The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics


The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics is the most authoritative and up-to-date dictionary of linguistics available. Written by distinguished and highly respected scholar Peter Matthews, this handy reference contains over 3,000 concise and informative entries on everything from phonetics to formal semantics. Including world-wide coverage of languages and language families, the Concise provides grammatical terms in English as well as grammatical categories in other languages. Matthews also offers extensive coverage of the theory of language, language history, and important ideas and figures in linguistics. A directory of symbols is included for quick and easy reference. With entries ranging from epiglottal and morpheme to Austronesian and Navajo, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics is the ideal reference for anyone with an interest in language and its study.


This is a 'concise dictionary' and it is 'of linguistics'. What should such a book be like and what should it include?

Linguistics is defined in general dictionaries as 'the science of language' or 'the scientific study of language'. In the more cautious wording of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it is 'the branch of knowledge that deals with language'. But although it is the only academic discipline that deals with language alone, and there are aspects of language that it alone is concerned with, its practitioners cannot claim a monopoly of the whole of their subject matter. A range of other disciplines, from the study of literature to computer science, deal with language in one way or another, and the boundaries between them and linguistics are not fixed. It would indeed be a pity if they were. How far into these should the entries in this dictionary go?

Let us start from the centre and work outwards. Everyone will agree that grammar, in a wider or narrower sense, is part of linguistics: in its widest sense, it includes both the study of the structure of words and of syntactic constructions, and that of sound systems. In the second half of the twentieth century these fields have seen an explosive development of technical theory, and a great deal of this dictionary is taken up with it. Everyone will agree that linguistics is concerned with the lexical and grammatical categories of individual languages, with differences between one type of language and another, and with historical relations within families of languages. These are potentially bottomless pits, and strict limitations are needed to avoid falling into them; but I hope I have included what users will judge to be important. Many languages are both spoken and written, and although the nature and history of writing systems are not always covered in university courses in linguistics, it is hard to see in what other dictionary one might expect to look them up. Apart from the details of individual systems and the technicalities of their description, there are also issues of general theory that belong to linguistics alone: that of change in language is one of them. But beyond this there are problems, and it has to be acknowledged that in a number of cases, involving both single entries and classes of entry, I could have decided differently.

Should I, for example, have included entries for parsing strategies in computational linguistics? The name of this field suggests that it is a branch of linguistics and certainly, once upon a time, it was. But it has increasingly become a part of computer science, addressing problems of its own that do not bear, and quite properly are no longer claimed to bear, on the nature of language as such. I have therefore asked myself whether someone whose interests are centred on the topics that linguists must know about is any poorer, as a linguist, for not . . .

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