LING 750G: Lexicography

Spring 2023 (CRN: 87243)
Tuesday/Thursday 3:00-4:15 pm HST | Sakamaki B103


Everyone has lexical data; it is often among the first type of data collected when working on a language. But how to organize, structure, and present those data? How to ensure completeness? What counts as a lexical entry? How to create accurate definitions in a bilingual or monolingual dictionary? These and other burning questions will be addressed in this hands-on course in the art of making dictionaries. Topics will include theoretical issues of meaning; semantic field work; lexical database tools; community lexicography; and issues of dictionary presentation, including mobile apps and online dictionaries.

This course focuses on lexicography for minority and endangered languages. Broadly speaking, lexicography is a huge field, with obvious commercial applications. While the underlying principles of organizing lexical data are the same for large languages as they are for minority and endangered languages, the practicalities involved in doing lexicography for minority and endangered languages are much different. Lexicographers working with large languages can draw on vast corpora and employ large teams of native speaker assistants. Linguists working with minority and endangered languages must often make do with a much smaller data set and fewer native speaker experts, while at the same time grappling with ongoing language attrition, especially in specialized semantic domains. Nevertheless, many of the theories, tools, and techniques developed for lexicography with large languages can be adapted for work with smaller languages.

Course Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand issues in lexical documentation
  • recognize the characteristics of a good dictionary
  • understand the tensions involved in orthographic design
  • articulate the role of audiences in dictionary design and the role(s) of dictionaries in endangered language communities
  • make a dictionary for a minority or endangered language

Final Project

For your final assignment and capstone project you will create a dictionary. The format of the dictionary is up to you: print, online, mobile app, etc. The audience is also up to you: monolingual, bilingual, topical, pedagogical, etc. Your dictionary need not be complete (no dictionary ever really is), but it should be illustrative of what a more complete dictionary would look like. To that end it should have examples of all possible types of entries. It should also include front matter such as an explanation of the orthography and a guide to using the dictionary.

If you already have lexical data which you have collected, then you can use this as the basis for your dictionary. If not, the instructor can supply you with data which you can use to create your dictionary. You may also choose to draw on data from an existing dictionary, provided that the format of your dictionary is substantially different from the source dictionary. Please feel free to contact me to discuss project possibilities in advance.

Because of the various possible formats it is not possible to give precise guidelines about the required size of the dictionary project. However, grades will be based on the quality of your dictionary rather than the quantity of entries. Your time should be spent accordingly on creating detailed, high-quality entries.


For more information see the tentative syllabus.