In this article, Ong explores the roots of the critical attack on Webster's New International Dictionary, Third Edition, published shortly before the article itself.  Ong maintains that the rationale behind the criticism offered by Karl Dykema, in "Cultural Lag and Reviewers of Webster III" (AAUP Bulletin 49 (1963) :  364-69), is sound.  He asserts, as does Dykema, that many of the reviewers maintain a "medieval linguistic outlook" and thus are uncertain about many of the new additions to the text.  Also, there is a failure to acknowledge that many additions to the text come from groups outside the elite, or so-called "cultivated groups."

Ong notes that one of the overlooked reasons for the criticism relates to the "psychological structures which alphabetic literacy fosters and on which a dictionary builds."  That is, one cannot truly understand the dictionary without first understanding the role which the alphabet plays in speech.  Ong underscores the tremendous differences between hearing a word and viewing it on a printed page.  After describing the process by which typographers set type, Ong explains that the process, indeed the use of the alphabet, is a constraining element in the world of language.  It is important to understand that it is a world of such constraint from which the dictionary was born.

Created in this world of constraint, the dictionary is thus expected to adhere to many constraints of its own.  Ong indicates that early entries into the previous editions of the dictionary were those words used by the elite, not the vernacular.  In Webster III, there is more of a reliance on what is heard than ever before.  Indeed, Ong indicates that the dictionary is just one more sign of the trend in "oral-aural" culture.  After examining such an argument, Ong asserts, the rationale behind the criticism of Webster III is clear; however, Ong argues that critics should abandon such an exacting, rule-centered schema.  Ong also addresses the subject of grammar and usage in his article "Grammar and the Twentieth Century."

P. Gregory Gibson
University of Dayton
 

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