LINGUIST List 10.638

Thu Apr 29 1999

Disc: The New Oxford Dictionary of English

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. alan harris, The New Oxford Dictionary of English (fwd)

Message 1: The New Oxford Dictionary of English (fwd)

Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 19:36:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: alan harris <>
Subject: The New Oxford Dictionary of English (fwd)

>From: Helge Gundersen <>
>Subject: The New Oxford Dictionary of English

I just bought the New Oxford Dictionary of English without knowing anything
about it (I went for the size). It happened that this work is organized on
the basis of some new ideas that might be interesting to hear about in this
forum. The editors are apparently trying to take the real knowledge of
speakers of English as their point of departure. I assume some of you are
well aware of this work from 1998 (and can provide any inside-like
information?), but I'm sure many of you are as ignorant as I was. So I
thought I could provide some glimpses from the Introduction:

Instead of listing the different senses of a word on the same typographical
level, they distinguish between "core sense" and "subsense". "Core meanings
represent typical, central uses of the word in question in modern standard
English [...] It is the meaning accepted by native speakers as the one that
is most established as literal and central." As they say, it's not
necessarily the most frequent sense, so "central" here has directly
something to do with literal, which, I assume, doesn't quite equal
"prototypical". But in cognitive-linguistic writings, too, one can be
uncertain of the relationship between the typical and the literal..., and
it's evident that the editors are inspired by recent lexicology in a way
that subscribers to this list will find encouraging.

"There is a logical relationship between each subsense and the core sense
under which it appears. The organization of senses according to this
logical relationship is designed to help the user, not only in being able
to navigate the entry more easily and find relevant senses more readily,
but also in building up an understanding of how senses in the language
relate to one another and how the language is constructed on this model."
The acceptance of figurative extension, specialization, etc, is thankfully
not revolutionary for the discipline of lexicography, but it's interesting
that they have linguistic description based on polysemy as an important
goal for their dictionary entries.

A primary aim has been to give comprehensible, relevant, and readable
information of specialist terms, while maintaining the high level of
technical information and accuracy suitable for the specialist reader.
Thus, chemical formulas and Latin plant names have been added at the end of
the entries in small print, while the actual definitions are of the type "a
compound which is the major carcinogen present in cigarette smoke, and also
occurs in coal tar".

Along the same lines, they are not afraid of giving additional information
of an encyclopedic nature. "As elsewhere, the purpose is to give
information which is relevant and interesting, aiming not just to define
the word but also to describe and explain its context in the real word."

Justification is given for the inclusion of proper names, which some
dictionaries exclude, the Oxford editors say, on the basis of the
distinction between 'words' and 'facts'. But "names such as *Shakespeare*
and *England* are as much part of the language as words such as *drama* or
*language*, and belong in a large dictionary."

Examples are authentic, because "it is now generally recognized that the
'naturalness' provided by authentic examples is of the utmost importance in
giving an accurate picture of language in use".

Unfounded, but widely held, etymologies are presented in addition to the
good ones.

Usage notes are meant to "give guidance that accords with observed facts
about present-day usage".

I don't know how good the actual content of the dictionary is. But here are
a couple of sample entries:

cognitive grammar >noun [mass noun] a theory of grammar that seeks to
characterize, in a psychologically realistic way, those structures and
abilities that constitute a speaker's grasp of linguistic convention, and
to relate them to other cognitive processes.

cognitivist >noun a person who believes or works in cognitive grammar.
>adjective of or relating to cognitive grammar.
- DERIVATIVES cognitivism noun.

- --
Helge Gundersen
Oslo, Norway

 Alan C. Harris, Ph. D. TELNOS: main off: 818-677-2853
 Professor, Communication/Linguistics direct off: 818-677-2874
 Department of Communication Studies
 California State University, Northridge home: 818-366-3165
 COMMS-8257 CSUN FAX: 818-677-2663 
 Northridge, CA 91330-8257 INTERNET email: ALAN.HARRISCSUN.EDU 
 WWW homepage:
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