The Unmasking of English Dictionaries by Dixon, R. M. W.
Cambridge University Press,25 January 2018
Paperback, 272 pages
When we look up a word in a dictionary, we want to know not just its meaning but also its function and the circumstances under which it should be used in preference to words of similar meaning. Standard dictionaries do not address such matters, treating each word in isolation. R. M. W. Dixon puts forward a new approach to lexicography that involves grouping words into 'semantic sets', to describe what can and cannot be said, and providing explanations for this. He provides a critical survey of the evolution of English lexicography from the earliest times, showing how Samuel Johnson's classic treatment has been amended in only minor ways. Written in an easy and accessible style, the book focuses on the rampant plagiarism between lexicographers, on ways of comparing meanings of words, and on the need to link lexicon with grammar. Dixon tells an engrossing story that puts forward a vision for the future.
'An engaging, provocative and at times amusing examination of English dictionaries and their history. Lexicographers will not agree with points in Professor Dixon's program for a new sort of dictionary, but they would go amiss if they ignore him completely.' Jim Rader, Senior Editor, Merriam-Webster, Inc.
This book argues that a dictionary should show when to use one word rather than another, instead of treating each word separately.
About the Author
R. M. W. Dixon is Professor and Deputy Director of the Language and Culture Research Centre at James Cook University, North Queensland and a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include Australian Aboriginal words in English; their origin and meaning (2nd ed, 1995); A semantic approach to English grammar (2nd ed, 2005) and Making new words; morphological derivation in English (2014) He is the author of the classic three-volume text Basic linguistic theory (2010-2012), and has published grammars of languages from Amazonia and Fiji, and of several of the original languages of Australia.