Does Johnson's prescriptive approach still have a role to play in modern-day dictionaries?

Gouws R.H. ; Potgieter L. (2010)

Conference Paper

Samuel Johnson's dictionary (1755) confirmed both the status of dictionaries as authoritative sources of (linguistic) knowledge and the prescriptive approach in lexicography. This approach prevailed for a long time. During the last decades the descriptive approach came to the fore, aptly supported by the increased reliance on lexicographic corpora. Modern-day lexicography has also witnessed the introduction of a third approach, i.e. the proscriptive approach, which includes features of both the prescriptive and the descriptive approach. This article investigates the occurrence of the prescriptive, descriptive and proscriptive approaches in modern-day dictionaries. A distinction is made between dictionaries focusing on language for general purposes and dictionaries focusing on languages for special purposes. It is shown that users rely on dictionaries as prescriptive reference sources and expect lexicographers to provide them with an answer to the specific question that prompted the dictionary consultation process. It is argued that knowledgeable dictionary users must be able to achieve an unambiguous retrieval of information and must be able to rely on the dictionary to satisfy their specific cognitive or communicative needs. Here the proscriptive approach plays an important role.

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