14.0593 lexicographical meditations: genre shift

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 01/15/01

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 593.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
             Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 07:00:13 +0000
             From: Ian Lancashire <ian.lancashire@sympatico.ca>
             Subject: Re: 14.0585 lexicographical meditations: a sense of genre
    This is a comment on Francois Lachance's intriguing questions,
    especially to his suggestion that early language practice affects
    our ability to distinguish early genres.
    Philosophical writing, as a genre, redefined itself in the mid-to-late
    17th century when philosophers decided they needed to define words
    rather than things. Because philosophy then could not be separated from
    science generally, the 1660 Royal Society helped "professionalize" language
    in this way. It stole much fire from literary writing. It also forced
    literary genres into being because, after all, poets were no
    longer writing about either things (as encyclopedists did) or words
    (an expertise philosophers laid new claim to). What was the poet's
    "profession", then, but writing "drama," or "novels," or "essays"?
    This isn't to say that the Renaissance didn't classify literary works.
    Classical authors had already done so. This is only to suggest that
    different criteria for generic distinctions were now put into play.
    So I'm inclined to think the new "philosophical" genre led to a genre
    shift generally.
    Lexicography, for instance, developed out of bilingual dictionaries.
    Though Johnson's 1755 dictionary separates senses, he belongs to the
    "pre-computational" school because he believed that he was explaining
    things in the world, not words. See his definition of definition. By
    the time of the OED lexicographers, the transition from things to words
    had been completed and was going on, largely unnoticed.
    Some of our dictionaries today define "noun" as the name of a thing.
    Of course names lack definitions; they are wholly denotational. This
    kind of grammar is thought to be a starting place for children. We
    do not realize that Shakespeare thought this way.
    Ian Hacking wrote about some of these ideas as early as the 1970s.
    The groundwork was laid for computational thinking long before the OED
    and Turing.

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