Lexicography: An Introduction

By Howard Jackson | Go to book overview

12

Abandoning the alphabet

If you look up the word dictionary in a dictionary, you will find a definition along the lines of:

a book that consists of an alphabetical list of words, with their meanings, parts of speech, pronunciations, etymologies, etc.

(CCD4)

‘Dictionary order’ is synonymous with ‘alphabetical order’. We expect dictionaries to use alphabetical ordering of their headwords, just as we expect other reference works to do so as well, such as telephone directories, encyclopedias, and indexes of all kinds. Because we have learnt the order of the letters in the alphabet, it is the most convenient system for locating an item in a written list. Our skill in using the alphabet for this purpose can be generalised to all manner of written lists.

As a reference manual, therefore, a dictionary’s headword list is ideally arranged alphabetically, so that users can readily access the item that they are seeking. And it is usually a single item that is being looked up. However, we must ask, first, whether an alphabetical ordering is best for presenting a description of the vocabulary as a whole, and second, whether there are some users’ needs that would be better served by an alternative arrangement of words in a dictionary.


12.1Disadvantages of A-Z

One of the drawbacks of an alphabetical listing is that some words that belong together morphologically become separated. This applies, in particular, to two kinds of relation. First, words that are derived by prefixation (see 2.2.2) are entered separately from their root, and there is usually no indication at the entry for the root that it has a prefixed derivative. Derivatives by suffixation are entered either as separate headwords, but close to the root in the alphabetical sequence, or as run-ons under the root; so that the relation between root and derivative is clear. For example, courage and its derivative courageous come in close proximity in the alphabetical list, but discourage and encourage are distant

-145-

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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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