Monday, January 31, 2011

Sarah Iversen on Children's Dictionaries

This term I'm going to post a little summary of each presentation for those who were unable to attend on the day. Here goes...

In our first talk Sarah Iversen from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, presented on one aspect of her research into children’s dictionaries. Looking at a number of historical examples including Anna Murphy’s A First or Mother’s Dictionary for Children (c.1813) and Wilby’s Infant School Spelling-Book (1844), as well as Maria Edgeworth’s glossary appendix in Early Lessons (1801), Sarah demonstrated that children’s dictionaries of the period teach not just words, but also broader moral attitudes. Many of these relate to gender, with boys and girls constructed in different ways: playing with different toys, exhibiting different virtues (or vices), and destined for different social roles. Indeed, as Sarah explained, even when word definitions were gender-neutral, the accompanying pictures frequently gendered, say, pat as a masculine verb (and activity), pet as a feminine one. Sarah also gave a fascinating account of contrasting definitions of particular words across individual lexicographers and across dictionaries for children as opposed to adults. Thanks, Sarah, and best of luck for your upcoming viva!

At right, an example from Sarah's presentation: an illustration for the word strut from Wilby's Infant School Spelling-Book, and Pictorial Dictionary (1844).

Image copyright British Library Board, shelfmark RB.23.a.1641.

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