Lexicography exercise

We often think of dictionaries as definitive in their definitions, without questioning their authority, yet there are many different kinds of dictionaries, and students should be encouraged to use them with discretion and sophistication.

An example: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed. (WNCD) aims its definitions at the “college student and general reader,” while The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (accessed online) (CEOEO) aims to present a far wider range of definitions, “Common, Literary, Colloquial, Scientific, Foreign, Dialectical, Slang, Technical.”  They note “Main Words, Subordinate Words, Combinations, including the Identification, Morphology, Signification and Illustrative Quotations.” They include the word’s etymology in depth.  WNCD takes its examples and definitions mainly from spoken customs, while CEOEO takes them from a literary database.

Exercise: Ask students to investigate the presentation of two words of their choice in two different dictionaries.  They should read the front matter of both dictionaries as well as the definitions.  They might comment on the fonts used. The rest of the exercise can be up to the students — what do they find the same or different in the presentations, and which do they like better.

Another Exercise: Ask students to do some research on the Web and find out how many different kinds of dictionary there are; for example, Web dictionaries with an audio module giving correct pronunciation, multilingual dictionaries (French to French, and English to French, etc.), sign language dictionaries, dictionaries for children, etymological dictionaries, thesauruses (what is the plural? I don’t know), slang dictionaries, regional dictionaries showing distinct usage in, say, Louisiana or Texas, and so on, and on, and on

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