12.2137, Review: Landau, Dictionaries: Art of Lexicography

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-12-2137. Thu Aug 30 2001. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 12.2137, Review: Landau, Dictionaries: Art of Lexicography

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Date:  Tue, 28 Aug 2001 23:14:28 +0200
From:  Andrzej Zychla <zychla at zibico.com.pl>
Subject:  Review: Landau, Lexicography

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Tue, 28 Aug 2001 23:14:28 +0200
From:  Andrzej Zychla <zychla at zibico.com.pl>
Subject:  Review: Landau, Lexicography

Landau, Sidney I. (2001) Dictionaries: The Art and Craft of
Lexicography, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 493pp.
Hardback ISBN 0-521-78040-3, $69.95; paperback ISBN
0-521-78512-X, $27.95.

Previously announced on Linguist List (12.360).

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. Due to its exhaustive
treatment of the subject, it may well be considered (and
has indeed been so) a textbook introduction to lexicography
- its vivid, non-arcane language makes it of interest not
only to aspiring or practising linguists and
lexicographers, but to everyone interested in dictionaries.

A brief description of the book contents follows, my
critical comments listed below.

Introduction -- looks at the major changes that have been
made to the first (1984) edition (more focus on pedagogical
lexicography; a new chapter on computers in lexicography
[Chapter 6] and the chapter on legal issues [Chapter 8]
thoroughly revised and rewritten).

1. What is a dictionary? -- a detailed taxonomy of
dictionaries (according to various aspects such as: number
of languages covered, language variety described, form of
presentation, manner of financing, age of users, period of
time covered, size, etc.).

2. A brief history of English lexicography -- an overview of
English lexicography from the Middle Ages until now
(pedagogical and machine-readable dictionaries included).

3. Key elements of dictionaries and other language
references -- a look at the dictionary macro- and
microstructure (entry organisation) with particular
attention paid to the latter. The chapter discusses the
treatment of homonymy and polysemy, run-on entries and
scientific nomenclature in dictionaries, problems related
to alphabetisation and entry counts. It also considers the
entry sections: grammatical information, pronunciation,
etymology, synonyms and illustrations.

4. Definition -- an introduction to definition and defining
(good defining practice discussed), full of practical

5. Usage -- usage-tags such as currency (whether a word is
still in use or has become obsolete), regional variation,
specialised terminology, taboo, slang, style and status
discussed; historical overview of approaches to usage

6. The corpus in lexicography -- a description of how
corpora have changed language analysis and how they can be
used to lexicographer's advantage (certain drawbacks
pointed out, though); a brief overview of available corpora
and examples of corpus queries added (key-word in context

7. Dictionary making -- practical issues concerning: (1)
planning the dictionary; (2) writing the dictionary; (3)
producing the dictionary and (4) revising and abridging a

8. Legal and ethical issues -- insights on: plagiarism,
trademarks and giving credit to lexicographers (plus a full
text of a proposal presented by the author to the
Dictionary Society of North America).

Bibliography and index to dictionaries mentioned in the
text, from Johnson (1755) to the present.

A selective bibliography of non-dictionary sources.

Since the first edition became available, many people (some
of whom are listed in the preface) have sent the author
specific comments, many of which he decided to include in
the second edition. He also decided to rewrite everything
rather than just amend it.

I found the book very interesting because of its very
practical approach (a lot of interesting data reproduced)
and its information on American lexicography (other
introductions to lexicography I am familiar with tend to
focus on Great Britain).

I have a few tiny remarks, though:
p. 15 (middle) -- I found no evidence in dictionaries that
British people 'agree a proposal' - they seem to 'agree
to/with it', which, the author suggests, is American
English. I do not think this particular phrase is a good
example of the differences between the two varieties in
question; for examples of grammatical/lexical differences
see for example Swan (1996:41-45)
p. 15 (bottom) -- I do not think the author's suggestion
that '(...) all English dictionaries should acknowledge
(...) which variety [of English] is primary [in them]
(...)' will be universally accepted for at least two
reasons: a) EFL dictionaries (at least those published in
the UK) strive to give a more-or-less equal coverage of
both British and American varieties of English; b) the more
specific the title of a dictionary is, the smaller its
audience and commercial dictionaries (especially EFL ones)
try to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible.
p. 26 (bottom) It is not 'some' but, in fact, 'most' of
British EFL dictionaries that use controlled defining
vocabularies (Longman did introduce it but other
pedagogical dictionaries followed suit).
p. 37 -- Well's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary is not
concerned with British English only, as Landau seems to
suggest, it gives two standard pronunciations: British
Received Pronunciation (BBC English) and General American.
p. 76 (middle) -- it is a pity that the author failed to
mention at least some of the many changes that Oxford
Advanced Learner's Dictionary has undergone over the years.
p. 97 (middle) -- recorded pronunciations are not the only
improvement of machine-readable dictionaries: such
dictionaries have plenty of room for information not
usually included in paper dictionaries, may include
hypertext links and multimedia and many other features
(users can decide which elements of an entry are to be
p. 107 (bottom) -- I would call 'shed/throw light on
sth' a collocation rather than an idiom.
p. 258 -- the author's comments about Webster's Third's
treatment of usage labels and capitalising are purely
tentative and can be thus challenged easily.
p. 293 (bottom) -- learner's corpora have been used not only
to spot the most frequent errors that all learners,
regardless their L1s make; Cambridge International
Dictionary of English, for example, includes L1-specific
usage notes on a number of languages (based on the results
of the Cambridge language proficiency exams), those
troublesome words (mainly false friends) have also been
assembled in one place, in one of the dictionary's
p. 399 -- I believe that the new technology may make it
easier for users to detect and report mistakes in machine-
readable dictionaries or even update them (through e-mail).

And some critical comments about the whole book:

References to Chapter 6 (The use of corpora in lexicography)
are far too frequent (there are, I believe, a couple of
dozen of them, sometimes a few within a chapter/section).
The audience of the book seems to be too broadly defined
and not all of its readers will be catered for equally
well. Some of the technicalities of dictionary production
may prove to be beyond some of the less motivated, non-
specialist readers.

The author gets a bit too specific and sentimental about
his former employer, Funk and Wagnalls, and some of the
culture-specific examples may soon become obsolete unless
the book is 'updated' more frequently than every 20 years!

Swan, M. (1996) Practical English Usage. Oxford University

The author of this review is an assistant at the Teachers'
Training College in Zielona Gora. He defended his MA thesis
(a critical evaluation of one of the Polish bilingual
dictionaries) in 1998. He is currently working on his PhD
dissertation (Defining strategies used by EFL teachers and
their possible implications for dictionary definitions).
His interests include: (meta)lexicography and applied
linguistics (language teaching methodology and


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