Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries

By Millar, Robert McColl | Scottish Language, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries


Millar, Robert McColl, Scottish Language


Scotland in Definition: A History of Scottish Dictionaries

Iseabail Macleod and J. Derrick McClure. John Donald, 2012.

ISBN 9781906566494, 25, 342 [pounds sterling] pp.

This fine book acts as a worthy reminder both to Scots and those furth of Scotland of the great contribution which Scottish lexicographers have made to the study of the native languages of Scotland, to a greater understanding of the English language and, indeed, to the theory and methodology of lexicography itself. By the same token, it also demonstrates how one English enthusiast guided by native wit and great talent could revolutionise the lexicographical study of Gaelic. Despite the many vicissitudes through which scholarly lexicography on the languages of Scotland has passed, the reader is left with a sense of tenacity and forward thinking which is carrying the lexicographical tradition into what appears to be a bright future.

Edited by Iseabail Macleod, whose association with a range of Scots dictionaries is well known and who therefore has insider knowledge for much of the recent history described in the book, and J. Derrick McClure, perhaps the most qualified person to talk about the historical development and codification of both Gaelic and Scots, Scotland in Definition demonstrates a strong sense of single purpose and orderly flow, despite the various chapters being written by different authors. These authors represent some of the most central figures in contemporary Scottish lexicography; there is a strong sense of learned practitioners describing the development and present state of their fields.

The book is divided into three basic parts: Scots Dictionaries; Gaelic Lexicography; and the Scottish contribution to English Dictionaries, with the largest part of the work being devoted to the first topic. The book itself begins with a general introduction by the editors, concerned with providing an historical linguistic ecology for Scotland and also a sense of what is to follow. There are attempts throughout to bridge between different sections and to place what has been reported within the chapters in its wider context. Almost inevitably, the Scots material outweighs the Gaelic. Scots is, of course, a close relative of English which has been dialectalised under the latter for at least 400 years and, moreover, the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue was in many senses a by-product of the Oxford English Dictionary (at least in its inception) and also shared personnel in its set-up phase. But a fundamental even-handedness underlies this apparent discrepancy, with the awareness that the (historical) lexicography of Gaelic is part of the same great stream of Scottish lexicography. Although its origins lie in different, often evangelical or enthusiast traditions (even if the latter is certainly a factor in pre-Scottish National Dictionary Scots lexicography), many of the methodologies and traditions move from Scots to Gaelic (and Gaelic to Scots) apparently effortlessly as have, occasionally, personnel (including Lorna Pike, who has made a considerable impact to the production of this volume).

Throughout a roughly chronological order is followed, although overlap in time and subject matter between chapters is inevitable. The Scots Dictionaries section begins with 'Lexicography of Scots before 1700', written by Keith Williamson. Williamson demonstrates how the earliest attempts at providing definition were essentially produced by the glossing tradition, before turning to the glossa collecta, the siphoning off of original word and gloss from their context. At a more sophisticated level are glossaries in Latin grammars and in profession specific glossaries, dealing with (among other things) heraldry and legal terms and concepts. Interestingly, English dominates from a relatively early period, with Scots words and phrases apparently adding local colour. J. Derrick McClure continues this discussion by focussing on 'Glossaries and Scotticisms: Lexicography in the Eighteenth Century'. …

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