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Prescriptivism and descriptivism in the first, second and third editions of OED

  • Charlotte Brewer

Abstract

There is a pervasive view, held by academics and educated laypeople alike, that the Oxford English Dictionary is a descriptive work. When plans for this great dictionary were first taking shape, the originators made their intentions very clear. Archbishop Trench, delivering the two lectures to the London Philological Society in 1857 which initiated the project, famously stated the axiom that the lexicographer ‘is a historian of [the language], not a critic’, while the Philological Society's Dictionary Committee announced to its members in a document of 1860 that their job was to list and describe words accurately and disinterestedly.

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Prescriptivism and descriptivism in the first, second and third editions of OED

  • Charlotte Brewer

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