How Do I Become a Lexicographer?

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  • Written By: Jane Lapham
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 03 August 2017
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There is no clearly defined route to become a lexicographer, but there are many things you can do to hone the skills necessary to enter the profession. A lexicographer is a person who researches and writes dictionaries or other reference texts. Personal qualities that lend themselves to lexicography include a high level of attention to detail and an interest in the meanings and historical origins of words. Most lexicographers are avid readers who have advanced degrees in fields related to language study, such as English, language translation, or linguistics. Study of a language other than English can also be helpful, especially if you are interested in working as a lexicographer for a bilingual dictionary.

The job description of a lexicographer typically includes researching and documenting word meanings, word etymologies, and the contexts in which a word is used. These duties require an ability to look at language with a scientific eye. Other lexicographer job duties can include selecting and organizing words to be included in a dictionary or reference text, or profiling target users to ensure the needs of readers are being met. The typical lexicographer enjoys performing linguistic research and is an insatiable reader with a heightened sensitivity to language.

To become a lexicographer, it is helpful to pursue an advanced degree that will provide a knowledge base useful on the job. Such degrees include linguistics, English, language translation, or a language other than English. There are a few universities that offer certificates or advanced degrees in lexicography, and you may want to look into the possibility of attending such a program. Many current working lexicographers, however, have degrees in fields only tangentially related to lexicography, such as journalism or math.

Before deciding whether you truly want to become a lexicographer, you should know that the work of a lexicographer requires patience and the ability to perform painstaking research. To become a lexicographer, you must be able to look at language analytically and have the capacity to research the various common usages of a word. You should be open to the idea that language usage varies from community to community. Lexicographers understand that the job entails describing the various uses of a word, rather than prescribing one perspective on the proper use of a word.

Due to the relatively small number of lexicography positions available, it may be useful to find work in a publishing house while continuing to explore available lexicography opportunities. Such work will provide you with a background related to the field while you continue to look for opportunities to become a lexicographer. While gaining experience, arm yourself with an educational background that will assist you in your future work, and hone the skills that lexicographers value most. Read as much as possible to increase your sensitivity to the various ways in which words can be used.

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