LINGUIST List 12.2156

Tue Sep 4 2001

Review: Landau, Dictionaries (2nd rev)

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  1. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Review of Landau, Dictionaries

Message 1: Review of Landau, Dictionaries

Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 18:35:46 +0530 (IST)
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Review of Landau, Dictionaries

Landau, Sidney I. (2001) Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of
Lexicography, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, hardback
ISBN: 0-521-78040-3, 494pp, $69.95.

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata,

[A previous review of this book is posted at --Eds.]


Let me first quote from an announcement made in the
LINGUISTLIST: "The book gives an up-to-date, comprehensive
overview of English lexicography, both synchronic and
diachronic. The author's many years of experience in the
field gave the work an insider's expertise - its vivid,
non-arcane language makes it of interest not only to
aspiring or practising linguists and lexicographers, but to
everyone interested in dictionaries."

	From CUP web-page: "This second edition of Sidney
I. Landau's landmark work offers a comprehensive and
completely up-to-date description of how dictionaries are
researched and written, with particular attention to the
ways in which computer technology has changed modern
lexicography. Landau has an insider's practical knowledge of
making dictionaries and every feature of the dictionary is
examined and explained. Written in a readable style, free of
jargon and unnecessary technical language, it will appeal to
readers with no specialist knowledge of the field, as well
as to professional lexicographers."

	In the following sections, I present a brief
description on the contents of the book, followed by a short
critical estimate

	In this volume Landau incorporates some major
changes from its first edition published in 1984. A new
chapter (chapter 6) on relevance of computers and corpus in
lexicography is added, and Chapter 8 on legal and ethical
issues is thoroughly revised and rewritten.

	The present volume contains 8 chapters, with a short
introduction, and a preface. In Chapter 1 [What is a
dictionary?] (pp. 6-42), Landau defines what is a dictionary
in the true sense of the term, and its basic features; in
Chapter 2 [A brief history of English lexicography]
(pp. 43-97), he presents a brief history of English
lexicography mostly highlighting various works in England
and America; in Chapter 3 [Key elements of dictionaries]
(pp. 98-152), he discusses some basic elements of dictionary
and other language reference books; in Chapter 4
[Definition] (pp. 153-216), he investigates the term
'definition', and considers how the term can be defined
within lexicography, and how defining terms would vary
depending on the goal of dictionaries; in Chapter 5 [ Usage]
(pp. 217-272), he considers usage of various entries in the
dictionary; in Chapter 6 [The corpus in lexicography]
(pp. 273-342), he discusses how corpus can be generated and
used for lexicogolgical works where he evaluates the role of
corpus in dictionary making; in Chapter 7 [Dictionary
making] (pp. 342-401), he narrates in some details the
actual process of dictionary building; and in Chapter 8
[Legal and ethical issues in lexicography] (pp. 402-424), he
looks into some legal and social factors which are not
directly related with lexicography but which have definitely
some impact of the art of dictionary making.

	The books also contains a long list of notes related
to each chapter, a large list of dictionaries mentioned in
the text (75, approximately), a healthy bibliography of
non-dictionary sources, a good list of illustrations (34 in
number), and a general index for easy reference.


In Chapter 1, Landau defines what a dictionary is, and how
it differs from an encyclopedia. He presents a survey on the
types of dictionary, and other language reference works
where he is inclined to apply the categories and distinctive
features proposed by Malkiel (1967). He takes trouble for
distinguishing among monolingual, bilingual, and
multilingual dictionaries identifying their specific modes
of formation, and treatment of contents. With examples from
English he shows how dictionaries can vary (British,
American, Canadian, Australian, Indian English
etc.) depending upon the language variety. Next comes the
consideration of target users where formation of
dictionaries depends whether they are intended for native
language user or for foreign language users. In the
following sections he shows what can be an ideal form of
presentation of the entries in dictionaries, what kind of
financing would be available for such an enterprise, whether
age of the target users should be kept in mind at the time
of dictionary making, whether dictionary should be
time-bound (synchronic) or time-open (diachronic), what
should be the size of a dictionary, whether dictionary
should be subject specific or should cover entries belonging
to all subjects or domains, what kind of treatment should be
given to ghost words (words that have never existed in
actual usage but that appear in dictionaries through the
lexicographer's error) etc. Each section and sub-section of
this chapter (also of all others chapters) contains
reference to various dictionary-type works in English done in
Great Britain and in United States of America. To my mind,
the chapter would have been complete and full if the author
would have paid little more attention on some other types of
dictionary-type works such as dictionaries of foreign words in
native languages, dictionaries of synonyms, etc.

In Chapter 2, Landau is perhaps at his best narrative mood,
and expressive clarity. With a sharp critical outlook quite
meticulously he tracks down the years of history to identify
the most pioneering works on lexicography in English, both
in Great Britain and America, and informs us about their
forms and formations, targets and goals, contents and
treatments, successes and failures, advantages and
limitations. Here all major early monolingual as well as
bilingual dictionaries receive equal emphasis and treatment
from the master of the craft. He is more particular in
providing information while discussing process of making
early English dictionaries and the 'headwords' tradition,
and while referring to the history of the beginning of
modern dictionary practices of Kersey, Bailey, and
others. We find his delight to describe minutely the work of
Samuel Johnson (1755) showing its form and formation, its
treatment of contents, and its path-breaking success in the
history of dictionary making. He also refers to pronouncing
dictionaries of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries,
evaluates the contribution of Webster's work, analyses the
dictionaries for foreign learners, estimates the role of
Oxford English dictionary and other historical dictionaries,
describes the field of unabridged dictionary in America,
analyses the impact of American college dictionaries and
their British cousins, and finally, draws attention to
electronic dictionaries and the internet - two most powerful
devices having strong impact on the market of printed

In Chapter 3, Landau draws our attention to some central
issues of dictionary making in general where he emphasizes
on some key elements of dictionary and other language
reference works. The first point he considers is which
lexical items are eligible to get the status of separate
entry in the dictionary. In logical sequence, he explores
the difference and interface between homonymous and
polysemous words which quite often posit problems to the
lexicographers while deciding their status in the
dictionary. Next, he systematically discusses issues related
to run-on entries, impact of scientific nomenclature on
dictionary formation, advantage and disadvantage of
alphabetization of entries, method of counting actual number
of entries, load of grammatical information attached with
each entry, relevance and usefulness of providing
pronunciation of words in dictionary, necessity of
etymological information of the entries, treatment of
synonyms in dictionary, etc. He spends some more time on the
pattern of formation of Roget's thesaurus highlighting it
advantage and limitations. Finally, he discusses with
examples how illustrations are used, and how front and back
matters are arranged in different dictionaries of America
and Great Britain.

In Chapter 4, Landau discusses various aspects of definition
of lexical items. While describing various kinds of meaning
of words he starts form Aristotle and other ancient
scholars, and covers the propositions made by Ogden and
Richards (1923), Zgusta (1971) and others. However, for
defining lexical items within a dictionary he himself chalks
out three principles based on the propositions of earlier
scholars. Next, he deals with some aspects of good defining
practice where he methodically marks out and discusses
features like 'priority of essence', 'substitutability',
'reflection of grammatical function', 'simplicity',
'brevity', 'avoidance of ambiguity', etc. He sets up a
method for defining lexical items belonging to different
part-of-speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and others). He
also shows how innovative defining styles can be used with
occasional reference to corpus, how some novel strategies
can be employed in defining terms, and how technical terms
should be defined to preserve their explicitness and
transparency. Finally, he presents a detail description on
the formation, use, and importance of citation files in
dictionary making, evaluates the importance of corpus as a
form of evidence in defining lexical terms, visualizes the
usefulness of illustrative quotations in dictionary
formation, states different categories defining proper names
having generic value, and considers other potential sources
of definitions.

In Chapter 5, Landau focuses on multivaried usage of lexical
items taking into his consideration all uses of language,
spoken and written. First he refers to the most common kinds
of usage information ((1) currency or temporality,
(2) regional or geographic variation, (3) technical or
specialized terminology, (4) restricted or taboo sexual and
scatological usage, (5) insult, (6) slang, (7) style,
functional variety or register, and (8) status or cultural
level) which are given by most general, ESL (English as a
Second Language), and EFL (English as a Foreign
Language) dictionaries. Each kind of usage information is
discussed in some details with close reference to various
dictionaries published in Great Britain and America. Next he
discusses the historical treatment of usage in dictionaries
and grammars, and highlights the studies of usage by
linguists referring closely to the initiatives taken by four
major linguistic societies of America (the American
Philological Society (1869), the Modern Language Association
(1883), the National Council of Teachers of English (1911),
and the Linguistic Society of America (1924)). Following
this, he presents a short history on dictionary treatment of
usage, and the controversy over Webster's Third New
International Dictionary. Finally, he reports on modern
usage guides, and foresees the dictionary treatment of usage
in future with close reference to the evidence accumulated
in corpora.

In Chapter 6, Landau invites us to show how corpus
can be efficiently used for developing new, more reliable,
and authentic dictionaries. We are informed that easy
availability of huge language data in the form of corpora,
and the new sophisticated corpus processing tools have made
lexicographers more efficient in their business. He gives a
short description of the history of corpus development, the
hostility of Chomsky and his supporters against this
empirical and quantitative approach of language study,
rebirth of corpus linguistics in the hands of Francis and
Kucera, Quirk, Svartvik, Leech, and others after a short
hibernation, salient features of corpus, modern advents in
computer technology that have made corpora easily assessable
by users, development of second generation corpus that
virtually ignores the optimum size of corpus assumed by
earlier scholars, and the idea of generation of national and
specialized corpora. Next he discusses the usefulness of
corpus in modern lexicography where he shows
multifunctionality of corpus with concordance,
key-word-in-context, lemmatization, collocation, and other
methods. To establish his views he furnishes various
examples collected from corpora. He also cites other
application of corpus, and focuses on the limitations of
corpus in lexicography. In some short paragraphs he
describes the methods of corpus generation, process of text
collection, allocation of corpus text types, idea of
representativeness of text samples, and use of lexical tools
on corpus study. Finally, he attempts to give a direction of
corpus use in lexicographical works in future. In this
chapter Landau tries to be brief in his discussion as he has
to encompass a large area within the span of a few
pages. Therefore, many ideas related to corpus linguistics
are either entirely ignored or referred in brief. These and
some other relevant information can be obtained from
Garside, Leech, and Sampson (eds.) (1987), Sinclair (1991),
Svartvik (ed.) (1992), McEnery and Wilson (1996), Ooi
(1997), Biber, Conrad, and Reppen (1998), Kennedy (1998),
and others. In fact, if this chapter is read with close
reference to some basic books on corpus linguistics, readers
can have more clear idea how corpora can be powerful
resource for all kinds dictionary making.

In Chapter 7, Landau discusses in some details the process
of dictionary making. He observes rightly that every
dictionary has essentially three stages: planning, writing,
and producing. While planning for dictionary building, both
the publishers and the editors have to settle some issues
like source of data, time schedule, estimated expense,
number of stuff, selection of words, style manual (designed
by themselves or obtained from some other source), design
specification criteria, length of words, load of grammatical
information, amount of technical vocabulary, etc. The
writing of dictionary would require proper distribution of
task among the editors, data-compilers, and lexicographers
(if required, help can be sought from the experts of various
fields). Moreover, decision has to be made if illustrations
should be included in the dictionary, if much space should
be allotted for illustrations or usages, if each lexical
item would have equal distribution of length, if length and
width of the pages would be small or big, etc. Final
production of dictionary needs systematic proof-reading,
collection of suitable papers for printing, proper use of
printing technology, binding of finished products, good
network for proper distribution and marketing, etc. In case
of electronic version of dictionary some of the issues may
be irrelevant but others would be equally applicable as
happens for printed dictionaries. Finally, he sums up some
of his reflections on computer technology in dictionary
making. However, we can argue that with the completion of
the three stages mentioned here, the importance of a good
dictionary does not end. It demands regular revision,
necessary modification, and timely augmentation (if
required) to be at par with time, and to be a good
representative of the language use in every age or period.

In Chapter 8, Landau raises some legal and ethical issues
often ignored at the time of dictionary building both by the
publishers and the editors. These factors are probably of
high importance in every country and society where there is
an ongoing process of dictionary making. There are issues
like plagiarism, fair use, trademarks, copy right etc.,
which generally do not posit problems at the time dictionary
building, but which are potential enough to delay or even
cease the project of dictionary building if these are not
settled beforehand involving concerned people and
organizations. In context of this, Landau refers to the
legal battle over the name 'Webster' that plagued the world
of American dictionaries for some time before it was settled
in the court. Next, he raises a vital ethical issue where he
argues that the majority of the stuff, except the chief and
other editors, who are directly involved in such a big
project are not given due importance. For this purpose he
presents a proposal to establish guidelines for crediting
works of the involved lexicographers. We have no hesitation
to support his proposal because we also believe that those
people involved in the project of dictionary making should
be rightly acknowledged for their contributions, in whatever
scale they may be, in the very first edition of
dictionary. Finally, he shows how a dictionary can be a good
reflection of social values.

	I find the book interesting because it is practical
in approach, rich with large collection of interesting data
and illustrations, and for sharp reflection of the keen
sense of humor of the author. Let me cite at least one
(probably, the best one) example. In Chapter 4, while
discussing the idea of defining technical terms, he refers
to the definition of 'frog test' as given in 'Butterworths
Medical Dictionary': "a test used to indicate pregnancy, in
which a frog is used". To explain the vagueness of the term
Landau writes: "This definition has an engaging simplicity
and directness that I find charming. But one wonders how the
frog is used. Do woman and frog stare at one another to see
who blinks first? (If the woman, she's pregnant.) Is the
test positive if the woman's touch turns the frog into a
prince? My hopes for such a delightful pregnancy test were
dashed and I was dumped right back into a seamy hospital lab
with the definition from 'Blakison's Gould Medical
Dictionay:" (p. 189). Moreover, the volume gives us a
thorough information on American lexicography which we
rarely find in others. Most often other books on
lexicography focus on works of Oxford or Cambridge, always
having an inclination towards Great Britain.

	Finally, following The Times Literary Supplement we
can say that the volume virtually presents an exhaustive
treatment of lexicography, with close reference to English
dictionaries made over the centuries. All professional and
amateur lexicographers should read it to know what are the
things involved in writing dictionaries, particularly when a
master of the craft narrates his long practical
experience. The volume can be heartily recommended to
everyone else who cares to know what dictionaries are like
and how to use them to best advantage. Because of its
exhaustive treatment of the subject, it can be considered as
a textbook introduction to lexicography.


Biber, D., Conrad, S., and Reppen, R. (1998) Corpus
Linguistics: Investigating Language Structure and
Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garside, R., Leech, G., and Sampson, G. (eds.) (1987) The
Computational Analysis of English: A Corpus Based
Approach. London: Longman.

Kennedy, G. (1998) An Introduction to Corpus
Linguistics. New York: Addison-Wesley Longman Inc.

Malkiel, Y. (1967) "A typological classification of
Dictionaries on the Basis of Distinctive Features", in Fred
W. Householder and Sol Saporta (eds.) Problems in
Lexicography. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 3-24.

McEnery, T., and Wilson, A. (1996) Corpus
Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Ogden, C.K., and Richards, I. A. (1923) The Meaning of
Meaning. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Ooi, V. B. Y. (1997) Computer Corpus Lexicography. Edinburgh
Textbooks in Empirical Linguistics
series. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Sinclair, J. (1991) Corpus, Concordance,
Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Svartvik, J. (ed.). 1992. Directions in Corpus
Linguistics: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 82. (Trends in
Linguistics: Studies and Monographs, No 65). Berlin: Mouton
de Gruyter.

Zgusta, L. (1971) Manual of Lexicography. The Hague: Mouton.

Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist in Computer Vision
and Pattern Recognition Unit of Indian Statistical
Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes
corpus linguistics, text annotation, lexical semantics,
word-sense disambiguation, lexicography, etc. Among other
works, he is currently working for developing a dictionary
of foreign words in Bangla.
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