Lexicography and the Spoken Word
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 8, 1986
- pp. 65-73
- Additional Information
LEXICOGRAPHY AND THE SPOKEN WORD1 R. J. NELSON In Confession of Creativity Paul Klee makes the striking observation that "art does not reproduce what is visible, it makes things visible." Bilingual lexicography as a genre of linguistic and literary endeavor ought to strive for the same high goal. It must not merely set down what is known about the interface where two languages meet; it should rather be an active principle itself, clearly defining those distinctions and similarities of usage that characterize two speech communities. Many discriminating connoisseurs of the foreign-language lexicon consider it only a guide to accurate written mastery of a code of communication other than their own. No assumption could be further from the truth. As long ago as 1620 and as far away as Siena, Lorenzo Franciosini, professor of Spanish in that Italian city-state, charted a new course for bidirectional lexicography when he published an exhaustive dictionary of the Spanish and Italian languages, relying heavily on numerous popular sayings in the oral tradition to illuminate his entries. Thus was born a new usefulness for the genre, as a resource capable of increasing spoken spontaneity in a second language. Yet many educators, even today, fail to understand how lexicography can adroitly work hand in glove with their efforts at teaching the spoken word. To quote Professor Williams in a letter I received from him, "Lexicography is long and time is fleeting." Recently, while teaching a class of second-year Italian at a secondary school in South Florida, I had amply brought home to me how valuable a teaching device the bidirectional bilingual dictionary can be. My students and I were reviewing tense formation of the passato prossimo and the passato rimoto, and I decided to vary the repetitions that the text provided by using the Italian lemmata from several copies of a dictionary on my bookshelf. Each of us turned to the same article. Our conversational efforts immediately sprang to life, for the verb that headlined the entry was repeated in no fewer than twenty contexts, all thematically related and easily varied according to the needs of our extemporizing. I next selected a 65 66Lexicography and the Spoken Word noun with a deep semantic field of usage examples and was amazed at how easily they fit into an uninhibited flow of dialogue, espcially since each variation had the same referent. This past academic year my second-year Spanish students in North Florida used the end vocabulary in their text to the same advantage, set free from the story line of the lessons where the lexemes were first introduced. The usage example demonstrates the lemma in varying syntagmatic relationships that are extremely useful to classroom conversaton. This does not mean that the usage discrimination , so much more economical of space and the backbone of retrievability, ought not to continue to be the primary mechanism used to identify the specific function of a head-word. Far from it. Nevertheless, there are times when the usage example serves a better purpose both in oral and written communication. This is especially true when the discrimination is in reality the only choice available, that is to say when it and it alone combines with the head-word to elicit the following equivalence in the target language. The usage examples offered below for the French entry échappée illustrate the principle: échappée de vue sur leunexpected glimpse of the golfegulf échappée de beau tempsinterlude of good weather échappée de soleilsudden burst of sunshine For the advanced student, such syntactic combinations are most helpful, creating patches of dialogue with appropriate subjects like Ie train, le printemps, and des nuages. Substitution of usage discriminations in this case would seriously flaw the effectiveness of the article, as the following reconstruction makes clear: échappée f(de vue sur le golfe) unexpected glimpse; (de beau temps) interlude; (de soleil) sudden burst Such a style might easily lead the dictionary user to think that échappée could gloss 'sudden burst of energy', a totally R. J. Nelson67 erroneous conclusion. An even more telling example is the Italian entry forte, where a drastic change in meaning depends on the character of the accompanying noun...