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The Dictionary as Grammarian: Part-of-Speech Definitions and Labels Robert S. Wachal Although modern monolingual dictionaries for nativespeaking adults are not intended to be major sources of grammatical information, they do provide a part-of-speech label for each entry, and they list, in die prefatory material, the set of labels used. Dictionaries also include entries for a wide range of grammatical terms. The evidence reported in this article will demonstrate that the grammatical information in the prefatory material is typically quite inadequate, that some refinement in grammatical labeling within an entry would be helpful, and that the definitions of the basic parts of speech are often seriously flawed. The shortcomings to be discussed below are seldom due to the failure of dictionaries to reflect the latest claims (or even earlier ones) of linguistic theory, but rather to the failure to succeed on their own terms. Consequently, suggestions made in the past calling for a radical shift in the grammatical system used will be ignored , as will most of the suggestions calling for an increase in the amount of grammatical material to be included in an entry, especially when such material is not likely to be useful to most native-speaking adults. The first dictionary (or dictionary-like publication) to list words widi grammatical labels was the Alphabetical Dictionary attributed to William Lloyd and Bishop John Wilkins and attached to Bishop WiIkins 's Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668). Bishop Wilkins's essay contains a grand classification scheme into which all the "things and notions" in the world would supposedly fit. His effort was an attempt at a universal componential semantics, although in that day it was called universal grammar. Classificatory symbols were used in defining die words in the Alphabetical Dictionary . Bishop Wilkins also discussed his own grammatical scheme in 160Robert S. Wachal some detail. For reasons that are not clear, however, it is the 1735 New General English Dictionary of Thomas Dyche and William Pardon that usually gets the credit for being the first dictionary to give grammatical labels. The grammatical system outlined by Bishop Wilkins is a rather unorthodox dividing and recombining of the traditional part-of-speech categories into six superordinate categories, but most of the familiar subordinate category terms are nevertheless used in the Alphabetical Dictionary. Dyche and Pardon, on the other hand, collapse all but substantives (nouns and pronouns), adjectives, and verbs into a category called particle, comprising adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. Samuel Johnson, who also wrote extensively about grammar in his preface without, however, fully enumerating the parts of speech, used a system much like the eight categories (or nine if one differentiates the articles from the adjectives) that most dictionaries use today. These systems and many others are well described by Ian Michael (1970). In the discussion of the Dyche and Pardon dictionary in Starnes and Noyes (reprint of the 1946 edition), it is noted that: prefixed to the work is "A Compendious English Grammar," which contrives in the space of nine pages of minute print to discuss die parts of speech, declension, conjugation, and comparison , with examples and paradigms. Here is die remote precedent for many modern dictionaries which carry such a helpful grammatical section. (129) That was from the perspective of the 1940's, but in 1961, Harry R. Warfel felt obliged to say: Recent dictionaries have uniformly limited grammatical information to die entries and have not ventured to devote a section to the structure of English or to the grammar of current English. Some of diem give grammatical material in a history of English, but in general there has been no adequate presentation of die systematic organization of English. (478) The lack of an adequate grammatical preface persists to this day. One is fortunate to find any explanation at all of the grammatical labels used throughout a given dictionary. In some cases there is not even a listing of the labels themselves. A comparison across a number of contemporary dictionaries reveals considerable variation in the extent to which grammatical labels are described in an introductory sec- The Dictionary as Grammarian1 61 tion and also some variation in the set of grammatical labels used...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 159-170
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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