World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Robert Burchfield

Article Id: WHEBN0000790751
Reproduction Date:

Title: Robert Burchfield  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: New Zealand lexicographers, The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Double copula, Language geography, I before E except after C
Collection: 1923 Births, 2004 Deaths, Alumni of Magdalen College, Oxford, British Lexicographers, Commanders of the Order of the British Empire, Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit, Etymologists, Fellows of Christ Church, Oxford, Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford, Fellows of St Peter's College, Oxford, New Zealand Lexicographers, New Zealand Rhodes Scholars, Oxford University Press People, Shakespeare Prize Recipients, Victoria University of Wellington Alumni
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Robert Burchfield

Robert William Burchfield CNZM, CBE (27 January 1923 – 5 July 2004) was a lexicographer, scholar, and writer, who edited the Oxford English Dictionary for thirty years to 1986, and was Chief Editor from 1971.


  • Education and career 1
  • Selected works 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4

Education and career

Born in Wanganui, New Zealand, he studied at Wanganui Technical College and Victoria University in Wellington. After war service in the Royal New Zealand Artillery, he graduated MA from Wellington in 1948 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford University, in England, where he was tutored by C. S. Lewis. He became a Fellow of Magdalen and lecturer in English straight after graduating (1952–53), subsequently moving colleges to Christ Church (1953–57) and St Peter's (1955–79). Through C. T. Onions, then Magdalen librarian, Burchfield assisted in editing one of Onions’s projects, the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. His preparation of an edition of the Ormulum was supervised by J. R. R. Tolkien.[1]

Onions recommended him to Dan Davin as editor of the second Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, on which he worked from 1957 to 1986. He re-established the network of volunteer readers sending in records of words which had helped to create the original OED, and had then been allowed to fall away.[1] In 2004 it emerged that Burchfield's second supplement had removed a large number of words that were present in the earlier 1933 supplement edited by Onions and William Craigie, which Burchfield's second supplement incorporated.[2] Four years later the full nature of his treatment of foreign words was shown: he deleted 17% of the foreign loan words and words from regional forms of English; and his coverage was not as extensive as his predecessors, especially Charles Onions who included 45% more loanwords and World Englishes.[3] In 2012, a book documented Burchfield’s work and showed that many of these omitted words had only a single recorded usage, but their removal ran against what was thought to be the established OED editorial practice, and a perception that he had opened up the dictionary to "World English".[4][5][6] The author of the book concerned, Sarah Ogilvie, complained that people were unfairly judging Burchfield and that her coverage had been misleadingly reported in the media.[7][8]

In retirement he produced a controversial new edition, substantially rewritten and less prescriptivist, of Fowler's Modern English Usage, the long-established style guide by Henry Watson Fowler. He died in Abingdon at the age of 81 in 2004. He married twice and had three children.[1]

Selected works

  • Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, 4 vols, 1972–86
  • The Spoken Word, 1981
  • The English Language, 1985
  • Studies in Lexicography, 1987
  • Unlocking the English Language, 1991
  • Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 5: English in Britain and Overseas, 1994
  • (ed.) Fowler's Modern English Usage, 1998


  1. ^ a b c website entry for Robert BurchfieldOxford English Dictionary, including The Independent′s obituary.
  2. ^ Sarah Ogilvie, "From Outlandish Words to World English: the legitimization of global varieties of English in the OED", Euralex Conference, Lorient, France, July 2004.
  3. ^ Sarah Ogilvie, "Rethinking Burchfield and World Englishes" International Journal of Lexicography, 21: 23–59, 2008.
  4. ^ Sarah Ogilvie, "Words of the World: A Global History of the Oxford English Dictionary", Cambridge University Press, 2013, ISBN 1107605695.
  5. ^ Leslie Kaufmann, "Dictionary Dust-Up (Danchi Is Involved)", The New York Times, 28 November 2012.
  6. ^ Alison Flood, "Former OED editor covertly deleted thousand of words, book claims", The Guardian, 27 November 2012.
  7. ^ The Guardian books blog, 27 November 2012, Sarah Ogilvie, "Focusing on the OED's missing words is missing the point"
  8. ^ Huffington Post books blog, 29 November 2012, Sarah Ogilvie, "The OED, A Truly Global Dictionary".

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.