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MetroLex: Politics and Ideology in the History of Dictionary Making

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Columbia University

Hamilton Hall, Room 703

New York, NY 10027

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The Dictionary Society of North America has partnered with local organizations in the New York City area to establish a series of meetups called MetroLex. MetroLex meetups bring together lexicographers, linguists, technologists, educators, and other language professionals to share research and projects relating to dictionary technology, dictionary use, language documentation, semantic ontologies, and lexicography.

After two successful meetups last year hosted by Oxford University Press, the first MetroLex of 2017 will be held at Columbia University, hosted by associate professor of English and comparative literature John H. McWhorter. The theme of this session will be "Politics and Ideology in the History of Dictionary Making." Three speakers will be making brief presentations about research projects.

  • Jack Lynch, professor of English at Rutgers University–Newark, author of You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf From Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia (2016) and The Lexicographer’s Dilemma (2009).
    Noah Webster is famous for fighting the nineteenth century's "dictionary wars" with Joseph Worcester. But before the first shot was fired in that war, Webster was engaged in hostilities with his most important predecessor, Samuel Johnson. Webster had a complicated relationship with Johnson, eagerly disavowing him and his politics while quietly cribbing much of his work. This talk will focus on how Webster squeezed the word "American" into Johnson's title.

  • Rebecca Shapiro, assistant professor of English at CUNY–New York City College of Technology, author of Fixing Babel: An Historical Anthology of Applied English Lexicography (2016).
    We like to think of dictionaries as neutrally explaining what words mean or how they're used in sentences. They can be general—for students—or specific—for language learners or a profession. But we don't think of dictionaries as being thinly-veiled conduct books telling us how low our necklines should be, how to make our own cosmetics, how to talk pleasingly to a man, or even what not to read. The Ladies Dictionary (1694) was just that sort of thing: its aim wasn't to make women smarter, but to make women prettier.

  • Donna Farina, professor of multicultural education at New Jersey City University.
    The focus of this talk will be on usages in the Russian language that arose during the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, such as krymnash 'the Crimea belongs to us.' We will discuss the lexicographic strengths and weaknesses of some contexts with the new usages. Our goal is to gain insight into connotation, the Ugly Stepsister of the Dictionary. In a world where online presentation of lexicographic material provides possibilities not available previously in print dictionaries, how exactly should connotation, given its propensity to change so quickly, be treated in lexicographic definition and in illustrative examples?

The presentations will be followed by discussion and light refreshments provided by Cambridge University Press.

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Columbia University

Hamilton Hall, Room 703

New York, NY 10027

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