Using dictionaries and thesauruses as evidence

Julie Coleman

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Using dictionaries and thesauruses as evidence

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  • Linguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Lexicography


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Dictionaries and thesauruses provide a wealth of evidence about language use, and about linguistic anxieties and attitudes. With the possible exception of those based on corpora, dictionaries cannot pretend to provide impartial representation of language use, but if their partialities and biases are taken into account, the evidence included in historical dictionaries can provide insights into the lexicon far beyond what is otherwise available. While it may be unwise to base an argument about language use or change solely on dictionary evidence, dictionaries provide valuable linguistic evidence which sometimes challenges the conclusions reached through corpus or cognitive approaches.

Keywords: dictionaries; thesauruses; reference; attitudes; society; anxiety; linguistic change; national identity; language politics; evidence; linguistics; English

Article.  5168 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Lexicography

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