Lexicography is the theory and practice of compiling dictionaries. The term dictionary is used to denote a book listing words of a language and dealing with their meanings, pronunciation, origin, or other aspects.
The history of English lexicography dates back to the Old English period when religious books were translated from Latin and lists of selected Englisn-Latin equivalents – glossaries – were made up. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissanse appeared Latin-English and English-Latin dictionaries based on the alphabetical principle. The first monolingual dictionary – A Table Alphabetical (A Table Alphabetical, containing and teaching the true writing, and understanding of hard English words, borrowed from Hebrew, Greek, Latin or French, etc.) –by Robert Cawdrey was published in 1604. Among the earliest dictionaries we also find John Bullokar’s An English Expositor (толкователь) (1616), Henry Cockeram’s The English Dictionary (1623). The latter was the first to use the word “dictionary” in its title. The turning point in the history of English lexicography was achieved when Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1747. It was the most comprehensive dictionary of the language with etymologies, complete and clear definitions, commentaries as to the usage of the words and illustrative quotations from English fictions. Notwithstanding certain demerits this dictionary marks the beginning of English lexicography as a science. It served the foundation of the most comprehensive and authoritative dictionary of the English language – The Oxford English Dictionary, compiled by the English Philological Society (1888 – 1928) and aimed at the objective recording of the language.
The first American dictionaries of English were based in British dictionaries of the 18th century. A truly Anmerican dictionary – American Dictionary of the English Language – was compiled by Noah Webster and published in 1828. It contained the specific words of American English and a number of encyclopedic supplements.
All dictionaries are regularly revised and also appear in abridged versions.
Modern dictionaries are divided into types according to their contents.
There are general and special dictionaries. General dictionaries deal with the words of a language as a whole. Special dictionaries cover only a specific part of the vocabulary.
General dictionaries may be subdivided according to the language of description into monolingual and bilingual [bai] or multilingual. To monolingual we refer all types of explanatory dictionaries. Learner’s dictionaries (e.g. Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English by A.S. Hornby) may be considered a special type of monolingual dictionaries for general use. They are characterized by simplicity of definitions, information on the usage of the listed words.
We also refer to general dictionaries translating dictionaries, such as English-Russian, Russian-English and others which do not define the words they list.
Special dictionaries may be subdivided according to the sphere of human activity in which they are used or the functional variant of the language: technical dictionaries, medical dictionaries, dictionaries of law terms, etc; dialect dictionaries, dictionaries of slang. Another criterion of division is the unit of description. We distinguish dictionaries of foreign words, phraseological dictionaries, dictionaries of new words, of obsolete words, dictionaries of synonyms, antonyms, abbreviations, proverbs, quotations, surnames, dictionaries of collocations, etc. According to the aspect of the word described special dictionaries are also subdivided into pronouncing dictionaries (orthoepic dictionaries), etymological dictionaries, spelling dictionaries (orthographical dictionaries), dictionaries of frequency, etc.
Encyclopedic dictionaries have entries for the names of individual people and for places as well as for common words. They give a wide range of general information (great inventions, names of highest mountains, exotic animals, political doctrines, etc. They do not define words but give background information about them.
Dictionaries also differ in the number of units they list (there can be big academic dictionaries, medial-sized and small dictionaries (in one volume)), in the order of units (alphabetical and non-alphabetical (thematic)).
Besides the ones mentioned above, the most famous dictionaries are the following ones:
· dialect and regional dictionaries: S. Wright. The English Dialect Dictionary. 6 vols. Oxford, 1898 – 1905; N. Wentworth. American Dialect Dictionary. New York, 1944.
· dictionaries of slang: E. Partridge. Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 2 vols. London; H. Wentworth and S.B. Flexner. Dictionary of American Slang. New York, 1975.
· dictionaries of foreign words: Mawson C.O. Dictionary of Foreign Terms. N.Y., Bantam Books; Bliss A.J. Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases in Current English. London, 1966.
· dictionaries of neologisms: Berg P.S. A Dictionary of New Words in English. 2nd ed. London, 1953; Barnhart C.I. The Second Barnhart Dictionary of New English. London, 1980.
· dictionaries of abbreviations and signs: Partridge E.A. Dictionary of Abbreviations. London, Constable; Allen E. Dictionary of Abbreviations and Symbols. London, 1944.
· synonymic dictionaries: Webster’s New Dictionary of Synonyms. Mass., Merriam, 1968; Roget’s International Thesaurus. New York, Cromwell, Soule R. A Dictionary of English Synonyms and Synonymous Expressions. N.Y. Bantam Books.
· antonymic dictionaries: Комиссаров В.И. Словарь антонимов современного английского языка. – М., 1964.
· phraseological dictionaries: Cowie A.P., Maskin R. Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English. Vol I. Oxford, 1975; Boatner M.T., Gates J.E. A Dictionary of American Idioms. New York, 1975; А.В. Кунин. Англо-русский фразеологический словарь (first published in 1955).
· dictionaries of quotations, cliches, proverbs and sayings: The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Oxford, 1979; Tripp R.T. The International Thesaurus of Quotations. N.Y.
· dictionaries of collocations: Crowell T.L. A Glossary of Phrases with Prepositions. With Exersices: London, 1957; Гинзбург Р. и др. Глагольные словосочетания в современном английском языке. – М., 1975.
· orthoepic dictionaries: Jones D. An English Pronouncing Dictionary. London, Dent.
· orthographic dictionaries: Lewis N. Dictionary of Correct Spelling. N.Y., 1962.
· etymological dictionaries: J. Bosworth. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. London, 1882-98.
Lexicographers have to deal with a number of problems in compiling dictionaries. The most burning issues of lexicography are connected with the selection of head-words, the arrangement and content of the vocabulary entry, the principles of definitions and semantic classification of words. There is the question of separateness and sameness of words. For example, should each other be entered as a group of words or treated separately under the head-words each and other? There is also a problem of discriminating between homonymous words and meanings of of the same word and between closely related meamings. Another question is: should obsolete words be included? How much encyclopedic information should be given? There is no unanimous opinion as to these questions.