AM - Dictionaries

Dictionnaire amoureux des dictionnaires [Dictionary-Lovers’ Dictionary]. Alain Rey. Paris: Plon, 2011. 998 p. ill. 20 cm. (Dictionnaire amoureux). ISBN 9782259205115: EUR 27

An RREA Original Review by Sarah G. Wenzel (University of Chicago)

The celebrated editor and compiler of the Petit Robert and the Dictionnaire historique de la langue française has written 234 entries (in alphabetical order) ranging from “ABC,” which allows him to discuss the role of alphabetization in dictionaries and phrases using “ABC” (previously “ABCD”), to “Woolf, Virginia,” who was apparently a noted lexicophile. Entries cover key concepts, biographies, relevant institutions, and other important dictionaries. The wide-ranging scope extends beyond France to include, notably, China, Ibn Durayd, Surrealism, and more.

Surprisingly, while there have been a number of works on specific dictionaries or on the development of lexicography focusing on particular languages, there are few reference works on the dictionary as a genre, the closest being Tom McArthur’s Worlds of Reference: Lexicography, Learning, and Language From the Clay Tablet to the Computer (Cambridge, UK, 1986). While that work is organized chronologically and with a scholarly audience in mind, the Dictionnaire depends a great deal on the idiosyncrasies of the author for the selection, as well as the length and depth of entry. Where Worlds of Reference provides endnotes and a bibliography, the Dictionnaire demands that the reader trust Rey. Granted, Rey is an authoritative voice when it comes to the subject and has written several scholarly works (his bibliography is provided at the end of the Dictionnaire). This particular book, conforming with the conversational tone of the Dictionnaire amoureux series, is very much an informal setting for Rey’s erudition..

This dictionary would also benefit from an index to supplement the table of contents provided, as well as from a bibliography that goes beyond listing works by the author. Despite its faults, Rey is an expert lexicographer—indeed, the established expert on French lexicography; it can be worth the time to sift through the entries to find background information on a particular topic. However, the greater importance of the Dictionnaire amoureux des dictionnaires is in providing insight into a scholar who has influenced not only the field of lexicography and the Robert dictionaries but, by extension, French itself.

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Last update: November 2013 [RT]
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