Document (lexicography)

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In lexicography, evidence is a quotation that serves as evidence of a word or its characteristics and its use.

Evidence enables the lexicographer to write well-founded dictionary articles that are not only based on his private language skills, but are based on verifiable source material - a corpus from which the evidence originates. References are not printed in all dictionaries , but only in those that have been specially developed for scientific use. In order to ensure verifiability, documents are provided with a reference, i.e. with an exact indication of the source including a list of locations that makes the cited text passage easy to find.

On this historical voucher from the German Legal Dictionary (noted around 1900) a voucher for the word Morgengabe from an old English text was recorded.

Well-known examples of a reference dictionary are the German dictionary of the Brothers Grimm , German legal dictionary and the Swiss idioticon .

Usually, an exemplary selection is made from the available evidence and arranged according to semantic, syntactic or chronological criteria to form a series of documents. The illustration of excerpts from the object language (the subject of the dictionary) usually saves cumbersome metalinguistic explanations. For example, a series of documents can contain implicit information about the temporal, spatial or linguistic sociological distribution of the lemma (when, where and in which types of text it is used), syntactic patterns, graphic and phonetic variants or references to cultural history.

In lexicography, some terms for special categories of documents are common. The oldest or most recent text passage that attests to the use of a word is called the first and last evidence; such evidence is mainly of interest in the history of language. A prominent document is understood to be a document that is well known in the community (e.g. a household word ). If a word (within a certain corpus) is used only once, one speaks of a Hapax legomenon . Speaking evidence clearly shows the meaning of a certain word because the word is in a series of synonyms or is explained directly.

In contrast to documents, examples of use are invented by the lexicographer himself in order to exemplify a typical, widespread pattern of use.


  • Michael Schlaefer: Lexicology and Lexicography. An introduction using the example of German dictionaries (Fundamentals of German Studies; Vol. 40). 2nd edition. Verlag Schmidt, Berlin 2009, pp. 92-94, ISBN 978-3-503-09863-7 .