The main problems of lexicography
The most burning issues of lexicography are connected with the selection of head-words, the arrangement and contents of the vocabulary entry, the principles of sense definitions and the semantic and functional classification of words. In the first place it is the problem of how far a general descriptive dictionary, whether unilingual or bilingual, should admit the historical element. In fact, the term "current usage” is disconcertingly elastic, it may, for instance, be stretched to include all words and senses used by W. Shakespeare, as he is commonly read, or include only those of the fossilised words that are kept in some set expressions or familiar quotations, e. g. shuffled off this mortal coil ("Hamlet"), where coil means ‘turmoil’ (of life). For the purpose of a dictionary, which must not be too bulky, selection between scientific and technical terms is also a very important task. It is a debatable point whether a unilingual explanatory dictionary should strive to cover all the words of the language, including neologisms, nonce-words, slang, etc. and note with impartial accuracy all the words actually used by English people; or whether, as the great English lexicographer of the 18th century Samuel Johnson used to think, it should be preceptive, and (viewed from the other side) prohibitive. Dictionary-makers should attempt to improve and stabilise the English vocabulary according to the best classical samples and advise the readers on preferable usage. A distinctly modern criterion in selection of entries is the frequency of the words to be included. This is especially important for certain lines of practical work in preparing graded elementary textbooks. When the problem of selection is settled, there is the question as to which of the selected units have the right to a separate entry and which are to be included under one common head-word. These are, in other words, the questions of separateness and sameness of words. The first deals with syntagmatic boundaries of word-units and has to solve such questions as whether each other is a group of two separate words to be treated separately under the head-words each and other, or whether each other is a unit deserving a special entry (compare also: one another). Need such combinations as boiling point, carbon paper, department store, phone box be sub-entered under their constituents? If so, under which of them? Or, perhaps, it will be more convenient for those who use the dictionary if these were placed as separate main entries consisting of a nominal compound or a phrase. As to the sameness, this deals with paradigmatic boundaries. How many entries are justified for hound'? COD has two — one for the noun, and the other for the verb: ‘to chase (as) with hounds’; the verb and the noun are thus treated as homonyms. "Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary” combines them under one head-word, i.e. it takes them as variants of the same word (hence the term "sameness"). The problem is even more complicated with variants belonging to the same part of speech. This problem is best illustrated by the pun that has already been discussed elsewhere in this book: Mind you, I don’t mind minding the children if the children mind me (Understand, I don’t object to taking care of the children if the children obey me). Here the dictionary-maker is confronted with the problem of sameness. Should mind be considered one word with several semantic variants, and take one entry? Or is it more convenient to represent it as several words? The difference in the number of entries for an equal bulk of vocabulary may also depend on a different approach to the regularly formed derivatives, like those with -er, -ing, -ness, and -ly. These are similar to grammatical endings in their combining possibilities and semantic regularity. The derivation is so regular, and the meaning and class of these derivatives are so easily deduced that they are sometimes sidered not worth an...
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