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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2008

E 379S • Lexicography: The Art of Dictionary-Making

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35580 MWF
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
CAL 200

Course Description

As part of our University-directed self-assessment project, the English Department has initiated an ePortfolio program for English majors. You will be asked to submit, in electronic form, two documents--a one page essay on the English major and a copy of your final paper for the seminar. Additionally, you will be asked to complete a brief four question survey. During the semester, you will receive details from your instructor or from the English Department on completing the survey and submitting the documents on your senior seminar's Blackboard website.

Did you know that the first English dictionary, A Table of Alphabeticall of Hard Usual English Words, was published by Robert Cawdrey in 1604? Although later dictionary editors were less enthusiastic about doubling letters than Cawdrey was, the history of dictionary making has been a complex--and sometimes controversial--process involving attempts to provide guidance to the general public about standard, word meanings, etymology, and usage. After a short overview of the history of English dictionaries, which have evolved from short glossaries of "hard words" (technical terms and difficult vocabulary items) to works that attempt to capture most of the vocabulary of English, we will look in detail at how dictionaries are constructed. Topics we will cover include how words are defined, how etymologies (or word histories) are constructed, and how dictionary editors attempt to meet the needs of various audiences, including children, non-native speakers of English, and English-speaking adults, while simultaneously trying to construct dictionaries as records of the English language as it is used. We will also look at how dictionaries are related to other reference works, such as encyclopedias, and at how dictionaries are changing in the rapidly evolving world of computer technology. I hope to provide a guest speaker who can talk about career opportunities in lexicography and reference publishing and to take the class on a virtual "field trip" in which we will explore various dictionaries on the World Wide Web and see that they not only recapture early traditions of the lone lexicographer like Cawdrey compiling a glossary of "hard words," but that they also exploit World Wide Web technology in ways earlier lexicographers could hardly have imagined, for example, by linking standard dictionary definitions to more extensive encyclopedia-type material, or by using animation to help define terms in American Sign Language.

Grading Policy

1. Dictionary-type definitions of several English words with 3-4-page commentary on lexicographical methods and choices in writing the definitions (30%). A draft will be required.
2. End-of-semester 15-20-page paper (50%) and short oral presentation (15%). A draft will be required.
3. Class participation (5%)


1. Book: Sidney I. Landau, Dictionaries: the Art and Craft of Lexicography. Cambridge University Press (2001 edition)
2. Course packet with short readings from popular and somewhat more scholarly works (e.g., a selection from Elisabeth Murray's Caught in the Web of Words, a book about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary and short articles on how to define words)


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