First Citations and First Occurrences: How Sensitive to Language Change Were Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century American Dictionaries?
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Volume 41, Issue 2, 2020
- pp. 61-86
- Additional Information
This article compares the relative effectiveness of large, monolingual American dictionaries and a large-scale corpus of American English (Corpus of Historical American English, or COHA) at documenting new verb senses that arise from nouns through conversion, like backpack and earmark. Seventy-five such denominal verbs, established in English at varying times throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, were selected, and their first record in an American dictionary as well as their first attestation in COHA were tallied. The results show that COHA is slightly better at catching a new use in the empirical record, but dictionaries have been effective as well. For nearly a third of the words, COHA and the dictionaries were essentially tied in documenting newly emerging senses. This suggests that dictionaries have been finely attuned to changes in English throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and that a large-scale corpus like COHA will come close to matching the empirical effectiveness of dictionaries. Since each method uncovered some words much earlier than the other method, current lexicographic practice of including corpora as well as traditional methods like reading programs and citation files seems well justified.