English Lexicography from British Tradition to World Englishes

by Heming Yong (Author)
©2022 Monographs VIII, 194 Pages


This book unfolds chronologically, comprehensively and coherently, for the first time and under one cover, a spectacular landscape of how lexicographies of core native-speaker varieties of English (other than British English) originate and develop, directly or indirectly, from their British roots to current shapes and prosperity, tracing their evolutional links with and inheritance from British (occasionally American) lexicographical tradition, their interrelation to socio-cultural settings, as well as their reformation and divergences through innovation and self-expansion.
This pioneering work gives special focus to many unknown aspects and areas of world English lexicography and concludes with visions, prospects and possible transformations of its development in the 21st century. It is the first attempt to go beyond the traditional confines of ontological studies in the history of lexicography, integrating sociolinguistic and lexicographical approaches and setting the diachronic explorations of world English lexicography against the broad background of socio-cultural observations. It is the most updated and wide-ranging on the subject treated within a unified framework of English dictionary paradigms going from its archetype to the prescriptive, to the historical, to the descriptive and to the cognitive model.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter One British Lexicographical Tradition and the Development of World English Lexicography
  • 1.1 The Seeds of Latin Lexicography in Old English Glossaries and the Genesis of English Bilingual Lexicography from Latin Traditions
  • 1.2 The Prescriptive Tradition of Latin Grammar and the Making of Monolingual English Dictionaries in Britain
  • 1.3 The European Philological Tradition in English Lexicography and the Making of Historical Dictionaries in Britain
  • 1.4 The Descriptive Linguistic Paradigm and the Development of English Descriptive Dictionaries
  • 1.5 The Cognitive Linguistic Paradigm and the Making of Active English Dictionaries
  • 1.6 British Lexicographical Tradition and Its Impacts upon the Development of World English Lexicography
  • Chapter Two American English Lexicography and Its Inheritance and Reformation of British Lexicographical Tradition
  • 2.1 The Sociolinguistic Background for the Emergence and Development of American English Lexicography
  • 2.2 The Extension and Reformation of British Lexicographical Tradition in the Making of First American English Dictionaries
  • 2.3 Noah Webster’s Dictionaries and Their Leading Innovation upon British Lexicographical Traits
  • 2.4 The American “War of Dictionaries” and Joseph E. Worcester’s Lexicographical Predicament
  • 2.5 The Innovation of Compiling Philosophy in Other Major American Dictionaries of the 19th Century
  • 2.6 The Inheritance of British Lexicographical Tradition in the Prosperity of American General Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.7 The Continuation of British Pedagogical Traditions and the Making of American Learners Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.8 The Tolerant Attitude toward Regional Variants and the Making of American Pronouncing and Dialect Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.9 The Tradition of British Usage Studies and the Making of American Usage and Slang Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.10 The Tradition of British Semantic and Etymological Studies and the Making of American Thesauruses and Etymological Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.11 The Making of American Encyclopedic, Electronic, and Online Dictionaries in the 20th Century
  • 2.12 The Making of Other Types of Dictionaries and the Dictionary of World Englishes
  • 2.13 Summary
  • Chapter Three British Lexicographical Tradition and the Development of Australian English Lexicography
  • 3.1 The Extension of British Lexicographical Tradition in the Sprouting of Australian English Lexicography
  • 3.2 The Diversity of the Colonial Sociocultural Setting and the Early Development of Australian English Lexicography
  • 3.3 The Extension of British Slang Studies and the Making of Australian Dictionaries of Slang and Colloquialisms
  • 3.4 The Strengthened Sociocultural Consciousness and The Macquarie Dictionary
  • 3.5 Australia’s Oxford Path of Lexicographical Development and the Making of The Australian National Dictionary
  • Chapter Four British and American Lexicographical Tradition and the Making of Canadian English Dictionaries
  • 4.1 Canadian English and British Lexicographical Legacies in the Making of Dictionaries of Canadianisms
  • 4.2 The British and American Lexicographical Heritage in the Making of Canadian National Dictionaries
  • 4.3 The Oxford Collaboration and the Making of General Dictionaries of Canadian English
  • Chapter Five British Lexicographical Tradition in the Shaping of New Zealand English Lexicography
  • 5.1 The Pervasion of Māori into New Zealand English and the Making of First English and Māori Bilingual Dictionaries
  • 5.2 British Tradition in Nonstandard English Studies and Their Extension into the Making of Nonstandard English Dictionaries in New Zealand
  • 5.3 The Pivotal Role of Māori in the Development of New Zealand Bilingual Lexicography
  • 5.4 The Newly Emerging Factors and Oxford Lexicographical Involvement in the Prosperity of New Zealand Lexicography
  • Chapter Six The Extending Influence of British Lexicographical Tradition and the Shaping of South African English Lexicography
  • 6.1 The Background for the Sprouting of South African English Lexicography and the Establishment of DSAE
  • 6.2 South African English as a New and Developing Variety and the Inception of South African Monolingual Lexicography
  • 6.3 The Extending Influence of British Lexicographical Traditions and the Making of South African National Dictionaries
  • 6.4 The English Domination and the Development of South African Bilingual Lexicography
  • 6.5 Pharos Dictionaries and Other Types of Dictionary Making
  • Chapter Seven Prospects for the Development of World English Lexicography
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Chapter One

British Lexicographical Tradition and the Development of World English Lexicography

The earliest sprouts of world lexicography can be found in the now extant Sumerian-Akkadian glossary. It consists of 24 clay tablets, on which are inscribed 9,700 Sumerian-Akkadian entries. The entries cover a wide range of terms relating to natural, social, and everyday life. The practice of compiling such glossaries continued in the ancient Mideast until the annexation of Sumer and Akkad into the Babylonian Empire in about 1750 B.C. Those clay tablets can be justifiably reckoned as the fountainhead of world lexicography.

The roots of British lexicographical tradition grow out of the first Old English literary works that date from the mid-7th century and, more directly, the Old English classics and the annotations made about them along margins and between lines. Reference was made in the ancient literature now available to the first “intrusion” by the Celts, probably the first occupants who came from the northern part of continental Europe around 500 B.C. The Roman invasion started in 55 B.C. and lasted until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Around 499, the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons from northwest Europe started their occupation of the British Isles, establishing kingdoms as well as their cultural and economic centers. Almost nothing can be found in ancient English literature in relation to the languages used in the British Isles prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasion, though the Celts and the Romans brought with them their own languages.

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English might have emerged from the Anglo-Frisian dialects originally spoken by the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons. Its development from Old English to world Englishes is the result of the gradual emergence of English-speaking territories in various parts of the world and the reinforcement and subsequent accentuation of Britain and America’s role in international political, economic, cultural and military arenas in modern times. The spread of English to almost every corner of the world and its development in new natural and geographical environments brought about regional varieties in North America, Oceania, Southern Africa, South Asia, and a few other regions. The necessity of expressing new life on new lands, coupled with the inevitable changes in English due to geographical separation and cultural differences, catalyzed and sustained dictionary production in those varieties in the wake of British lexicographical tradition and practices.

Over 1,200 years’ evolution of British English lexicography has provided much food for thought and many practical examples for the compilation of English dictionaries in other major English-speaking countries. Generalizations can be gleaned from the practices of Britain’s long-standing lexicographical traditions, which are describable in terms of “paradigm,” a term introduced by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and employed for lexicographical studies only decades ago. Under the lexicographical context, it refers to a model, pattern, or set of principles for dictionary design, compilation, and research. There have emerged since Cawdrey’s time various English dictionary paradigms, with distinctive features in perspectives and approaches, which have undergone transition from their archetype to modern forms.

The 19th century witnessed the continuous transformation and development of lexicographical theory and practice in Britain and in other parts of the English-speaking world. Lexicographical works kept emerging in good numbers, dictionary paradigms continued to evolve and innovate, lexicographical texts were being constantly substantiated, the “art and craft” of dictionary making became more and more sophisticated, and the supporting technologies and applications appeared to be cutting edge and continued to be upgraded. Adventurers, travelers, priests, and merchants contributed in their unique ways to the 19th-century lexicographical culture in Britain as well as in those parts of the world that they could reach. They made serious studies of English in association with local and regional languages, compiled English glossaries and dictionaries, monolingual and bilingual, single-handedly or through borrowing and inheritance. Such interaction and integration across cultures furnished theoretical inferences and methodological implications ←2 | 3→for later English lexicographical practices, which eventually facilitated the amelioration of world English lexicography.

The 20th century was as much a time of supreme glory as it was of extreme misery in human history. In the first half of the century, the world underwent two catastrophic wars over a short span of 30 years. As a result, radical changes took place in world politics, economy, culture, and military situations. The culture of world lexicography, as part of world culture, was inevitably affected by political changes of global proportions. In the second half of the century, it took only 30 years or so for mankind to shift from the era of industrialization into one dominated by internet and information technology, with sci-tech innovation, economic prosperity, and cultural development reaching unprecedented levels. The application of information science and corpus technology to dictionary making and research helped its leap forward from manual labor and paper medium to digital processing and electronic and internet media. The gradual penetration of electronic and information technology exerted direct and extensive impacts upon dictionary compilation of every phase; strengthened its scientificity, precision, standardization, and efficiency; and pushed world lexicography, particularly world English lexicography, to a new height.

Through over 1,200 years’ evolution, British lexicographical tradition has created huge amounts of legacies from which lexicography across cultures has benefited immensely. English lexicographic paradigms have transformed from their archetype characterized by coarse form, crude content, and oversimplified methodology into an emblem of lexicographic culture with strikingly modern flavor and styles featuring structural soundness, enriched content, intricate designing, and theoretical sophistication. That encompasses abundant linguistic, cultural, and academic sediments, as well as rich social, political, military, technological, and educational accumulation. A linguistic approach is adopted in this chapter to trace the historical trajectory of British lexicographical tradition and, more specifically, English dictionary paradigms that have evolved from their archetype to prescriptive, historical, descriptive, and then cognitive forms.

In the light of such explorations, the question of how English lexicography in other major native varieties (i.e., American English, Australian English, Canadian English, New Zealand English, and South African English) has originated and developed is addressed, with a view to, by revealing the historical relations and inheritance between British lexicographical tradition and the evolution of English lexicography in those varieties, paving the way for an integrated, diachronic, and comprehensive account of how English lexicography in those varieties started and has gradually developed into modern shapes.

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1.1 The Seeds of Latin Lexicography in Old English Glossaries and the Genesis of English Bilingual Lexicography from Latin Traditions

Textual research shows that lexicography under different cultural settings originates from similar sources, that is, the accumulation and gathering of annotations and notes left on the margins and between lines of ancient classic works, or the categorized collections and glossaries that are compiled collectively for religious preaching, literacy education, national assimilation, and even military occupation. Such glossaries and concordances are found in ancient Greek, Latin, Chinese, and Sanskrit. They are compiled, revised, enlarged, or augmented over time into larger and more comprehensive volumes, and they continue to evolve into modern dictionaries.

Under the English context, the annotation of words and expressions started in the “prehistoric” Celtic and Germanic times, but the beginnings of English dictionaries are traceable “to a time somewhere between 600 and 700 A.D., and probably to an age not long posterior to the introduction of Christianity in the south of England at the end of the 6th century” (Murray, 1900:13). The annotations were generally made by authorities or social elites, such as missionaries, clergymen, and schoolmasters. The books accessible to them were mainly religious gospels and prayers written in Latin, so the collections that appeared at the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries were mainly intended to explain or define Latin hard words in simple Latin or Old English vernaculars. The early extant glossaries include The Leiden Glossary, The Epinal Glossary, The Erfurt Glossary, and The Corpus Glossary, which are all named after the libraries that have kept them. Just as ancient and medieval Latin lexicography is characterized by glossaries for practical and educational purposes, those early glossaries were compiled to fulfill similar functions, thus initiating the tradition of English lexicography.

The earliest extant one, The Leiden Glossary, appeared in about 800 and has come down in the form of manuscripts copied in the 9th century (Murray, 1900:12–13; Green, 1996:55). It consists of 48 glossae collectae (or chapters), which are prefixed with the title of the text from which the lemmata are taken and are arranged in the sequence of their appearance in the text. The lemmata are extracted from biblical books, late antiques, patristic texts, and grammatical texts (Sauer, 2009:34). The last part is an encyclopedic miscellany of terms, including ancient vocabulary, animal names, and terms for other things. Its lemmata are arranged in the sequence of their appearance in the text rather than in the alphabetical or thematic order. Alphabetization was first adopted in Zenodotus’ (c. 325–c. 234 B.C.) glossary of ←4 | 5→difficult words from Homer’s works (Collison, 1982:26) and started to be used in English glossaries almost 10 centuries later, the first-letter order in The Epinal Glossary, the second-letter order in The Corpus Glossary (c. 725) (Wells, 1973:13), and the third-letter order in an anonymous 10th-century glossary in the British Museum. In early glossaries, Latin was predominant either as the defined or the defining language and the hard word collection was a commonplace practice.

English lexicographical tradition stemmed from the practice of providing explanations for Latin lemmata. The explanations were written primarily in easier Latin, and in Old English and vernaculars when no proper Latin words were available. Consequently, the proportion of Old English words in early glossaries is extremely low, only 10% in The Epinal Glossary, for example. Béjoint (2010:52–53) made a record of Reichenau Glossary (or Glosses of Reichenau, c.768), a bilingual glossary of 4,877 hard words from various sources “with glosses in Romance or easy Latin.” “And these beginnings themselves…were neither Dictionaries, nor even English” (Murray, 1900:7), but they stand for the archetype of most of the later glossaries, wordbooks, and even dictionaries in terms of lemmata selection, entry arrangement, and thematic categorization.

Almost no such thing as glossary or dictionary making took place in the whole of the 10th century, apart from The Cleopatra Glossaries, which is a collection of three glossaries around the mid-10th century (Sauer, 2009:33). Aelfric (c. 955–1020), an abbot, grammarian of Old English and “the dominant author around 1000” (Sauer, 2009:34), produced “a Latin-OE (OLD English) class glossary,” whose Latin headwords are divided into sections, ordered thematically and explained with one or more Anglo-Saxon synonyms. It is “probably the oldest glossary giving English equivalents” (Béjoint, 2010:53). By the 11th century, almost every Latin lemma contained one explanatory English equivalent and even several in some cases. Changes in the archetype are visible in some aspects, such as their preference of the alphabetical arrangement over the thematic principle, and in Latin giving way to Old English as the defining language.


VIII, 194
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. VIII, 194 pp.

Biographical notes

Heming Yong (Author)

Heming Yong is currently a professor at Guangdong University of Finance, with a doctoral degree from Macquarie University. His academic interests include diachronic lexicography, communicative lexicography and translation studies. He has published several books and his research findings have been reviewed in prestigious journals in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Holland, Australia as well as China.


Title: English Lexicography from British Tradition to World Englishes
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