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By Tom McArthur

During this number of articles, the writer displays at the nature of language, the artwork of lexicography and the advancements in verbal exchange, the media and knowledge expertise within the past due twentieth century. the 3 major matters checked out are: language at huge, and particulary English, the main normal language within the heritage of the area; the artwork and research of dictionaries and reference technological know-how, embracing all prior, current and power reference fabrics - from the "OED" to the "Yellow Pages"; and the procedures during which verbal exchange, details and data has evoloved - from cave paintings to the private machine.

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Extra info for Living Words: Language, Lexicography and the Knowledge Revolution

Sample text

I have no quarrel with this position, but I am interested in its implications. Nothing in the preceding paragraph means that populations-'educated' or otherwise-react to the arbitrary conventionality of words around them in the full awareness of their conventional and arbitrary nature. Most of the time, linguists (like everybody else) have their professional monitors switched off and do not use their understanding of language in any sense therapeutically or for overt consciousness-raising: they are as influenced, as insultable, as biased in broad terms, as capable of offending deliberately or by implicit failure to care, and so forth, as anybody else.

Because they had mainly been borrowed through French, they had a distinctly un-Latin look and sound, which the Latinizers felt ought to be rectified. In French, rime has kept its ancient indigenous spelling and pronunciation, but in English there was pressure to confonn to a classical nonn on the printed page whether or not people kept the old pronunciation. After 1600, however, two compromise spellings emerged, each adding an h to rime but not a t or a th. These were rhime and rhyme. The second spelling prevailed because of the strong Greek associations of the y: compare hypnosis, psychic, syzygy.

At the same time it is part of the received wisdom of linguistics at this time that 'words' are conventional and arbitrary things. There is no God 's-Truth correlation between pig, ghourouni, porcus, cochon, Schwein, or puerco and whatever referent it serves to isolate and label. No language has a monopoly on the accurate description of 'reality', and no dictionary offers a complete list of the words and definitions that can map neatly on to the perceived bits and pieces of a puzzling universe.

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