If you’re interested in the English language, or studying a language course, it’s worth making time to catch up with Fry’s English Delight on Radio 4. In this week’s programme, Fry looks at the emergence of English dictionaries and the ever increasing number of words in the English lexicon. There’s a useful introduction to the first single language dictionaries, a maha-sketch on Indian English written by Nina Wadia (based on a list of Indian-English words which may make it into the English language in 20 years time), and a discussion of the effect social networking is having on language.
‘Words without end’
As the title of this week’s programme suggests, the number of words in the English language continues to increase dramatically. Fry cites the number of entries recorded in the first and second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to demonstrate this, but going back further reinforces the point he is making.
- 1604 Robert Cawdrey, A Table Alphabeticall – 2,500 words
- 1755 Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language – 40,000
- 1928 Oxford English Dictionary (1st edition) – 400,000
- 1989 Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) – 600,000
A post exploring the key English dictionaries in more detail will follow soon.
Oxford English Dictionary
Editors are now working on a third edition of the OED (begun in 1993) with revisions published online every three months since 2000. New words are being added and entries revised so that definitions, derivations, and pronunciations are accurate. Follow the link below to find out more:
If you’d like to listen to Fry’s English Delight, use the iPlayer Radio link below. The programme and additional clips and related links are available until 10 pm Monday 16th September.
And finally …
If you were wondering, maha is an Indian prefix meaning ‘great’. It’s used in familiar expressions like Maharaja (‘Great King’) and Maharishi (‘Great Rishi’). In Nina Wadia’s sketch maha is used as an adjective for comic effect (maha-pleasure, maha-damage).