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Lexicography



     Japanese-Americans do not use demands for multiculturalism or bilingualism to get jobs or admission to universities; they get them on their own merits. Incidentally, those demands are pushing colleges to drop SAT or similar entrance criteria. That admirable online technical newsletter Edupage ends every issue naming an "honorary subscriber." Today it was S.I. Hayakawa (1902-1992), the semanticist who became famous for facing up to rioting students at San Francisco State University and then serving in the U.S. Senate. The Edupage nomination runs a long passage in which Hayakawa carefully distinguishes between the meaning of similar English words. Few Americans show such discrimination in their use of words.
     This brings me to one of my many grievances: the failure of our language teachers and anthropologists to promote lexicography, which is really semantics. It is a problem in all languages. In Spanish it takes a peculiar form: the abundance of nouns in two genders, with different meanings. It occurs in other languages (e.g. German "see"), but in Spanish cases are so numerous that for sixty years I have been preparing a dictionary of them. I am still puzzled by many cases. A game is "un partido," but if you win it can be "ganar la partida." Why? Can my Puebla friends tell me if that is true in Mexico? These differences vary from country to country. Anyhow, you now know another of my peeves about universities. Stanford is in the absurd position of having no geography department (an obsolete subject!), but, as a result of a fight, TWO anthropology departments. And as for the Spanish Department taking up Spanish lexicography? Chicano Spanish is the in subject in our universities.

Ronald Hilton - 10/08/98


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