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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Shakespeare's Vocabulary and OED Newsletter
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0236.  Monday, 25 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Ian Lancashire <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Mar 1996 14:58:18 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0232  Re: Shakespeare's Vocabulary

(2)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Mar 1996 17:52:25 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Vocabulary

(3)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Mar 96 10:30:25 EST
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Vocabulary

(4)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Sunday, 24 Mar 1996 21:43:48 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   OED Newsletter


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ian Lancashire <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Mar 1996 14:58:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0232  Re: Shakespeare's Vocabulary
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0232  Re: Shakespeare's Vocabulary

Marvin Spevack's The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare has 29,066 different
spellings.  This number can't be equated with Shakespeare's vocabulary because
Spevack lists orthographic forms, not dictionary headwords.  For instance,
there are separate entries for "/couch", "couch", and "couches".  On the other
hand, Spevack also identifies 700 forms that are homographs, i.e., that each
have more than one sense.

Computer programs such as Spevack uses cannot in themselves estimate vocabulary
size.  Texts first have to be lemmatized (reduced to a sequence of dictionary
headwords) before a count is attempted; and lemmatization is no science.  A
Shakespeare thesaurus might provide a better guessimate.

However sizeable a vocabulary Shakespeare had, it was astonishingly large. Keep
in mind that he worked without benefit of an English dictionary or other
artificial memory enhancements we take for granted.  No one should compare the
size of Shakespeare's vocabulary with that of later writers without taking into
account the impoverished state of linguistic knowledge (about English) that
characterized the decades in which he wrote.  Reference books for English did
not exist.

It's of course possible that writers like Holinshead, Chapman, and Burton used
more different words.  A concordance of different orthographic forms in The
Anatomy of Melancholy, say, would make a useful point of comparison to
Spevack's figures.

Ian Lancashire
Department of English, New College
University of Toronto

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Mar 1996 17:52:25 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Shakespeare's Vocabulary

John Velz observes that "Wordcounting is a hard task, but one would think that
we could easily enough establish definite facts in such matters, especially in
the age of the computer."  But before you can count words, you have to decide
what counts as a word, or, as Aristotle might have said (and perhaps did say),
if you ask me how many things, I first have to ask what kind of things you
mean.  Nora Kreimer cites the 30,000-word estimate of Shakespeare's vocabulary
in _The Story of English_, a figure based, according to David Crystal in _The
Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language_, on Martin Spevack's _Complete
and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare.  Spevack lists 29,066
different words out of 884,647 words in all.  But one arrives at the former
figure by counting, for instance, "goes," "going," and "gone" as separate
words.  If one limits the count to so-called "lexemes," however, thereby
subsuming the preceding items under the single headword "go," one reduces the
figure, according to Crystal, to something under 20,000 words.

And the problems proliferate.  Shakespeare was, for instance, an inveterate
user (and coiner) of "tosspots," nouns formed by compounding (as in the
eponymous example from _Twelfth Night_) a transitive verb with a direct object,
e.g., killjoy, turnkey, lickspittle.  Two magnificent examples (probably
coinages) from _Love's Labor's Lost_: "pleaseman," meaning a sycophant, and
"mumblenews," meaning a rumor-monger.  Should these count as separate lexical
items or be subsumed under their otherwise occurring components?

                                     --Ron Macdonald
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Mar 96 10:30:25 EST
Subject:        Shakespeare's Vocabulary

I am surprised that a scholar as experienced as John Velz should be persuaded
that we can readily come to "hard facts" about the extent and characteristics
of the Shakespearean vocabulary.

Some of the difficulties are morphological: does the set show-shows-showest-
showed-shown-showing comprise one word or six?  Some of them are
phonetic/orthographic: are show'st-showest, shewed-showed, murther-murder,
singles or pairs?  Some of them are grammatical: we've been considering the set
while-whiles-whilst- whilest this week--is that one word spelled (or spelt, not
to be confused with a kind of grain) four ways or three words (noun, adverb,
conjunction) subject to some orthographical overlapping?

Labelling is tricky: at what point do/did "hopefully" in its most familiar
current use, or "quote" as a noun, stop being barbarisms and become accepted?
When did "tort" cross over from legal French to legal English?  Is "peace",
from Latin _pax_ by way of Old French _pais_, for which the earliest OED
citation is dated 1154, Latinate in the same way as "incarnadine"?

Dating is tricky, too: under the concept of first published record, consider
"gimmers" (1H6 1.2.41), identified by OED and the Arden as a corruption of
"gimmals" (although the earliest citation for the latter form, in Gosson's
_Trumpet of War_, 1598, is later than the earliest for the former; it appears
as "gimmaled" in H5 4.2.38 and "gymould" in E3 1.2.29).  At any rate, OED dates
the 1H6 citation as 1591 though it did not appear in print until the Folio of
1623.

And so is attribution: do we count as Shakespeare's words from parts of the
text now often attributed to Fletcher or Middleton?  How do we distinguish
between authorial and editorial and compositorial variations--cf. Bill
Godshalk's posting on the forms of "while".

Computers can help with all this, but the fact is that a great deal of patient,
informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful human decision- making must still take
place at the input end, and now matter how well the work is done there will
remain a good many disputable issues and instances.  And that being the case,
one may well ask whether trying to get firm answers to questions about
Shakespeare's record as a lexical innovator or the true extent of his working
vocabulary is worth the trouble.

Wordily,
Dave Evett

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
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Date:           Sunday, 24 Mar 1996 21:43:48 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        OED Newsletter

I have been asked to provide more information about the OED Newsletter that I
mentioned in an earlier posting.  All three issues of the newsletter published
so far can be found at the following World Wide Web address:

        http://www1.oup.co.uk/cite/oup/ar/oed/newoed/

One issue does talk about new first citations, but does NOT claim to have found
any -- yet -- older than currently accepted Shakespearean firsts.  But they do
seem to be running some sort of contest ...

Jim Schaefer
 

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