Business lexicography

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. A comprehensive overview of specialized lexicography
  • 3. Systemizing business terminology and composing business dictionaries
  • 4. Open questions and quality issues
  • 5. Conclusion


In order to be effective, business communication relies heavily on specialized language. Without it, the meaning of the rules governing business practice and theory could not be expressed clearly, and proper understanding of them would be impossible. Thus, resources for the documentation of specialized expressions, that is, their usage and meaning, are vital in ensuring effective business communication. Research in that area ranges from corpus analysis of business language (e.g., Fischer-Starcke 2012) to the investigation of business terminology (Madsen, Erdman Thomsen, and Vikner 2004) with some methodologies combining those different scientific fields (e.g., Budin, Moerth, and Romary 2013). A specialized case of business language research is business lexicography, which studies how the meaning and use of business expressions are specified in dictionaries, encyclopedias, glossaries, and similar reference works.

Lexicography investigates the making, design, use, and evaluation of dictionaries and other reference works that describe general language (Svensen 2009). In contrast, specialized lexicography is concerned with reference works that deal with the language of one specific subject field (e.g., Oxford Dictionary of Economics) or several subject fields (e.g., Oxford’s Dictionary of Social Sciences) (Pearson 1997). Business lexicography is a subfield of specialized lexicography and is concerned with “business” as either a single- or multi-field subject with several subfields (e.g., Webster’s New World Finance and Investment Dictionary). Besomi (2013) classifies more than 600 business dictionaries from the last 200 years by language, size, and subject field. However, they are mainly published in European languages and paper- based. This bibliography could be updated continuously as business lexicography is a highly productive field, especially if electronic and online resources are considered.

Viewed from a different angle, a business dictionary can be understood as a reference work compiled by and for a business, that is, an organization undertaking economic activities. This type has been studied both in general, under the heading of corporate dictionaries (Leroyer 2007), and by focusing on a specific aspect of a

DOI 10.1515/9781614514862-023

corporation, e.g. a product-line (Bergenholtz and Tarp 1995). Thus, the term business dictionary is ambiguous, referring as it can either to a reference work issued by and dealing with an organization or to a reference work on the subject of “business”. To the best of our knowledge, this ambiguity has not been observed in other fields of specialized lexicography. To clearly distinguish these two meanings, the present chapter will refer only to the first type as business dictionaries, the second being termed corporate dictionaries.

The objective of this chapter is to define the concept of business lexicography as a subfield of specialized lexicography and investigate its different facets. Although the individualization of specialized lexicography as an independent discipline has been discussed repeatedly (Fuertes-Olivera and Tarp 2014), there is still a certain degree of overlap with general lexicography. Nevertheless, the former is governed primarily by factual knowledge, while the latter focuses more on linguistic considerations (Pearson 1997: 70).

The comprehensive overview of lexicography in the next section emphasizes characteristics specific to specialized lexicography. Section 3 discusses features that differentiate business dictionaries from other areas of specialization. Like Section 2, it is organized according to the four major aspects of lexicography, that is, function, typology, structure, and design and making. Prior to some concluding remarks, we investigate the status and related quality issues of current business lexicographic practices.

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