orality, citations, corpora, and dictionaries

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Jun 23 14:45:11 UTC 2003

John B said:

I don't see any basis for the claim that slang (or language in general) is
exclusively oral.

I never claimed this.  I DID say that slang is oral in its origins, and that
all language is primarily and more importantly oral, as opposed to written.

We have since been shown that some slang may well originate in writing.  A
few examples only, but almost definitely some.

That said, I maintain my basic point -- since language is primarily an oral
thing, and since known coinages (in speech or print) are quite rare, then
written citations, whether employed for a slang or a general dictionary, are
necessarily limited as regards their value as evidence, whether for earliest
use (which, except for outright coinages, can never be known with
certainty), or for understanding the sense and (especially) the syntax of
any usage.

My reason for raising this has been to call into question the reliance on
written citations, and to (I hope) bring into wider interest the value of
corpus evidence for lexicography.

Frank Abate

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