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date: 28 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Monolingual dictionaries devote more time, money, and effort to the writing definitions than to anything else, but this does not translate into commensurate user benefits. Studies of dictionary use show that the main uses of monolingual dictionaries are for quick and superficial checks on spelling and approximate primary meaning, rather than for more elaborate and carefully constructed linguistic information and subtle sense distinctions as contained in most dictionary entries. This chapter surveys traditional approaches to definition in dictionaries from the eighteenth century to the present day, summarizes some of the most important discoveries by philosophers and anthropologists about the nature of word meaning during the twentieth century, and closes by asking how this is likely to affect dictionary writing in the future. Should lexicographers abandon the unachievable dream of defining word meaning in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, and look instead at the facts of words in use?

Keywords: definition, meaning, properties, stipulation, James Pustejovsky, Natural Semantic Metalanguage, taxonomic hierarchies, prototype theory, John Sinclair, Frame Semantics

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