Review of Hornby (1963)

Review in m.f. No.123. 1965 pp 14 & 15 by JWL of

A. S. Hornby et al. 1963 Second Edition of the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English Oxford University Press [self converted to traditional orthography].

Mr A. S. Hornby, the original general editor and only surviving author has ‘completely revised’ and very consderably enlarged this most indispensable of all reference books for students and teachers of English as a second language. The publishers have braut it in line typographically with the Concise Oxford Dictionary. The average length of article under each headword is about twice what it is in the COD. The present volume is four fifths of the size, saving space by omission of less necessary vocabulary.

Likewise ‘only the most commonly used variants’ in pronunciation of each word are included. Therefore it’s a little surprising that it shou’d’ve been decided to repeat thruout the variants /o/ of /ou/ and /ɔə/ of /ɔː/. The opportunity also might well have been taken to substitute /əu/ for /ou/. Not on’y wd this’ve reflected current usage better but it’d also have allowed for the frequent variation between /ə/ and /əu/ to be conveyed economically by the use of an italic /u/. However, these are small points: really one wd like to’ve seen in a book aimed exclusively at advanced forren students a narrower transcription with the colon used on’y as a length mark proper supplying a reminder of greater length before lenis consonants etc.

Altho the transcription employed is almost exactly EPD, a refreshing independence of judgment is apparent, so that one can turn to this work, as to so few others, for a genuine opinion of the currency of a pronunciation and not just the same old crib from DJ. An important step closer to the EPD in this new edition is the use of italic type instead of brackets in showing variably present sounds. However, the notes explaining their occurrence are not completely clear, and in a few places the old brackets have been apparently inadvertently retained — at least no explanation is offered of any differential use of the two systems.

Another similar improvement is the placing of stress marks before instead of over the syllable. A very valuable feature of this dictionary is its inclusion of hundreds of everyday compound words like fountain pen and box office that are not stress marked in other dictionaries and often omitted from the EPD so that in very many cases it constitutes the on’y source of such information in existence. This makes it all the more regrettable that the policy has been adopted of not so marking words ‘written and printed without a hyphen’. One hopes that Mr Hornby will be persuaded in the future to help the poor student also with words like bank clerk and child’s play.

Another welcome new feature of this new edition is the attempt to indicate American pronunciations ‘if usage in the USA differs considerably’ but in neither adequacy nor accuracy is it worthy of the rest of the work. The sprinkling of mainly minor misprints in the transcriptions will no dou’t be eliminated in the reprinting already necessary.

In short, if Mr Hornby had published the transcriptions alone they wd rank as an important record of the major part of the living English vocabulary — by far the most valuable and authoritative outside of the monumental EPD — but we have to remember that for him they were on’y a signifIcant subordinate part of this splendid dictionary.