The PDE lexicon and PDE dictionaries


Due:                 February 25th,, 2002.

Length:            about 1500 words (6 typed pages)

Format:            DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME on the report.

                        PUT your STUDENT NUMBER and a CLEVER AND SPECIFIC TITLE


Question 1 (5%):

How do different modern dictionaries differ in their treatment of their data? Succinctly compare and contrast the treatment of the same headword by about 6 modern dictionaries, and interpret the differences. Please pick a headword that is potentially “politically incorrect”: I have provided you with the headword “Indian”, but you are welcome to pick your own word. Try to pick about two Canadian, two American, and two British dictionaries. (You will have to find another Canadian dictionary: Gage or Nelson.)


Question 2 (15%):

            Use the electronic OED (2nd edition) and, when relevant, McArthur’s Oxford Companion to the English

            Language, to answer the following questions:

(1)            What kind(s) of cultural contact(s) are reflected by loanwords into English from (one of) Chinese, Japanese, Malay, OR African languages?  Do the words come from particular semantic fields? Are there changes over time?

(2)            How well integrated are these loanwords? Do they occur frequently? In specialist or general use? Are they spelled consistently? Have they changed in meaning? Formed other words?

(3)            What are the advantages and disadvantages of the OED for answering these questions?


I do not want you to turn this into a thesis, so (1) you may wish to select “Sample 100” before (2) selecting “Etymology” and (3) typing “Afri” OR “Jap” or “Chine” or “Malay” into the “Word:” field. I have attached a printout from the “search” screen so that you can see what your output should look like.


Your source:  The OED project was conceived in the 19th century; the first edition was completed in 1928. The second edition of the OED was generated from electronic text (with software developed at the University of Waterloo), and was published in 1989. If you want /need to look at the hard copy of the OED, the twenty-volume second edition of the OED (1989) is available in hard copy in many college libraries (not New College, however) and in Robarts:


The Oxford English Dictionary =[OED]. Ed. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. 2nd ed. 20 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

            PE 1625 M7 1989. Fourth floor of Robarts library, but out of sequence (in the apex).


The second edition is now available on line at An electronic OED can be searched not just for "headwords", but for words occurring in particular fields - the "etymology" field, for instance.  You can even search the whole entry: when writing a paper on the eighteenth-century phrase "sterling English", I was happy to discover all sorts of occurrences of the word "sterling" that weren't under that headword. The third edition is now underway.

            You can and should read a little about the history of the OED in Crystal (443) and Millward (305).  But your best source of information is the entry for "Oxford English Dictionary" in


McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. PE 1625 O85

            1992 GENR, UNIV; PE 1072 O9 1992 TRIF, VUPR. 


McArthur also has entries on relevant subjects like “China”, “Malay”, etc.; you can also get a quick sense of the “cultural” interactions by reading a good encyclopedia entry.


WARNING: Text retrieval programs have an irritating habit of presenting you with exactly what you asked them to find:


(1)     The fact that a word (e.g., "Greek", "African") occurs in the etymology field doesn't mean that the word itself is derived from that language. Read the etymology carefully: your word may be (e.g.) Latin, even if it denotes something African.


(2)     Your string (“Afri”) may pull up data that has nothing to do with an African language. When I initially searched for the string "Afr" in the etymology field, I found that it picked up "AFr" - Anglo-French - as well as "African", "Afrikaans", &c.  Keep this in mind.