Lexicography: An Introduction

By Howard Jackson | Go to book overview

4

The beginnings

This chapter and the next two trace the history of dictionary making in English up to the present time. This chapter takes us up to Samuel Johnson’s dictionary in the mid-eighteenth century, the next is devoted to the Oxford English Dictionary, and Chapter 6 first recaps on the American practice and then brings the story up to date.


4.1Bilingual beginnings

The beginnings of English lexicography go back to the Old English period (2.1), specifically to the introduction (from 597) of the Roman form of Christianity and the development of monasteries. The language of the Roman Church was Latin; its priests and monks needed to be competent in Latin in order to conduct services, and to read the Bible (Jerome’s ‘Vulgate’ version) and other theological texts. The monasteries were the institutions of education for the clergy in the language of the church, as well as in the doctrines and practices of the faith. Many monasteries also developed extensive libraries of theological and other manuscripts (printing was still 750 years in the future), which would have been written in Latin, and which became objects of study and commentary. As English monks studied these Latin manuscripts, they would sometimes write the English translation above (or below) a Latin word in the text, to help their own learning, and as a guide to subsequent readers. These one-word translations, written between the lines of a manuscript, are called ‘interlinear glosses’; they are seen as the beginnings of (bilingual) lexicography (Hüllen 1989).

In due course, and to aid in the teaching and learning of Latin, these glosses were collected together into a separate manuscript, as a glossary, which may be regarded as a prototype dictionary. The words in the glossary were then ordered, either alphabetically, in early glossaries only by the first letter, then by second and subsequent letters, or topically (Chapter 12). One of the best known topical glossaries was compiled by Ælfric, who was the Abbot of the monastery at Eynsham, near Oxford, during the first decade of the eleventh century. Ælfric was well known as an educator: he wrote a grammar of Latin, as well as a number of other instructional works. His glossary, known as ‘The London Vocabulary’, is found appended to a number of extant copies of his Grammar.

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Lexicography: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Dictionaries Cited ix
  • 1 - Words 1
  • 2 - Facts about Words 10
  • 3 - The Dictionary 21
  • 4 - The Beginnings 31
  • 5 - The New English Dictionary 47
  • 6 - Up to the Present 61
  • 7 - Users and Uses 74
  • 8 - Meaning in Dictionaries 86
  • 9 - Beyond Definition 101
  • 10 - Etymology 117
  • 11 - Dictionaries for Learners 129
  • 12 - Abandoning the Alphabet 145
  • 13 - Compiling Dictionaries 161
  • 14 - Criticising Dictionaries 173
  • References 184
  • Index 189
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