Tuesday, 11 January 2011

James Murray, NED and phonetic notation #1

James Murray
I got hold of a fairly interesting academic paper describing how James Murray developed his views on the phonetic notation that was used in the NED. The paper was written by M. K. C. MacMahon in 1985.
It seems that the decision to mark pronunciation in the dictionary was not one of Murray's. According to MacMahon the idea formally first appeared in the "Canones Lexicographici; or Rules to be Observed in Editing the New English Dictionary" in 1860. These rules were defined in December 1859 and January 1860 and revised in April and May of the same year by a committee of the Philological Society consisting of these gentlemen:
  1. The Very Rev. The Dean of Westminster
  2. Theodore Goldstucker, Esq.
  3. Thomas Hewitt Key, Esq.
  4. Thomas Watts, Esq.
  5. Hensleigh Wedgwood, Esq.
  6. Frederick James Furnivall, Esq.
  7. Francis Pulszky, Esq.
  8. Herbert Coleridge, Esq.
credit: www.twyfordschool.com
R.C. Trench
Number 1 was Richard Chevenix Trench, author of works on history, literature, poetry, divinity, and philology. In 1860 he published an essay of 70 pages entitled On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries in which he criticised some of the deficiencies of dictionaries, a critique which did not contain any hints towards pronunciation yet. The topic of pronunciation first appeared in the above-mentioned Canones Lexicographici on page 5:

III. The Arrangement of each Article shall be as follows :
α. The Word to be explained.
β. The Pronunciation and Accent shall be marked; and any changes which the former may have undergone shall be briefly pointed out.
γ. […]

credit: National Portrait Gallery
Derwent Coleridge

On the 10th of May 1860 Derwent Coleridge read a paper to the Philological Society which was published as "Observations on the Plan of the Society's Proposed New English Dictionary" (TPS 7, 1: 152-168). In a footnote to p. 166 D. Coleridge writes:

Besides Ellis and Coleridge it was Melville Bell whose paper of 1869 "How to Speak all Languages" seemed to have played an important role in the matter. Murray must have come to the conviction that the basis of phonetics of that time was solid enough to embark on the undertaking of marking the pronunciation of each headword. Of course, there had to be provided a key to the symbols. The problem still to be solved and the question to be answered was which accent of English to represent.
More on this in one of my next blog entries.

1 comment:

  1. Readers of this blog may well in many cases be glad to be informed that it refers in the main to the, to me extremely int·resting, forty-page scholarly article JAMES MURRAY AND THE PHONETIC NOTATION IN THE NEW ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Michael K. C. MacMahon published from Oxford in 1985 in the Transactions of the Philological Society. It was characteristic of MacMahon's thoro·ness to mention the input of Derwent Coleridge and the Committees editing rules but I can't dou·t that it was generally felt to be axiomatic that omission of pronunciations wdve been pritty unthinkable in this proposed improvement upon previous dictionaries.
    There were alre·dy plenty of purely orthoepic dictionaries notably John Walker's ever popular Critical Pronouncing Dictionary of 1791 and its many reprints and re-workings. Thomas Sheridan's General Dictionary of the English Language (1780) had included pronunciations a century before. How cou·d there be any going back from that standard of completeness?
    Derwent Coleridge's vague comments werent clear enuff to decide whether he was talking about an accent of English or, perhaps more probably, something like an internationally agreed set of phonetic symbols. The expression "the standard of pronunciation should be fixed by a comparison with some foreign standard" etc hardly seems to make any sense at all. I think the internal and external evidence of what kind of pronunciation Murray ended by representing can't feasibly be equated with what became known as 'RP': I think his model was primarily what he he·rd from the educated people he knew in London and at Oxford but with some reluctance to part company entirely with the representations to be found in the works on orthoepy that abounded in the UK in the nineteenth-century.