Kernerman Dictionary News • Number 15 • July 2007

The Iwasaki Linguistic Circle and dictionary analysis

Kaoru Akasu

Kaoru Akasu has MA degrees in English linguistics from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley. His main fields of interest are lexicography, particularly in the area of pedagogical lexicography, and contrastive studies of English and Japanese. He is co-editor of Kenkyusha’s Lighthouse English-Japanese Dictionary and Luminous English-Japanese Dictionary, and has been involved in a number of dictionary analysis projects. His publications include Eigojisho no hikaku to bunseki [Comparative Analysis of English Dictionaries] vols. 4, 5 and 6, and a Japanese co-translation of Tony Cowie’s English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners: A History, as well as publications in the realm of contrastive linguistics. Professor Akasu currently teaches English linguistics at Toyo University in Tokyo and also represents the JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers) Society of English Lexicography.



This article is based on a paper entitled ‘Dictionary Analyses in Lexicon Revisited’, read on August 27, 2003 at Asialex ’03 Tokyo.


1. Introduction

The Iwasaki Linguistic Circle (ILC) is a study group of linguists and lexicographers, based in Tokyo, who have been making unique contributions in the field of lexicography for many years, notably in the arena of dictionary criticism or dictionary evaluation, through a series of work demonstrating in-depth analyses of dictionaries. The present paper deals with the early period of this circle and introduces the readers to the first dictionary analysis conducted by its members and to some of the ideas and characteristic features involved in it.


2. Historical Background

Let me begin by referring to the ILC history and today’s ILC, of which I am an active member. The ILC―or Iwasaki Kenkyukai in Japanese, and Iwaken for short―was set up in 1962 and started as a very small reading circle. Under their professor’s guidance, five or six university graduates met at his home to read books and articles on both general linguistics and English linguistics.1 The mentor’s name was Tamihei Iwasaki, Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Tokyo Gaikokugo Daigaku). The late Professor Iwasaki, a phonetician, was among the leading English linguists at the time and well known for the English-Japanese dictionaries he wrote and edited. Obviously, this circle is named after him. As time went by, the ILC grew and now boasts a membership of some 200 people. The circle is currently headed by two original members: the ILC President, phonetician Shigeru Takebayashi, Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and Vice-President, metalexicographer Yoshiro Kojima, Professor Emeritus at Waseda University.


In 1972, ten years following its inception, the ILC launched the first issue of its journal, Lexicon, which is published annually. It is unique in that it often contains one or two very detailed dictionary analysis articles.2


Actually, the first and second issues of Lexicon did not carry any analyses of dictionaries, and Lexicon No. 3 (1974) was the first to include dictionary analysis. However, in 1968, four years before the first issue of Lexicon came out, ILC members had published an original dictionary analysis in another journal: Reports of the University of Electro-Communication, which constituted the first of its type. This review, in the so-called Iwaken-style, broke new ground and set the standard for the many analyses to follow in Lexicon, as well as for two other analyses published in the International Journal of Lexicography (IJL) and two more in Reports of the University of Electro-Communication.


There are four study groups in the current ILC: Lexicography, Corpus, Grammar, and Theoretical Linguistics. Interested members meet basically once a month and read a book or an article of their choice and discuss the subject matter. As mentioned earlier, this kind of meeting, which we call rindokukai (regular meeting of a reading circle), was the starting point of the ILC, and is still at the heart of the circle. Also, some younger members of the ILC have started looking into the history of major English-Japanese dictionaries published in Japan. The first portion of this series of works came out in Lexicon No. 24 (1994), with the title ’Historical Development of English-Japanese Dictionaries in Japan (1)’, and seven papers have come out so far. The findings and their implications are expected to make a significant contribution to a better and deeper understanding of bilingual lexicography in Japan.


3. The First Dictionary Analysis

Let us take a look at the first dictionary analysis, which appeared in 1968 in Reports of the University of Electro-Communications, the Japanese title of which journal is Denki-tsushin Daigaku Gakuho. One might wonder just why it appeared in this particular publication. The reason can be attributed to the fact that two of the four authors were faculty members at this university.3

What follows explores the methodological dimension of this review dissecting Penguin English Dictionary (1965). Five aspects of the dictionary are examined in this analysis and compared with other dictionaries, namely, selection of words entered, description of senses, usage labels, idiomatic phrases, and pronunciation.


3.1 Headwords

As for the first aspect, the selection of words entered, 100 words were taken from each of five, randomly chosen, sections of Penguin, totaling 500 words. These word selections came from pages 150-151, 301-302, 450-451, 598-601, and 697-698, and were then compared to corresponding entries in the following dictionaries: Concise Oxford Dictionary 5e (COD), Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Random House Dictionary, and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. The results of the comparison were given in tables and the conclusion, taken from the English synopsis at the head of the article, states as follows: “Penguin is much more liberal toward informal terms and Americanisms than COD. Moreover, inflected forms are freely included as the main entries to an extent unusual for a dictionary of this size. On the other hand, Penguin is not so active as COD and other smaller Oxford dictionaries, in entering difficult words, especially classical terms.”


3.2 Sense Description

The second aspect dealt with coverage, arrangement, manner of presentation, cross referencing, and terms and expressions used in definitions. In so doing, common words such as cat, grass, nice, large, fairly, fast (adv), please, and look were scrupulously compared mainly between Penguin and COD. Also compared were words like constellation, crustacea, and feminism, which are much less common. Here is the conclusion: “Penguin attaches greater importance to the colloquial meaning than to the literary, and arranges the meanings according to the frequency of their use to the great advantage of the general user. The poor presentation in this dictionary of grammatical terms shows contrastive features against other dictionaries, and in this respect Penguin has practically nothing to offer. Lack of illustrative sentences and cross references, apart from the references to Penguin Reference Books, are other flaws to be improved.”


3.3 Usage Labels

For usage labels, 200 headwords were chosen from each of the following eight sections: advert - agometer; d - deadlight; f - faro; j - jeans; m - manna1; proud - pulverizer,; stink - stratosphere; virtual - vying. The j - jeans part was the only exception in that it contained 100 word samples, bringing the headword total to 1,500 in all. These words were compared between Penguin and COD for the presence or absence of usage labels and their specific types such as slang, colloquial, archaic, and vulgar. Hence, the conclusion: “A comparative survey of the usage labels, especially those of slang, colloquial, archaic, and poetic, discloses that there is an undeniable, even if slight, discrepancy in the use of the labels, and this is certainly due to the difference in the outlooks of the English language of COD and Penguin.”


3.4 Idioms

As for the idiomatic phrases, the analysts looked into location, arrangement, and coverage. Idiomatic phrases within entries given for such common words as get, make, put, and take were compared mainly between Penguin, COD, and Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. It says in the synopsis that “[a]s regards the ‘idiomatic phrases’ in Penguin, they are considerably large in number and are various in kind. Some of them, mostly labeled coll or sl, are supposed to be the ones rarely found in other dictionaries of a similar or even larger size. The explanations given to them are usually simple and plain, forming a remarkable contrast with COD which often uses somewhat difficult expressions for the purpose. All these may be called the chief merits of the ‘idiomatic phrases’ in Penguin, but the most marked demerit we have noticed is the confusion in the order of their arrangement.”


3.5 Pronunciation

As regards the last aspect, pronunciation, the analysis comprised two different parts. The first dealt with the transcription system, with a comparison made between the Penguin symbols and the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). In addition, specific transcriptions of consonants and vowels were compared between Penguin and COD or the English Pronouncing Dictionary 12e (EPD12). The latter part of the analysis was an attempt to see if Penguin identified any new pronunciation trends. Penguin and EPD12 were specifically compared for this purpose. Here is the synopsis: “The phonetic symbols employed in Penguin are not those proposed by the International Phonetic Association, but are based on conventional spelling. They are, however, fairly consistent and satisfactory so far as the symbols for vowels in accented syllables and for consonants are concerned. On the other hand, vowels in unaccented syllables are rather poorly represented and the notation of full vowels in syllables with secondary stress is misleading. This defect is due to the principle of accentuation adopted by the dictionary. Penguin marks accented syllables with italic letters and unaccented ones with romans. By this method only two degrees of stress can be distinguished, while, in fact, three degrees of stress—primary, secondary and weak—are distinctive in English. Hence this ambiguity: both secondary stressed full vowels and weak stressed obscure vowels are represented with the same symbols …. In our opinion the system of accentuation in Penguin leaves much to be improved.”


In conclusion, the reviewers stated that “[t]he remarkable features of this dictionary we have revealed in the above analyses lead us to think that it is a fairly successful experiment in modern lexicography and that, along with COD, it will satisfy the needs of the general reader of today.” It is noteworthy that they brought their discussion to a conclusion on a positive note.


4. Concluding Remarks

The above goes to show that this first ever dictionary analysis, by four Iwaken members, had certain characteristic features worthy of attention. First, it was a comparative analysis. This is pointed out in Nakamoto (1998). Second, the analysis was based on random sampling. Random sampling is necessary for the analysis to be objective rather than subjective, and being objective adds reliability to the analysis. Third, it was a collaborative project involving four analysts: to use Jackson’s (2002) term, it was a case of “team reviewing.” Fourth, it was a critical appraisal, for both merits and demerits of the dictionary were pursued with impartiality. Fifth, it was an extensive, comprehensive analysis (also pointed out in Nakamoto) and an in-depth, detailed review. If one peruses all the subsequent dictionary analyses in Lexicon, as well as those in the other two journals given in Table 1, one sees that all these characteristics run through the dictionary analyses in one way or another. Therefore, this first dictionary analysis may well be called a seminal, example-setting work.


4.1 In his article titled ‘Dictionary Reviews and Reviewing: 1900-1975’, Robert Chapman offers four interesting suggestions on the method of dictionary reviewing. After commending, as a model, a review conducted by James B. McMillan, he writes: “I have four suggestions to offer toward a still better method. First, it would be desirable, if it does not prove too clumsy, to constitute a reviewing team something like the technical advising team most dictionaries use. … Second, reviewers should use a random sampling device that covers the book from A to Z, so that the total average performance may be assessed. … Third, very close attention should be paid to the quality of these fifty or more definitions. They should be painstakingly analyzed for, to use McMillan’s criteria, accuracy, completeness, clearness, simplicity, and modernity. … Fourth, the “referential integrity” should be tested by tracking down a number of cross-references. This is an excellent gauge of editorial thoroughness and the effectiveness of systems.” The ILC researchers did just this in their analysis of Penguin English Dictionary. The article by Chapman was published in 1977, so again, it is worth pointing out that the Iwaken analysis of Penguin was out in 1968.


4.2 Regrettably, Lexicon has yet to enjoy due exposure and acknowledgment, and I can think of a couple of reasons for that. One major reason is linguistic in nature. Not all articles in Lexicon were written in English up until 1994, and as far as dictionary analyses are concerned, all of them were written in Japanese. Though they had additional English summaries it is not clear how much these helped to lower the barrier of non-recognition. In a way, Lexicon was turned in on itself. In 1994 a welcome change was made in the Lexicon’s Guidelines for Contributors, and it was decided that all submissions must be in English. So, since 1995, all dictionary analyses have been made more easily accessible to non-Japanese readers in and outside of Japan.


Incidentally, Howard Jackson (2002: 175-76) stated the following: “Where team reviewing has been undertaken more recently (e.g. the well-organized and comprehensive Japanese reviews of COD5 … and of LDEL2 …), each member of the team has taken a different aspect of linguistic description (pronunciation, definition, usage, etymology, etc.) rather than vocabulary specialism, which is probably a more sensible division of labour.” This, I think, is another reason why Lexicon was not receiving due attention. If Jackson had known that team reviews of this kind had existed long before these two reviews came out, he might well have commented otherwise. It makes me feel pleased, as well as proud, however, to know that Jackson commended our review articles in IJL and, in particular, recommended them for further reading on dictionary criticism.


4.3 Again, it seems to me that, until quite recently, we failed to make it clear, in the first place, to whom these dictionary analyses in Lexicon were addressed. It is quite understandable why that was the case. Who would have imagined, in the nineteen sixties, that lexicography would attract such attention as we are witnessing now? Things have really changed over the years. My belief is that the world of lexicography is becoming smaller and smaller, more so than ever, so there is a sense in which dictionary analyses in Lexicon are aimed at all people interested in practical or theoretical lexicography. We need to realize that we can, and should, make a contribution to the development of this ever expanding field.


The name of Lexicon is now listed as a main entry in the Dictionary of Lexicography (1998), and 350 copies are printed each year, with some 60 sent to individuals and institutions abroad. I believe that we have so much more to contribute in a variety of ways toward better lexicography.




1. See Takebayashi (1973), Kojima (1985), Higashi (2003), and others for more detail.

2. I constructed two tables at the end of this paper in order to help readers overview what kind of dictionary analysis has been carried out by ILC members in the past nearly four decades. These tables are actually revised and updated versions of the tables given in Nakamoto (1998).

Table 1 shows all the relevant dictionary analyses in chronological order. The middle group, headed by roman numeral (II), is composed of all the analyses appearing in Lexicon. The dictionary analyses that preceded these in time are given in the first group, indicated by roman numeral (I). The third group is the Iwaken-style review articles that came out in IJL, indicated by roman numeral (III). I hasten to add that dictionary analyses made by single authors have been left out of this account. If one wishes to get some idea of what the Iwaken dictionary analysis is like, I suggest taking a look at these two reviews in IJL, since they are perhaps more easily accessible. The one difference I might point out between them and the analyses in Lexicon is that, the IJL reviews are considerably shorter and much more concise than the Lexicon articles because of space limitations.

Table 2 indicates which aspects of the dictionary have been examined in each analysis. Obviously, not every dimension is dealt with for plausible reasons, but it is safe to say that these analyses are quite comprehensive in their coverage of the material.

The reference to Katsumata (1958) in Table 1 concerns Kenkyusha’s New Dictionary of English Collocations.

3. See Nakao (2003) for more detail.




Akasu, Kaoru. (2003). Dictionary analyses in Lexicon revisited. A paper presented at the Third Asialex Biennial International Conference, Meikai University, Urayasu, Chiba, Japan, August 27-29, 2003.

Akasu, Kaoru. (2005). A glimpse into dictionary analyses. A paper presented at the meeting of the English Language Postgraduate Seminar, University of Birmingham, UK.

Chapman, Robert L. (1977). Dictionary reviews and reviewing: 1900--1975. In James C. Raymond and I. Willis Russell (Eds.), James B. McMillan: Essays in linguistics by his friends and colleagues. University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press. 143-161.

Hartmann, Reinhard R.K. (2001). Teaching and researching lexicography. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Hartmann, Reinhard R.K. and Gregory James. (1998). Dictionary of lexicography. London: Routledge.

Higashi, Nobuyuki. (2002). Maegaki [Preface]. Eigo jisho no hikaku to bunseki: Dai-5-shu [Comparative analyses of English dictionaries: Vol., 5]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha. iii-v.

Higashi, Nobuyuki. (2003). Iwasaki kenkyukai no ayumi [A history of the Iwasaki Linguistic Circle]. Lexicon 33: 96-99.

Ito, Fujimaro, Keisuke Nakao, Shigeru Takebayashi, and Mayako Watanabe. (1968). The Penguin English Dictionary no bunseki”[An analysis of the Penguin English Dictionary]. Denki Tsushin Daigaku Gakuho [Reports of the University of Electro-Communications] 24: 179-211.

Jackson, Howard. (2002). Lexicography: An introduction. London: Routledge.

Kojima, Yoshiro. (1985). Iwasaki kenkyukai no koto [On the Iwasaki Linguistic Circle], in Tamihei Iwasaki, Iwasaki Tamihei bunshu [Miscellaneous writings of Tamihei Iwasaki]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha. 487-488.

Nakamoto, Kyohei. (1998). An analysis of ILC’s ‘dictionary analyses’. Lexicon 28: 28-38.

Nakao, Keisuke. (1972). Jisho no chosa/bunseki: sono igi to mondaiten [Dictionary analysis: Its significance and problems]. Lexicon 1: 49-57.

Nakao, Keisuke. (2003). Eigo jisho no shoso [Aspects of English dictionaries]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.

Takebayashi, Shigeru. (1973). Henshu koki [The editor’s postscript]. Lexicon 2: 132.




Dictionaries Cited in the Penguin Analysis

ACD 1947. Barnhart, C.L. (Ed.) The American College Dictionary. New York: Random House.

ALD 1963. Hornby, A.S., E.V. Gatenby, H. Wakefield (Eds.) The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

CDD 1951. Barnhart, C.L. (Ed.) Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

Century 1911. Whitney, W.D. (Ed.) The Century Dictionary. New York: The Century Company.

COD 1964. McIntosh, E. (Ed.) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 5e. London: Oxford University Press.

HPD 1965. Barnhart, C.L. (Ed.) The Thorndike-Barnhart Handy Pocket Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

HSD 1965. Thorndike, E.L. and C.L. Barnhart (Ed.). Thorndike-Barnhart High School Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

NSD 1963. Funk, I. (Ed.) Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

NWD 1956. Guralnik, D.B (Ed.) Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. Cleveland: World.

NWDp 1959. Guralnik, D.B. (Ed.) Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (Pocket-Size edition). New York: Popular Library.

OED 1933. Murray, J.A.H., et al. (Ed.) The Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

OID 1962. Coulson, J., et al. (Ed.) The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, 2e. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Penguin 1965. Garmonsway, G.N. (Ed.) The Penguin English Dictionary. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

POD 19??. Le Mesurier, H.C. and E. McIntosh (Eds.) The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 4e. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

RHD 1966. Stein, J. (Ed.) The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Random House.

UED 1932. Wyld, H.C. (Ed.) The Uiversal Dictionary of the English Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Web 1961. Gove, P.B. (Ed.).Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam.

Web Col 1963. Gove, P.B. (Ed.) Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam.









Iwasaki Linguistic Circle
c/o Kenkyusha Limited
2-11-3 Fujimi