Language historians and historical lexicographers have proposed and—though not without argument—more or less, settled on historical periods in which structural and cultural facts of a language are identifiably independent from contiguous periods and internally coherent. Scrutiny of the justifications for canonical periods, however, exposes their inconsistency and incoherence; thus, some scholars have questioned the explanatory value of canonical periods and indeed the very notion of historical period. This article grants the problems attending periodization but argues that period is still a productive chronological category for historical lexicography, because we can imagine looser, smaller-scale, and opportunistic periods. Such periods aren't matters of speculation—each mode already features in one or another dictionary. Some depend on what dictionary readers bring to the chronological evaluation of quotation evidence, others on historical events such as settlement. Still others periodize at a human scale, reflecting the language of lifetimes rather than of centuries. All these cases minimize the scales of periods, and, at the opposite extreme from canonical periods, lexicography can offer micro-histories of words that help to answer linguistic and cultural questions beyond the grasp of comprehensive works.


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pp. 75-103
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