Lexicography

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Lexicography

What is lexicography?

Lexicography is the study of lexicons and is divided into two separate but equally important academic disciplines. Lexicography can also be referred to as 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 lexicon meaning 'of words' and grapho meaning 'to inscribe, to write.’

lexicography
Source: ResearchGate

What is the aim of lexicography?

One important goal of lexicography is to keep the lexicographic information costs incurred by dictionary users as low as possible. Nielsen suggests relevant aspects for lexicographers to consider when making dictionaries as they all affect the users' impression and actual use of specific dictionaries.

What are the types of lexicography?

Theoretical lexicography is the scholarly discipline of analyzing and describing the semantic, syntagmatic, and paradigmatic relationships within the lexicon (vocabulary) of a language, developing theories of dictionary components and structures linking the data in dictionaries, the needs for information by users in specific types of situations, and how users may best access the data incorporated in printed and electronic dictionaries. This is sometimes referred to as ‘metalexicography’.

General lexicography focuses on the design, compilation, use and evaluation of general dictionaries, i.e. dictionaries that provide a description of the language in general use. Such a dictionary is usually called a general dictionary or LGP dictionary (Language for General Purpose). Specialized lexicography focuses on the design, compilation, use and evaluation of specialized dictionaries, i.e. dictionaries that are devoted to a (relatively restricted) set of linguistic and factual elements of one or more specialist subject fields, e.g. legal lexicography. Such a dictionary is usually called a specialized dictionary or Language for specific purposes dictionary and following Nielsen 1994, specialized dictionaries are either multi-field, single-field or sub-field dictionaries.

It is now widely accepted that lexicography is a scholarly discipline in its own right and not a sub-branch of applied linguistics, as the chief object of study in lexicography is the dictionary.

Practical lexicographic work involves several activities, and the compilation of well-crafted dictionaries requires careful consideration of all or some of the following aspects:

  • Profiling the intended users (i.e. linguistic and non-linguistic competences) and identifying their needs
  • Defining the communicative and cognitive functions of the dictionary
  • Selecting and organizing the components of the dictionary
  • Choosing the appropriate structures for presenting the data in the dictionary (i.e. frame structure, distribution structure, macro-structure, micro-structure and cross-reference structure)
  • Selecting words and affixes for systematization as entries
  • Selecting collocations, phrases and examples
  • Choosing lemma forms for each word or part of word to be lemmatized
  • Defining words
  • Organizing definitions
  • Specifying pronunciations of words
  • Labeling definitions and pronunciations for register and dialect, where appropriate
  • Selecting equivalents in bi- and multi-lingual dictionaries
  • Translating collocations, phrases and examples in bi- and multilingual dictionaries
  • Designing the best way in which users can access the data in printed and electronic dictionaries.

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What is the history of lexicography?

The history of lexicography goes back to Old English where its first traces are found in the form of glosses of religious books with interlinear translation from Latin. Regular bilingual English-Latin dictionaries already existed in the 15th century.

The first unilingual English dictionary, explaining words appeared in 1604. It was "A table alphabetical, containing and teaching the true writing and understanding of hard usual English words borrowed from the Hebrew, Greece, Latin or French". This dictionary of 120 pages explaining about 3000 words was compiled by Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster. Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabetical was the first single-language English dictionary ever published.

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.

What is lexicography in Applied Linguistics?

Lexicography is an area of applied linguistics that focuses on the compilation of dictionaries (practical lexicography) as well as on the description of the various types of relations found in the lexicon (theoretical lexicography). It is neither a new science nor a new craft. Historians generally agree that the first dictionaries can be traced back to the explanations of difficult words inserted into Latin manuscripts in the Middle Ages. 

These glosses evolved into glossaries which were sorted alphabetically or thematically and came to fulfill a vital function in teaching and the transmission of knowledge. The use of Latin words to explain more difficult Latin ones foreshadowed monolingual dictionaries, with their headwords and definitions, while explanations of hard Latin words in Old English or Old French can be seen as a precursor of modern bilingual dictionaries.

What is the lexicographic rule?

The lexicographic decision rule is one of the simplest methods of choosing among decision alternatives. It is based on a simple priority ranking of the attributes available. According to the lexicographic decision rule, a decision alternative is better than another alternative if and only if it is better than the other alternative in the most important attribute on which the two alternatives differ. In other words, the lexicographic decision rule does not allow trade-offs among the various attributes. For example, if quality is considered to be more important than cost, no difference in price can compensate for a difference in quality: The lexicographic decision rule chooses the item with the best quality regardless of the cost.

Over the years, the lexicographic decision rule has been compared to various statistical learning methods, including multiple linear regression, support vector machines, decision trees, and random forests. The results show that the lexicographic decision rule can sometimes compete remarkably well with more complex statistical methods, and even outperform them, despite its naively simple structure. These results have stimulated a rich scientific literature on why, and under what conditions, lexicographic decision rules yield accurate decisions. Due to the simplicity of its decision process, its fast execution time, and the robustness of its performance in various decision environments, the lexicographic decision rule is considered to be a plausible model of human decision making. In particular, the lexicographic decision rule is put forward as a model of how the human mind implements bounded rationality to make accurate decisions when information is scarce, time is short, and computational capacity is limited.

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