Introducing the Jamaican Lexicography Project (Jamlex)

Most of the great nations of the world have a dictionary or dictionaries documenting the vocabulary of the language. The English have the Oxford English Dictionary. the Spanish have the Diccionario de la lengua española, and the French have their Trésor de la langue française. In fact, most of them have several big dictionaries. When one thinks of scholarly works on the lexicon of Jamaicans, the first two which come to mind are the Dictionary of Jamaican English (DJE) compiled by Frederic G. Cassidy and Robert B. Le Page, and the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (DCEU) by Richard Allsopp. While the DJE and the DCEU are excellent works, no dictionary, no matter how large can fully exhaust the rich lexical store of any language. In addition, urgent work needs to be done on the state of the Jamaican lexicon over the forty years since the DJE first appeared in print, and this must be done in step with the most recent developments in the field of lexicography. These developments naturally involve the growing use of computers in the preparation and publication stages of dictionaries, and easier access to these works of reference especially via the internet.

The idea that evolved into Jamlex began to take form in 2002 when I started to collect words and quotations to compile what I called at the time a Dictionary of Contemporary Jamaican. My collection and storage methods have changed significantly over the past five years, and so has my vision for the dictionary.

The long-term plan is for Jamlex to produce several dictionaries, both general and specialised. However, the flag-ship of the project will be the Jamaican National Dictionary (JND) [a name inspired by the Scottish National Dictionary], which will be available mainly (or probably only) in electronic format via the internet. The JND will be a dictionary prepared on historical principles which means that it will provide etymologies of words, meanings will be ordered to show how each word has developed over time, and illustrative quotations will be included from written and oral sources in order to illustrate usage and provide evidence. As can be imagined, this will be a very time-consuming process which will stretch over many years, but it has to start somewhere.

Jamlex will be officially launched next year, when hopefully, I will get funding to undertake the general startup activities such as completing the design of the database which will become the Jamaican National Dictionary, and create a website to make the public more aware of what Jamlex is about and what is happening. The purpose of this blog is to get the ball rolling before the official launch of Jamlex next year. Through this medium I hope to inform the public about what is taking place, and also solicit help in different ways from Jamaicans and students of Jamaican language and culture, at home and abroad. Please be sure to add this blog to your blogroll (list of blogs), bookmark it and tell all your friends about it. This is history in the making.

Joseph T. Farquharson


Please note that paperback versions of the Jamaican and Caribbean books mentioned in this post can be purchased from the University of the West Indies Press at very low prices!