English | Special Topics in Literary Study & Theory
L680 | 13221 | Adams


L680  13221  ADAMS (#6)
Special Topics in Literary Study & Theory

11:15a– 12:30p TR

TOPIC:  READING DICTIONARIES

This course considers the literary and cultural position of a common
but largely misunderstood and overlooked type of text: dictionaries.
For instance, note that I did not write “the Dictionary,” even
though that’s where people say they look up words, because there is
no “the Dictionary.” That misunderstanding or misrepresentation is
nonetheless culturally significant, as we’ll discover during the
term. Centrally, though, the course will consider actual
dictionaries: what they are, how they’re made, what they’re for
(scientifically, educationally, culturally), how to read them
(because at least some dictionaries are literature), and how to use
them to read, not just other texts but culture, too.

Our reading will include Sidney I. Landau’s Dictionaries: The Art
and Craft of Lexicography (2/e, Cambridge UP, 2001); K. M. Elizabeth
Murray’s Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford
English Dictionary (Yale UP, 1977; Oxford UP paperback, 1979); Lynda
Mugglestone’s Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford
English Dictionary (Yale UP, 2003); Charlotte Brewer’s Treasure-
House of the Language: The Living OED (Yale UP, 2007); Herbert C.
Morton’s The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial
Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge UP, 1994); Ammon Shea’s
Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages (Penguin, 2008);
and several articles. In addition (of course), we’ll examine lots of
dictionaries of English, from Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall (1604)
to Web-based dictionaries and everything in between. The core
reading focuses on two major dictionaries, mainly because these are
the two about which most has been written; but studying these two
will illustrate various means of reading dictionaries, means that
can be adopted and developed to understand other dictionaries, as
well as the intellectual and cultural enterprise of lexicography
generally.

Members of the course will make a presentation early in the term on
an aspect of the dictionary (defining, labeling, illustration,
etymology, etc.) with regard to a set of half a dozen assigned
dictionaries; from the middle to end of the term, they will write
papers of extended conference length (10-15 pages). The subject and
method and even style of the paper are open. The course is not
designed with one group of graduate students in mind: linguists,
philologists, literary historians and critics, pedagogues,
theorists, and creative writers will find the course material
informative and interesting and can make use of it in terms of their
own ongoing intellectual or aesthetic projects.

One last note: the Dictionary Society of North America will meet at
IU in late May 2009. IU graduate students are welcome to attend
sessions of this conference without becoming members of DSNA or
paying to register; I am currently trying to secure funding that
offers graduate students access to the program. The program consists
of two components, plenary sessions of 20-minute papers and
seminars. The deadline for abstracts for the regular sessions is
December 1, 2008; the deadline for announcing interest in seminars
is November 1. Papers for the seminars are longer and circulated
among seminar members in advance of the conference. Any graduate
student in English interested in presenting a paper or participating
in a seminar at this conference should see Michael Adams as soon as
possible, with some basic idea of a topic in hand (he will help you
to develop it). We would like to form a seminar on the role of
dictionaries in college and university teaching and learning, and
students interested in this subject (perhaps especially those in
composition and rhetoric) should see Michael Adams even sooner.
Successful submissions can then be developed over the course of the
Spring Term, in our course.