English Pedagogic Lexicography: A Few Milestones

By Cehan, Anca | The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

English Pedagogic Lexicography: A Few Milestones


Cehan, Anca, The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education


1 Introduction

A vast and significant branch of English lexicography is concerned nowadays with the writing of pedagogic dictionaries for the study of English as either a native (L1) or a second/ foreign language (L2). This is a consequence of the current spread of English and its international importance as a language of global communication, which have made its study into an unparalleled worldwide activity that requires the assistance of lexicography. The leading center of English lexicography is Great Britain, which has a tradition of pedagogic lexicography marked by rapid and constant adjustment, technological advance, innovative and creative development as a response to the users' needs, suggestions and demands on an increasingly competitive market (Cowie 1999). The United States, Australia and Canada, as different English language centers, have produced their own pedagogic dictionaries.

The leading publishers in the English-speaking world offer a whole range of general pedagogic dictionaries for all levels of proficiency alongside many specialized works, such as dictionaries of pronunciation, collocations, idioms and phrasal verbs and encyclopedic learner's dictionaries, such as the remarkable Oxford Advanced Learner's Encyclopedic Dictionary (1993) and the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture (1993, 2000, 2005). In addition, there are learner's thesauruses, some arranged thematically with an alphabetic index (e.g., McArthur's Longman Lexicon of Contemporary English, 1981), others arranged alphabetically, such as Trappes-Lomax's Oxford Learner's Wordfinder Dictionary (1997), and the Longman Language Activator (1993). Finally, they issue a great number of technical learner's dictionaries for specific subject areas from business to engineering, medicine and law.

2 The Early History of English Lexicography

English lexicography started in 1540 with a polyglot seven-language dictionary which included English alongside French, Italian, Dutch, High German, Spanish, and Latin. Claudius Holyband, a Huguenot refugee to London wrote A Dictionarie French and English, published in 1593, and the Swiss Guy Miège published three dictionaries of French and English between 1677 and 1684. Interestingly, the authors of these bilingual dictionaries were teachers.

Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabetical (1604) is usually considered to be the first monolingual English dictionary and Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is remembered as the first modern dictionary of English. The latter reflected the need for a prescriptive and normative authority able to establish a standard of correctness. In writing it, Samuel Johnson raised many important issues, some of which are still debated by contemporary lexicographers, notably those related to the criteria used for the selection of words to be included in a dictionary, and the distinction between general language and specialized terminology. Moreover, Johnson was a precursor of corpus lexicography as he was the first scholar to base a dictionary on authentic examples of usage, collected from the works of English authors.

3 The Vocabulary Control Movement

The most noticeable impact of lexicography on TEFL is related to the advent of the pedagogic or learner's dictionaries. This may be explained by the very profile of the founders of the Vocabulary Control Movement, a group of EFL teachers of the 1920s and 1930s, all involved in lexicography, and whose key figures were Harold Palmer, Michael West and A. S. Hornby. Their main contribution to lexicography was the identification of a minimum core vocabulary necessary for maximizing the learning efforts of the learners of English as an L2. Modern lexicography owes a lot to their concern with word frequency and their belief that it is an advantage to learn the highest frequency words first. They influenced not only the selection of the words to be included in the monolingual learner's dictionaries (MLDs), but also the way in which words are defined. …

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