Lexicographers Luxuriate in Barbados


What happens when you take 50 people who make or study dictionaries and land them on a remote Caribbean island?

The Dictionary Society of North America provided an answer to that question last week, when it held its three-day biennial meeting not within the United States or Canada, as it had all 20 times before, but in the Caribbean, on the island of Barbados.

And that made a difference. The distance from North America discouraged some North Americans from making the trip. On the other hand, the Caribbean location made attendance possible for Caribbean researchers and students who would not have been able to make it to one of DSNA’s usual sites, like Indiana University. And in Barbados, there was much greater ethnic diversity among DSNA meeting participants than usual.

What’s more, reflecting the interests of the participants, the program paid particular attention to Caribbean lexicography. There is much to do, and much being done, to make dictionaries for the different Caribbean islands. Many, if not most, of them are English-speaking, having been ruled by England for centuries, but along with official English there are local dialects that need their dictionaries too.

So for example we had a report from Caroline Myrick of North Carolina State University, who is studying the language of the little island of Saba, renowned for scuba diving. It has a population of barely 2,000, but living in four towns with four distinctive dialects.

And there is a need for overall dictionaries to compare and contrast the various island dialects. One of them, published in 2003, is Jeannette Allsopp’s Caribbean Multilingual Dictionary of Flora, Fauna and Foods in English, French, French Creole and Spanish. She is working on a new edition.

Among the important reasons for making dictionaries is saving the world. Pamela Faber of the University of Granada told about EcoLexicon, a project of the LexiCon Research Group at that university.

It’s a free online visual thesaurus of vocabulary, in six languages, having to do with the environment. It takes some practice to get used to the functions of the thesaurus, but fortunately it has a detailed user manual.

And for something quite different, Lisa Berglund of Buffalo State, in the State University of New York system, went around literally looking in dictionaries of the early 19th century to see what she could find there. Her collection so far includes everything but the kitchen sink: flowers, leaves, fabric, newspaper clippings.

The setting was the luxury Accra hotel. A large meandering swimming pool was just outside, and a sandy ocean beach just beyond that, with a convenient bar. Sometimes it was hard to keep from being distracted. But it was clear that there would be plenty to discuss two years from now, when the setting indeed will be Bloomington, Ind.

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