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date: 20 June 2021

p. 192. Historylocked

p. 192. Historylocked

  • Lynda Mugglestone


From a global perspective, the history of dictionaries spans thousands of years. Long before printing, scribal culture engaged with the various ways in which the knowledge of words might be organized and transmitted, often in the form of glosses on texts. Renaissance lexicography created dictionaries between different vernacular languages. Monolingual English dictionaries originally featured only difficult words, but in the 18th century Dr Johnson argued for the inclusion of ‘easy’ words and the omission of encyclopaedic information. In the 19th-century philological revolution, descriptivism displaced prescriptivism. This was exemplified in the OED. Modern dictionaries now draw on vast, computerized databases which can be analysed with far greater speed, rigour, and sophistication.

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