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Thursday, 31 January 2013
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Literature and the lexicon?
The quantitative and analytic studies of OED now enabled by electronic searching confirm the importance of literary sources in the OED, as shown at OED's most quoted sources: OED1 includes Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dryden, Tennyson and many other such writers among its most quoted sources.

There are a number of questions that users and lexicographers now need to ask themselves, e.g.
  1. To what extent do literary writers shape and influence the lexicon more generally?
  2. What sort of evidence might we use to answer this question one way or another?
  3. What issues arise when dictionaries use poets as sources for usage?
Writers themselves have often had strong views on the relationship between 'ordinary' and 'literary' language. In 1742 Thomas Gray wrote: 'The language of the age is never the language of poetry...poetry...has a language peculiar to itself' (Toynbee and others 1935: vol. 1, p. 192: letter from Gray to R. West; cf. Taylor 1998).

But was T. S. Eliot (1942) right: 'Poetry must not stray too far from the ordinary everyday language which we use and hear...it cannot afford to lose its contact with the changing language of common intercourse' (Kermode 1975: 110)?

Or G. M. Hopkins (1879): '[Poetic language] should be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike itself, but not...an obsolete one' (Abbott 1945: 89)?
Last Updated ( Thursday, 11 October 2007 )
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