CHWP B.11 Siemens, "Lexicographical Method in Cawdrey"

1. Introduction: The First Monolingual Dictionary in English

Robert Cawdrey's Table Alphabeticall holds a prominent place in the development of the dictionary in English; recognizing this, the original editors of the Oxford English Dictionary comment in their Historical Introduction that "To set Cawdrey's slim small volume of 1604 beside the completed Oxford Dictionary of 1933 is like placing the original acorn beside the oak that has grown out of it" (vi). To make even so humble a comparison is, perhaps, to exaggerate the lexicographical sophistication of English monolingual dictionaries at the time. Many were small glosses or lists of words, often specialized, which were defined briefly and usually by their synonyms. Cawdrey's Table, too, is a small dictionary by today's standards; the first edition contained only 2,543 headwords, and it grew in size with each of its three later editions (1609, 1613, 1617), ultimately to define 3,264 words. Yet Cawdrey's modest work of 1604 is the "first fully developed representative" of the monolingual English dictionary (Schäfer 1989: 7).

As a work which depended upon many diverse sources and which is itself a source of dictionaries up to and including the New Oxford English Dictionary, Cawdrey's work is intriguing, but though it borrowed materials and methods from many previous glosses, word lists, and multilingual dictionaries, the Table reflects more than an amalgam of previous lexicographical accomplishment. As the largest dictionary of its type at the time, it is an achievement in itself. Within, Cawdrey presents his diversely gathered matter in a relatively standard manner and style, at once drawing from past and anticipating future developmental trends in Early Modern English lexicography. Specifically of interest in this study are the techniques by which he governs the work -- especially the style inherent in his lexicographical method -- for it is an important aspect of the Table and has the potential to yield further information about the relationships among the early monolingual dictionaries.

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