Dictionaries – what are they for?
Many people see dictionaries as major sources of authority on language-related matters. If a word is not in the dictionary, then it can’t possibly exist, even if you hear it every day in the conversations of others. Dictionaries are there to tell us what words ‘really mean’, and how they ‘should’ be used and pronounced. These types of attitudes could be called prescriptive.
There is however another view of the function of dictionaries: that they should provide a description that is as objective as possible of a particular language, including information about pronunciation, meanings, etymology and usage.
While composing this, I starting wondering whether anybody has ever compiled an oral dictionary, i.e. a dictionary of spoken language consisting of recordings of words, definitions and examples of usage. Such a dictionary would be very interesting, and particularly useful for language students.
This post was inspired by one of the books I’m reading at the moment: Proper English – Myths and Misunderstandings about Language, by Ronald Wardhaugh.