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Reviewed by:
  • The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography ed. by Philip Durkin
  • Antonette diPaolo Healey (bio)
The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography, edited by Philip Durkin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xxiii + 700. $155.00. ISBN 978-0-19-969163-0.

All dictionary lovers should have conveniently available on their bookshelves this learned yet accessible collection of thirty-seven essays, edited by Philip Durkin and written by both scholars and professional lexicographers. Let me begin by stating what this book is not. Although it appears in the Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics series and touches on linguistic issues, it is not largely focused on linguistics. Nor is it a “howto” manual for training lexicographers, although it speaks pragmatically about the decisions lexicographers face in their often fraught enterprise of creating, revising, and publishing a dictionary. And although individual essays, especially John Considine’s (605–15), are full of facts about the history of the practice, the collection is not a biography of lexicography. Instead, Durkin has given us an unparalleled gathering of essays by some of the best practitioners and theorists in the field of lexicography, whose insights are so rich and deep that students, scholars, and practitioners at every level will find something of value in this collection. The focus throughout is on lexicography as it is practiced today, its challenges, its opportunities, and its technological developments.

As a glance at the “Contents” and Durkin’s “Introduction” (1–4) makes clear, the book is organized into four parts: The Synchronic Dictionary, encompassing the dictionary for general users, the monolingual dictionary for foreign learners of English, and the bilingual dictionary; Historical Dictionaries; Specialist Dictionaries, ten of which are surveyed; and Specific Topics, thirteen in all, ranging from theories of lexical semantics (Geeraerts, 425–38) to the practicalities of dictionary [End Page 114] production (Grundy and Rawlinson, 561–78).1 Advances in corpus linguistics, the development of electronic corpora, and the distributional power of the Internet emerge across the essays as the three most transformative features in today’s lexicography.

Although many will dip in and out of this volume for specific points, making use of the massive “References” (617–77) and the helpful “Index” (679–98), few will read it consecutively chapter by chapter. That is a pity because one of the most impressive features of this Handbook is the controlling vision that selected and guided this comprehensive collection. Each chapter is lapidary-like, with clearly labeled and numbered sub-divisions that helpfully guide readers to the contents. The essays are uniformly good, and some of them are superb. If the latter were in an international competition, we would call them “best in show.” Many either illuminate a type of specialist dictionary through a case study or reveal commonalities among the various types, such as “Labelling and Metalanguage” (Brewer, 488–500), “Making Decisions about Inclusion and Exclusion” (Diamond, 532–45), or “Description and Prescription in Dictionaries” (Mugglestone, 546–60), etc.

The essays in Part III, Specialist Dictionaries, for example, include an impressive range: place-name (Styles, 255–70), personal and surname (McClure, 271–91), pronouncing (Sangster, 292–309), spelling (Buchmann, 310–24), slang (Coleman, 325–37), etymological (Buchi, 338–49), regional and dialect (Upton, 381–92), scientific and technical (Becker, 393–407), and dead languages (Ashdowne, 350–66), together with the outlier diachronic and synchronic thesauruses (Kay and Alexander, 367–80). McClure, Coleman, and Buchi deserve particular mention for their vigorous articulation of best practices in their specialist dictionaries and for their willingness to point out the inadequacies of the standard dictionaries in their disciplines with lynx-eyed clarity. Few specialized types have been excluded, although Durkin expresses regret for the omission of essays on dictionaries of sign language and on the “lexicography of endangered languages, less-used languages, and less well-resourced languages” (4 and n.1). [End Page 115]

The essays predominantly consider English-language dictionaries, although the lexicography of some other languages is also illustrated: French (Fontenelle, 44–61), Welsh (Hawke, 176–202), German (Buchmann, 310–24), Greek and Latin (Ashdowne, 350–66), and Austrian German (Dollinger, 590–603). As is evident, the volume is largely Eurocentric. Exceptionally wide-ranging in her illustrative examples for “Explaining Meaning in Bilingual...


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