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Lexicographer

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At a Glance... header image

Compiles, writes and/or edits dictionaries.


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The Work header image

A career as a lexicographer is for those with a keen interest in language and the words we use, and how the meaning of words develops and changes over time.

Lexicographers write, compile and edit dictionaries for both and online and printed publication. Employment may be found found with publishing companies producing dictionaries and related resources. Many lexicographers tend to work on a freelance basis.

In Ireland, lexicography and terminology are the legislative responsibility of Foras na Gaeilge, who have a particular role in respect of comprehensive and modern dictionaries which facilitate and consolidate the use of the language in all areas of contemporary life.

The work of a lexicographer involves searching specialist databases containing numerous pieces of language from a range of sources, including literature, newspapers, online journals, blogs, discussion groups and transcripts of television and radio (known as the 'corpus'), for evidence of meanings and usages of a word or phrase.

This evidence, together with your own judgement and experience, is then used to reassess existing dictionary entries and identify possible new entries and consider them for inclusion.

A bilingual lexicographer translates words and expressions in both directions e.g. English/Irish and Irish/English,.

Most dictionaries are now also available online, as well as in print format. The role of the lexicographer is evolving to suit this change. 

Lexicographers typically work on one of the following types of dictionary:

A dictionary for native speakers of e.g. English; Irish

A dictionary for learners of the language e.g. English; Irish

A Technical/specialist dictionary, e.g. law, medicine

A Bilingual dictionary, e.g. English/Irish or Irish/English, for native speakers or those learning the language.

Tasks & responsibilities

  • Research towards identifying new words in common usage for inclusion in the dictionary.
  • Formulate new entries with accurate and succinct definitions.
  • Accurately represent the range of meanings of new and existing words.
  • Identify and assess the primary (most used) and secondary (less commonly used) meanings of the word
  • Review and edit all existing definitions.
  • Check and proofread entries.
  • Ensure that style and format of words meets agreed protocols.

The modern lexicographer may also be involved in creating and sourcing add-on material, or in online social media marketing of the product, and is likely to be called a 'dictionary editor'. A Dictionary Editor of an online dictionary resource may be required to:

  • Organise dictionary updates.
  • Coordinating the work of freelancer contributors.
  • Create / source add-on materials i.e. blogs, videos, word games, thesauruses.
  • Market the dictionary and associated resources.
  • Be involved in web design and SEO (search-engine optimisation) to ensure that web traffic grows, increasing user engagement with the resource.


Personal Qualitiesheader image

Lexicography is not a mechanical process. You must be able to strike a balance between explaning a word well, and being concise.

  • Excellent command of English
  • A practical understanding of the mechanics of grammar
  • Ability to use grammar correctly and identify instances of incorrect usage
  • Ability to describe a complex thing in a few words,
  • Ability to recognise subtle differences between meanings
  • Excellent eye for detail, both for spotting errors and for identifying inconsistencies of presentation style
  • Flair and imagination

Bilingual lexicographers:

  • Command of and expertise in a relevant other language 
  • Appreciation of how a language is used in other environments
  • Appreciation of the difficulties of learning a language.

Skills

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Concentration
  • Ability to work well alone and in collaboration
  • Time management
  • Organisational skills
  • A range of specialist software skills may also required in this role i.e. corpus-querying and dictionary-writing software; WordPress; SEO and how to engage with end users.


Entry Routesheader image

A degree in a relevant language is typically required for a career in lexicography. A second language is essential for working as a bilingual lexicographer.

Other relevant degree subjects include classics, literature, history/politics, linguistics and modern languages.

Experience in teaching or translation work is valuable. It may also be useful to have a Masters degree in language, linguistics or translation. A qualification and experience in teaching is useful for work on learners' dictionaries. Experience in a related area such as editing or proofreading is also valuable.

Work experience with a publishing house for example, is a good starting point.

 

Last Updated: April, 2017


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Organisation: Foras na Gaeilge
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Tel: 01 639 8400
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