Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG415H1F L5101

ENG415H1F     L5101    T6-8
Advanced Studies Group 1: English Dictionaries and Literature
Instructor: Professor Carol Percy
Office Telephone:
Office Address: Jackman Humanities Building, 732

Brief Description of Course: When you need the meaning of a word, do you infer it from context? If you look the word up, where do you look it up? (Why) do you trust that source as a language authority? This course explores the development of English dictionaries in time and space: seventeenth-century dictionaries of ‘hard’ words available through Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME), the literary quotations and quirky definitions in Samuel Johnson’s (1755), historical dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Toronto Dictionary of Old English, national dictionaries like the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the Dictionary of Jamaican English, regional dialect dictionaries, and dictionaries of slang, including the user-generated Urban Dictionary. Topics will to some extent be student-generated, and will often illustrate the tension between ‘descriptive’ and ‘prescriptive’ usage: if the word rabid has frequently modified feminist, should that usage be documented in the OED? You will need to have easy and frequent access to the internet.

In this course we will also analyze the relationships between literature and dictionaries. Quotations from certain sorts of texts both drew and gave authority to dictionaries like Johnson’s and the OED. And the digitized interface of the OED allows us to identify the supposedly ‘new’ words and/or meanings in a given literary text: is it significant that Hamlet contains many ‘new’ words beginning with over-? You will learn and practice some approaches for analysing the use of ‘hard’ words and dialect words in literary texts. And we will do quite a lot of ‘close reading’, of literature and dictionaries.

Required Reading:
A course pack containing both secondary and primary sources, literary and lexicographical. We will likely also read a few longer works together, likely one Shakespeare play and as well as some fiction. I’ll be updating this description in the summer. If you’ve registered in the course and have some ideas you want to explore, please feel free to email me during the summer!
First Three Authors/Texts: TBA.
Method of Evaluation:Reading journal, brief presentation, class and online participation, short paper (on a lexicographical topic), research paper (on a literary or lexicographical topic).
Link to ARTSCI Calendar Course Descriptions.

Link to ARTSCI 2016-17 Timetable with Room Allocations.

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