one way or another, and in this paper I will examine about a dozen or so linguistic terms in three widely used dictionaries and show that there are serious inadequacies in the definitions of these words. The three dictionaries are Merriam-Webster's Collegiate * Dictionary, Tenth Edition 1993 (WlO), Webster's New World Dictionary, 3d College Edition 1988 [1991] (WNWD), and Random House Webster's College Dictionary 1991 [1992] (RHWCD). The problems are of three types: first, some of the definitions are inaccurate; second, there is inadequate coordination between definitions of some related words; third, there is the problem of incomplete or missing linguistic definitions. A striking example of the first problem is the definition of reflexive pronoun in WlO: a pronoun referring to the subject of die sentence, clause, or verbal phrase in which it stands; specif: a personal pronoun compounded with -self. WNWD and RHWCD also make the same basic claim. All three dictionaries say that the antecedent of a reflexive must be a subject. In many sentences, however, the antecedent of a reflexive can be an object . For example, in sentences like: 150P. K. Saha (1)You can divide a number by itself. (2)The chef folded die dough over itself. (3)The government cannot protect individuals from diemselves . the reflexives clearly have direct objects as dieir antecedents. WNWD and RHWCD bodi make the problem worse by claiming diat a reflexive is necessarily an object. Here is the definition of reflexive from die RHWCD: "(of a pronoun) used as an object with the same referent as die subject of a verb . . ." According to diis definition, a reflexive must be an object of some kind, but in sentences such as: (4)John is not himself today. the reflexive himself is not an object but rather a predicate nominative . Since better definitions or descriptions of reflexive appeared long ago (see Lees and Klima 1963, FaIu 1977, and Saha 1987), die shortcomings in these dictionary definitions should have been remedied by now. Closely related to reflexives and to pronouns in general, die words anaphor and anaphora have also been topics of scholarly discussion for many years (see Reinhart 1983 and works cited there). Yet anaphor is listed only in one of these diree dictionaries (WlO). All three define die rhetorical meaning of anaphora properly, but the linguistic meaning is eidier not mentioned at all (WNWD) or incorrectly defined (WlO and RHWCD). The RHWCD defines anaphora as: the use of a word as a regular grammatical substitute for a preceding word or group of words, as the use of it and do in I know it and they do, too. WlO defines anaphora as: use of a grammatical substitute (as a pronoun or a pro-verb) to refer to die denotation of a preceding word or group of words. . . . It is significant that the word preceding is used in both definitions. Neidier definition can accommodate routine cases in which antecedents do not precede die words to which diey refer. In sentences such as: (5)A picture of himself would be acceptable to Bill as a gift. (6)The promises to each odier diat Mary and Joe made were never broken. _______________Dictionary Definitions of Linguistic Terms____________151 the anaphoric words himself and each other have antecedents that do not precede die words to which they refer. In (5), the antecedent of 'himself is 'Bill', while in (6) the antecedent of 'each other' is 'Mary and Joe'. The definitions of anaphora in these dictionaries ought to be revised. At the very least, the phrase "a preceding word" in these definitions should be replaced by "a word or group of words usually appearing elsewhere in the discourse." Most of the anaphoric words cited...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 149-158
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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