As this lively new study effectively demonstrates, dictionaries serve as far more than just simple reference tools-they also offer a rich fund of information about people in society. Before now, the extent to which dictionaries encode social history, as opposed to merely relaying linguistic information, has gone almost entirely unnoticed. In this illuminating new book, Linda C. Mitchell analyzes the complex and changing relationship in the early modern period between authority and lexicographers: she identifies ways in which lexicographers constructed their authority, examines the link between the conservative and the subversive in dictionaries, and finally, charts the shift of linguistic authority from grammarians to lexicographers. In the introduction to this study, the author surveys the history of organization in dictionaries, including how their very order constructs authority. Subsequent chapters explore such intriguing topics as the role played by personalities in the construction of lexicographic authority; how the reader depended on dictionaries for travel information; the inclusion of history and mythology in dictionaries and what this kind of information meant to the reading public, including the extent to which historical accounts were biased. Mitchell explores the relative ease with which dictionaries evaded censorship, showing how some lexicographers used their dictionaries to promulgate their views on gender, religion, and politics. Finally, she discusses how far we have traveled from early dictionaries to the present state of lexicography, tracing the legacy of old dictionaries in modern-day electronic dictionaries. Broadly based on archival research in rare-book libraries, the study considers approximately 300 primary texts, including not only dictionaries, but also traditional grammars, encyclopedias, and other manuals (e.g., almanacs). Mitchell examines material which frames the systematic lexicographical presentations at any one time: prefaces, introductions, forewords, statements of intent, organization of materials, as well as definitions themselves.
Table of Contents to come.