Kōrero: Linguistics

Whārangi 3. Vocabulary studies and applied linguistics

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Vocabulary studies


New Zealand has produced a large number of lexicographers (dictionary-makers) for a small country.

New Zealand’s earliest lexicographer was William Williams, who produced the first English–Māori dictionary in 1844. His grandson, Herbert Williams, produced an enlarged edition in 1917 and was the major Māori-language linguist of his day.

Bo-Peep’s crook

Lexicographer Harry Orsman told the story of a British primary teacher who came to New Zealand and got her class to act out the story of Bo-Peep. At the end of the piece her script said, 'Bo-Peep takes crook and leaves’. She was completely unaware that ‘to take crook’ means to become sick in New Zealand English.

English-language expert Ian A. Gordon was a lexicographer and professor of English at Victoria University of Wellington. Many other lexicographers were former students of Gordon’s, including Harry Orsman, whose monumental Dictionary of New Zealand English (1997) represents a high point in New Zealand lexicography.

New Zealand lexicographers who worked overseas include Robert Burchfield, chief editor of the Oxford English dictionary between 1971 and 1984; Bill Ramson, editor of the Australian national dictionary; and Eric Partridge, who specialised in dictionaries of British slang.

Combining lexicography and deaf studies, another area of linguistics which developed at Victoria University, Graeme Kennedy produced the first comprehensive dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language in 1998. This multimedia, multilingual reference tool has since been made available online. When a user clicks on a sign, they see a video of a person using it in an utterance. It is an immensely valuable resource for the deaf community.

Vocabulary research

Vocabulary studies are closely related to dictionary-making, and New Zealand also has a strong reputation in this area. H. V. George, the iconoclastic director of the English Language Institute for many years, set the direction for vocabulary studies. He extensively applied vocabulary research to language teaching and learning. Paul Nation has continued to develop this research area, with diverse teaching, learning and testing materials.

Applied linguistics

In New Zealand, applied linguistics has its roots in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Gradually, the scope of research in this area extended to theories of language learning and teaching, language testing and language policy. While courses in some aspects of applied linguistics were available at most New Zealand universities in 2014, Auckland and Victoria Universities offered the widest range, including postgraduate research options in applied linguistics.

English Language Institute

The English Language Institute (ELI) was established in 1961 at Victoria University on the initiative of professor of English Ian Gordon, who had an established reputation in English language as well as literature. It was initially funded separately by the Department of External Affairs to provide English proficiency courses for teachers from Asia. Under the leadership of Graeme Kennedy the ELI was gradually integrated into a Department of Applied Linguistics, which also provided a home for the New Zealand Dictionary Centre and a Deaf Studies Research Unit. In 1997 the establishment of a School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies brought linguistics into this fold as well.

Lasting new words

In 2013 the Waikato University linguist Andreea Calude was part of a team that came up with a list of new-generation words that were likely to survive into the future due to their constant use in social media. They included lol (laugh out loud); youse (plural version of you); totes (totally); soz (a shortened version of sorry); and yolo (you only live once).

In Auckland, applied linguistics was developed first by Jack Richards and then by Rod Ellis, both researchers with international reputations in language learning and teaching. Richards is also known for his research on English as an international language, while Ellis is a world authority on cognitive aspects of second-language acquisition and its applications to language teaching.

New Zealand linguists overseas

For a small country New Zealand has left a large imprint on the international linguistics scene. This proud record includes early lexicographer exports such as Eric Partridge, expert on English slang, and Robert Burchfield, the editor-in-chief of the Oxford English dictionary, along with language-teaching entrepreneurs such as Jack Richards, author of English-language teaching books which sold in their millions in Asia. It also includes sociolinguists like Bernard Spolsky, who has contributed significantly to language policy theory and practice, both in New Zealand and internationally.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Janet Holmes, 'Linguistics - Vocabulary studies and applied linguistics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/linguistics/page-3 (accessed 19 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Janet Holmes, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014