Women in the English Language Dictionary

Russell, Lindsay Rose. Women in the English Language Dictionary. 2012. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

"Women in the English Language Dictionary," is at once a historical account and rhetorical analysis of how women have been involved in the English dictionary from its bilingual beginnings in the early modern period to its present-day array of instantiations. Departing from well-worn accounts of the English dictionary as a series of more-or-less discrete texts created by more-or-less famous men to constitute a near-neutral record of the entire language, "Women in the English Language Dictionary" conceives, instead, of the English language dictionary as a rhetorical genre, the form, content, audience, exigence, and cultural consequences of which are gendered and gendering. As a focused analysis of the emergence and evolution of a genre, "Women in the English Language Dictionary" finds that women--as an abstract construction and as a social collectivity--were integral for the framing of early dictionaries' exigencies and for the fashioning of audiences invoked by the genre. Women signal major shifts in the genre's purposes and participants, shifts heretofore neglected in favor of generic phases delimited by changes in form and content. The project fills a gap in language scholarship which has inadequately accounted for the presence of women in English dictionaries: as pupils and patrons who modeled reader roles, as primary audience signaling transforming exigences, as volunteers and staffers who both supported and critiqued the work, and as authors and editors who have modeled and remodeled the shape, content, and consequences of the genre. The project also contributes to rhetorical scholarship, by modeling generic historiography and suggesting the value of theorizing rhetorics of reference. As a genre that testifies to shared meaning, dictionaries can and should be understood as important scenes of rhetorical education, contention, and resistance. The term sleeping dictionary is used to describe a woman with whom a man sleeps in order to learn her language, but it also signals the untapped potential of reading dictionaries as they register, reinforce, and reinvent social relations.

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