Marta DEGANI - Alexander ONYSKO
University of Verona, University of Innsbruck
Reconstructing the notion of ‘dialect’ in the English Dialect Dictionary
The English Dialect Dictionary, published in 6 volumes between 1898 and
1905, can be considered today as the first scholarly compendium of English dialects
(cf. Onysko, Markus and Heuberger 2009). The idea of creating a dictionary that
would provide “so far as is possible, the complete vocabulary of all English dialect
words” (Preface vol.1) in use during the 18th and 19th centuries was born with the
foundation of the English Dialect Society in 1873. The actual task of compiling
the English Dialect Dictionary, however, was taken up by one person in particular,
Joseph Wright. Thus, it was his endeavour and zeal that made the realization of
this ambitious project possible (cf. Holder 2004).
Interest in the philological study of dialects was a newly emerging field of
scholarly research in the second half of the 19th century. This, arguably, gave
some official acknowledgement to the existence of English dialects. The question,
however, remains of how the notion of dialect was understood at that time and thus
which words and expressions could find entrance into the English Dialect Dictionary.
To reconstruct the understanding of dialect as it emerges from Joseph Wright’s
six- volume work, our paper is going to take a closer look at the history of its
making and the lexicographical structure of its entries. Apart from discussing Wright’s
role as the ultimate authority of deciding on the inclusion of dialect terms in
the dictionary, we will focus on the different parts of its entry structure and
its lexicographical labelling. In addition, we will tease apart the different semantic
domains that are covered by the many headwords in order to provide insight into
the major concerns of what was considered as dialect speech at that time. Altogether,
this combined approach touching upon history, lexicographical strategies, and semantic
analysis of the English Dialect Dictionary will allow drawing conclusions
on the scholarly notion of (English) dialect at the turn of the 20th century.
Holder, R.W. 2004. The dictionary men. Their lives and times. Bath:
Bath University Press.
Onysko, Alexander, Manfred Markus, and Reinhard Heuberger. 2009. In Corpus
Linguistics: Refinements and Reassessments, Antoinette Renouf and Andrew Kehoe
(eds.), 201-219. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.
Wright, Joseph 1898-1905. The English Dialect Dictionary. 6 vols.
Oxford: Henry Frowde.