Lexicography: Definition & History

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  • 0:00 Introducing Lexicography
  • 0:25 Defining Lexicography
  • 1:21 History of Lexicography
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

There are over one million words in the English language, and it is up to someone to research and record each and every one of them. Learn about the people behind the dictionary and how such a practice came to be.

Introducing Lexicography

Have you ever wondered whose job it is to sit down and create the dictionary? Every word you can think of has to appear in the dictionary. Think of how many words there are in the English language alone - one million at the very least. The person responsible for recording all of these words is called a lexicographer, and a lexicographers' job is very important.

Defining Lexicography

Lexicography is the practice of making and editing dictionaries and other reference texts. The lexicographer is the one who must research, organize, define, and compile the words in a dictionary. This takes a lot of time and a lot of detail. For each dictionary entry, there is a definition, a pronunciation, a list of synonyms, an example of the word being used, and even sometimes its etymology (or history of the word's origin). For instance, the word 'lexicography' was created in the late 17th century, from the Greek lexikos meaning 'of words' and grapho meaning 'to inscribe, to write'.

The dictionary is extremely vital to the literacy of speakers of a specific language. It is used to look up definitions, spelling, and pronunciation. The dictionary is considered the most accurate and ample resource for information about words.

History of Lexicography

The practice of lexicography is as old as, if not older than, many religions. The first model of a dictionary dates back to the BCE in West Asia. In its early stages, these lexicographic works were more like lists. These lists were used to cultivate bilingualism by recording the similar words of two languages, after land conquests began mixing different cultures. It took thousands of years however, for the creation of the alphabet ordering system, before the dictionary became organized in the way we know it to be today.

While many other continents were well underway with the concept of 'lists' as a language reference, it took Europe a little longer. Beginning in the 15th century, the first popular dictionaries were lists of Latin words with English entries. These were written to encourage the study of Latin, especially for those who could not read it. These English-Latin dictionaries are the first example of lexicography in the English language. Within a century of their publications, lexicography became a very popular tool for learning new languages, like French.

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