Archive for Dictionaries

Webster’s Second and Webster’s Third: Editors going against stereotype

One of the most well-known pieces of lexicographic history is the controversy that greeted the publication of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Whereas the predecessor of W3, Webster’s Second New etc., had been regarded as authoritatively prescriptive, W3 was condemned in the popular media for its descriptive approach, the widespread perception of which can be boiled down to “anything goes.” (For the details, see The Story of Webster’s Third by Herbert Morton and The Story of Ain’t by David Skinner.)

I recently came across two articles that seem to be largely unknown but deserve wider attention— one by the General Editor of W2 (Thomas Knott), and the other by the Editor-in-Chief of W3 (Philip Gove). Each article is notable by itself because it fleshes out the author’s attitude toward usage and correctness, and does so in a way that undermines the stereotype that is associated with the dictionary each one worked on. And when the two articles are considered together, they suggest that despite the very different reputation of the two dictionaries, the authors’ attitudes toward usage and correctness probably weren’t far apart.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

OED on the language of sexual and gender identity

On Twitter, Katherine Connor Martin (Head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press) writes:

In the latest @oed update, dozens of entries relating to sexual and gender identity were revised, the first phase of a project to revisit this rapidly changing segment of the English lexicon.

She links to the lengthy Release Notes, of which the following is just the introduction:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (54)

Ask Language Log: Looking up hanzi for ignoramuses

From Mark Meckes:

I'm a regular Language Log reader, completely ignorant of Chinese languages.  I was just wondering whether there exist worthwhile online tools to help someone like me figure out the meaning of something written only in hanzi.  (The question is occasioned by my looking at a package of tea given to me by a Chinese student; the writing on the package is mostly hanzi, with a little English and no pinyin.)  I'm perfectly competent to use Google Translate and similar tools (and know how much skepticism to approach the results with) for the last stage of the process.  But starting from written hanzi on a physical object, I first need some way to translate that image into either pinyin, Unicode, English, or something equivalent to one of the above — and something that relies on no knowledge of the meaning or pronunciation of the characters, or knowledge of the structure of Chinese characters in general.  Do you have any suggestions?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Annotating the First Page of the First Navajo-English Dictionary

Don't miss Danielle Geller's remarkable, moving personal essay in The New Yorker, "Annotating the First Page of the First Navajo-English Dictionary." Here's how it starts:

The first, incomplete Navajo-English Dictionary was compiled, in 1958, by Leon Wall, an official in the U.S. government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. Wall, who was in charge of a literacy program on the Navajo reservation, worked on the dictionary with William Morgan, a Navajo translator.

’ąą’: “well (anticipation, as when a person approaches one as though to speak but says nothing)”

I could begin and end here. My mother was a full-blooded Navajo woman, raised on the reservation, but she was never taught to speak her mother’s language. There was a time when most words were better left unspoken. I am still drawn to the nasal vowels and slushy consonants, though I feel no hope of ever learning the language. It is one thing to play dress-up, to imitate pronunciations and understanding; it is another thing to think or dream or live in a language not your own.

Comments (14)

Learning languages is so much easier now

If you use the right tools, that is, as explained in this Twitter thread from Taylor ("Language") Jones.

Rule number 1:  Use all the electronic tools at your disposal.

Rule number 2:  Do not use paper dictionaries.

Jones' Tweetstorm started when he was trying to figure out the meaning of shāngchǎng 商场 in Chinese.  He remembered from his early learning that it was something like "mall; store; market; bazaar".  That led him to gòuwù zhòngxīn 购物中心 ("shopping center").  With his electronic resources, he could hear these terms pronounced, could find them used in example sentences, and could locate actual places on the map designated with these terms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Cantonese is not dead yet

Not by a long shot, judging from several recent articles in the South China Morning Post:

"American professor speaks up for Cantonese to preserve Hong Kong’s heritage: Robert Bauer from HKU is writing a Cantonese-English dictionary that will include colloquial terms, believing language represents cultures" (Heyling Chan, 5/21/17)

"Hong Kong vloggers keeping Cantonese alive with money-spinning YouTube channels:  While many fear Cantonese may be in decline, for Hong Kong’s online stars it has opened a gateway to thousands of followers and lucrative careers" (Rachel Blundy, 6/10/17)

"Use Cantonese as a tool to extend Hong Kong’s influence, academic urges:  Chinese University linguist says better teaching of the native language is the vital first step in raising the city’s profile in Beijing’s trade initiative" (Naomi Ng, 5/4/17)

"In Vancouver’s ‘Cantosphere’, a sense of responsibility and an identity under siege:  Artists and academics in Vancouver are carving out a space to examine both the fate of Hong Kong and the diaspora identity" (Ian Young, 5/19/17)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Cantonese teachers influenced by Mandarin

[This is a guest post by Silas S. Brown]

It seems a few native Cantonese speakers employed in the production of Cantonese language courses are quite happy to read out Mandarin vocabulary with Cantonese pronunciation, rather than the actual native Cantonese versions of the words, and I can't help wondering why.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Green's Dictionary of Slang goes online

Today, Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS for short) launches its online version. This is excellent news, coming more than five years after Jonathon Green published the print edition of his exhaustive three-volume reference work. As I wrote in the New York Times Book Review at the time,

It's a never-ending challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the world of slang, but that is the lexicographer’s lot. Green plans to put his dictionary online for continuous revision, which is indeed the direction that many major reference works (including the O.E.D.) are now taking. In the meantime, his monument to the inventiveness of speakers from Auckland to Oakland takes its place as the pièce de résistance of English slang studies. To put it plain, it’s copacetic.

Despite some tough sledding along the way, GDoS now sees the light of day online. Below is Jonathon Green's announcement. (For more, read the coverage in Quartz, and also see the dictionary's blog.) The good news is that headwords, etymologies, and definitions are freely available through online searches, while the full entries, with voluminous citations for each sense of each word, are available for an annual subscription fee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

"Uptalk" in the OED

The latest quarterly update to the online Oxford English Dictionary includes a metalinguistic term all too familiar to Language Log readers: uptalk, defined as "a manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with rising intonation at the end, a type of intonation more typically associated with questions." It's high time that the OED created an entry for the word, given that it has had a significant media presence (for better or for worse) ever since it burst on the scene in 1993.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Cantonese word list and parser

This morning I received an announcement from the The Linguistic Society of Hong Kong (LSHK) that its long awaited Jyutping word list is now online.  Access to the word list is available here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

"Chinese helicopter" under attack

Just a couple of weeks ago, we learned about 19 Singaporean expressions that had been newly added to the OED:

"New Singaporean and Hong Kong terms in the OED" (5/12/16)

Among these expressions was "Chinese helicopter", which was characterized as "derogatory" and defined as "a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Writing Shanghainese

The recent discussion of different ways of writing Chinese reminded Jeff K of two books of Shanghai expressions that he had come across.  See here for scans of a few pages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

A movie about a dictionary

I love dictionaries as much as anyone, but I'm not sure that I'd ever advocate making a film about any of my favorite dictionaries.  Yet this has now been suggested for the Xīnhuá zìdiǎn 新华字典 (trad. 新華字典) (New China character dictionary):

"Will You Watch a Movie Based on Dictionary?" (Anhui News 7/8/15)

At first, one might think this is satire, but when you read this Chinese article about it, you realize they're serious.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)