Dictionaries can be roughly divided into 2 main categories: historical and current. Historical dictionaries, of which the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the best known, trace the development of words over the ages, with the separate meanings of each word presented in the order in which they made their appearance in the language. Historical dictionaries attempt to find the earliest written evidence of a word, and illustrate their entries with examples taken from written sources. Current dictionaries focus on the vocabulary in current use and order the senses of the words according to their familiarity to the modern user, often leaving out archaic senses altogether. Subcategories of current dictionaries are dictionaries for adult native speakers, second-language learners' dictionaries and children's dictionaries.
The earliest dictionaries of English, beginning with Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabeticall ... (1604), gave explanations of "hard words." The first book that sought to be a complete dictionary of English was Nathaniel Bailey's Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1721), a starting point for Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which established lexicographical tradition by using quotations from literature to illustrate the meanings of words. In 1828 Noah Webster produced An American Dictionary of the English Language, a 2-volume work which asserted the distinctiveness of American English and established alternative spellings such as -er (instead of -re) and -or (instead of - our) endings.
The Oxford English Dictionary (1884-1928, published in 12 volumes with a supplement in 1933) traces the origins and development of English words since Anglo-Saxon times. An updated Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary (ed, R.W. Burchfield), published in 4 volumes from 1972 to 1986, was integrated into the 20-volume Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (eds, J. Simpson and E.C.W. Weiner, 1989), which included in addition some 5000 new items, for a total of over 600 000 word forms illustrated by almost 2.5 million quotations. Work on this edition was assisted by computer scientists at the University of Waterloo who, from 1984, developed a system for storing and searching the text through a computer database. A 3rd edition of the OED is currently being prepared.
Dictionaries used in English-speaking Canada have too often been either American or British, few of them showing Canadian terms or Canadian variant spellings and pronunciations. Even some dictionaries published in Canada have had little Canadian content. As early as 1937 there appeared The Winston Dictionary for Canadian Schools, which was simply an American work with a few Canadian additions and alterations. In more recent years the desire of school authorities to purchase books of Canadian origin and manufacture has resulted in several publishers producing dictionaries that are merely reprintings of American works with some Canadian entries incorporated.
However, serious research into Canadian English experienced an upsurge in the late 1950s and '60s, resulting in A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (1967), edited by Walter S. Avis, C. Crate, P. Drysdale, D. Leechman and M.H. Scargill. It presents over 10 000 words that originated in Canada, have meanings peculiar to Canada or have special significance in Canada. Since this is a historical dictionary, many of these words are no longer used. A shorter version, A Concise Dictionary of Canadianisms, was published in 1972. A number of projects in the 1960s and 70s used this research to produce dictionaries based on American models, primarily for schools, that included more Canadian content than their predecessors. Chief among these were the Gage dictionaries based on the American Thorndike-Barnhart series, of which the best known is the Gage Canadian Dictionary (rev 1983); a series of Winston dictionaries, of which the most recent is the Compact Dictionary of Canadian English (1976); and the Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, Canadian Edition (1973), published by Fitzhenry and Whiteside, with superficial revisions since. The Penguin Canadian Dictionary, with a fairly limited word list and some serious omissions, appeared in 1990.
The original research on which these dictionaries were based is now over 30 years old. To fill this gap, Oxford University Press Canada established a permanent dictionary department in 1992, and will base a series of thoroughly researched current Canadian dictionaries on citation files of over 14 million words of Canadian text covering all genres and subject matter. The first of these dictionaries, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, was published in 1998.
A number of Canadian regional dictionaries in the same historical tradition as the OED have appeared in recent years. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English (1982; 2nd ed 1990), edited by G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin and J.D.A. Widdowson, uses authenticated oral evidence as well as citations from Newfoundland literature and folklore. T.K. Pratt's Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English (1988) is similarly based on oral surveys and written sources. A historical dictionary of Cape Breton English is in preparation under W. Davey and R. MacKinnon.
Like anglophone Canadians, francophone Canadians have long had to make do with dictionaries reflecting a different linguistic reality than their own. Furthermore, since the first appearance of the conservative and prescriptive Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française in 1694, there has been a trend towards marginalization of varieties of French from outside France. Other important historical dictionaries of French have been Émile Littré's Dictionnaire de la langue française (5 vols, 1863-72; new 4-volume ed, 1974, Alain Rey, ed), Paul Robert's Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française (7 vols, 1965; 2nd ed, 9 vols, 1985), and the 16-volume Trésor de la langue française: Dictionnaire de la langue du 19e et du 20e siècle (1971-1994).
With the publication in 1880 of Oscar Dunn's Glossaire franco-canadien, francophone Canadians started to show how their variety of French differed from the standard form of France. In 1930 La Société du parler français au Canada published the Glossaire du parler français au Canada. Louis-Alexandre Bélisle compiled and published Dictionnaire général de la langue française au Canada (1957), a significant work of scholarship which was revised in 1974 and then republished as Dictionnaire nord-américain de la langue française (1979). An ongoing tendency in Québécois dictionaries has been a tension between attempts to align Québécois French with European French norms on the one hand, and the desire to assert and legitimize usages peculiar to Québec on the other. In the wake of the QUIET REVOLUTION, several books celebrated the distinctiveness of current Québec French, often admitting variant forms and expressions, such as anglicisms and vulgarisms, that were frowned upon by traditionalists. A popularist example is Léandre Bergeron's Dictionnaire de la langue québécoise (1980), translated into English as The Québécois Dictionary (1982). A more scholarly presentation of Canadianisms in French is Gaston Dulong's Dictionnaire des Canadianismes (1989) based on dialectological research carried out throughout eastern Canada, including ACADIA. See also FRENCH LANGUAGE.
Canadian Francophones, like Anglophones, have suffered from having a Canadian label placed on imported dictionaries that have been reprinted with little or no revision (eg, Dictionnaire Beauchemin canadien, 1968). More thorough adaptations of French dictionaries appeared in the late 1980s and 90s with the Dictionnaire du français Plus, à l'usage des francophones d'Amérique (ed, C. Poirier, 1988) and the Dictionnaire québécois d'aujourd'hui (ed, J-C. Boulanger, 1992, rev 1993). These works broke new ground by being the first serious dictionaries to reflect the attitude that Canadian French usages were valid and standard rather than marginal by comparison with the French of France. They were able to draw on the vast research compiled at Laval University by the team of the Trésor de la langue franàaise au Québec, which aimed to publish the Dictionnaire du français québécois (Dictionary of Quebecois French), a historical dictionary of Canadian French, in 1998, under the direction of C. Poirier.
A small bilingual dictionary, The Canadian Dictionary / Dictionnaire canadien (ed, Jean-Paul Vinay) was published in 1962. A larger bilingual dictionary, the Bilingual Canadian Dictionary/Dictionnaire bilingue canadien, is being prepared by teams of researchers at the U of Ottawa, the U of Montréal and Laval U, under the direction of R. Roberts and A. Clas.
A number of dictionaries of Canadian native languages now exist. In the 1970s and '80s the National Museum of Man (CANADIAN MUSEUM OF CIVILIZATION) produced bilingual dictionaries of ABENAKI, HEILTSUK, Kwakwa'la (KWAKIUTL), MOHAWK and MICMAC. Missionaries also provided important lexicographical work, notably the Cree-English English-Cree Dictionary (G. Beaudet, 1995) and L. Schneider's Ulirnaisigutiit: An Inuktitut-English Dictionary of Northern Quebec, Labrador, and Eastern Arctic Dialects (1985). See also NATIVE PEOPLE, LANGUAGES.
Another major dictionary project undertaken in Canada is the Dictionary of Old English, which is being prepared under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. This dictionary gives full historical coverage of the earliest period of English (600-1150 AD), complementing the treatment of the later stages of the language in the OED. It is one of the few dictionaries of any language to be based on a comprehensive examination of the surviving evidence: its electronic database, from which words and citations are drawn, consists of at least one copy of every extant old English text. Five of the 22 letters of the dictionary have been published on microfiche: A (1994), Æ (1992), B (1991), C (1988), D (1986); E (1996); and work is in progress on F, G and H. Electronic publication of the dictionary is planned for the future once a system of structural tags has been implemented to enable searches.
All dictionaries reflect the culture for which and within which they are written. Indigenous Canadian dictionaries, therefore, are an essential part of defining a Canadian identity.
Author PATRICK DRYSDALE AND KATHERINE BARBER
Walter S. Avis, Introduction, A Dictionary of Canadianisms (1967); G.M. Story, "The Role of the Dictionary in Canadian English," and T.K. Pratt, "A Response to G.M. Story," both in In Search of the Standard in Canadian English (1986); A. diPaolo Healey, "Reasonable Doubt, Reasoned Choice: The Letter A in the Dictionary of Old English," in
Links to Other Sites
Maliseet - Passamaquoddy Dictionary
This online dictionary is from the Mi'kmaq - Maliseet Institute, University of New Brunswick.
Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre
An extensive online information source about the history, traditions, and languages of First Nations peoples in Saskatchewan.
Yukon Native Language Centre
A superb multimedia site that offers an introduction to native languages in the Yukon. Features the Gwich'in, Hän, Kaska, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Tagish, and Upper Tanana languages. Includes information about training programs for teachers and the public.
Dictionary of Indian Tongues
A facsimile of an 1862 publication about the "Tshimpsean, Hydah and Chinook" languages. Features definitions and English translations. From Library and Archives Canada.
Oxford closes Canadian dictionary division
A news story about the closing of the Canadian dictionary division of Oxford University Press. From canada.com.
Dictionary of Newfoundland English
Do you know what a “bangbelly” is? Find out by consulting this extensive online regional lexicon of Newfoundland and coastal Labrador English. From the "Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage" website.
Dictionary of Newfoundland English turns 30
Watch local residents talk about their favourite Newfoundland words in this CBC TV News story about the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.