Kate Bowers 2017-03-09 10:55:34
Do clarity and concision delight you? Do comprehensive online resources make you giddy? Well, then, you may find SAA’s forthcoming Dictionary of Archives Terminology (DAT) a pleasure as well as an essential professional resource. On the other hand, if verbification of the word “archive” gets your goat, or if hearing the word archival pronounced ark-EYE-val induces the same reaction in you as hearing fingernails on a blackboard, there might be an occasional bit of drama in store. Dictionaries strive to be authoritative, but there are two subtly distinct branches to the concept of authority (as distinguished by the authority of authorities, the Oxford English Dictionary). One kind of authority possesses the power of enforcement. A dictionary’s authoritative nature is, conversely, derived from acknowledgement of its expertise and from being widely accepted or respected. Thus, we harmless drudges who comprise SAA’s Dictionary Working Group cannot arrest anyone for saying “archiving.” (No matter how dearly it may be wished by some of our colleagues.) In fact, we have a far worse fate. We are duty-bound to inform you that many archivists do, indeed, use “archive” as a verb, and furthermore they do so in their professional writing. Controlled Vocabularies: Making Order Out of Chaos Archivists are very familiar with the concept of controlled vocabularies. Like dictionaries, thesauri and other controlled vocabularies are compilations of words and phrases. Subject thesauri even provide definitions for some concepts. Unlike dictionaries, however, thesauri gather the synonymous or near-synonymous under a single entry and designate a preferred term, usually in plural form, to represent the entry. But collocation can have the side-effect of reducing nuance. For example, “archives” in the Library of Congress Subject Headings is the preferred term for both “manuscript repositories” and for “documents.” Dictionaries: Descriptive Not Prescriptive Both dictionary and thesaurus entries are orderly. Unlike thesauri, however, dictionaries embrace the variety, nuance, and abundant creativity with which humans swell their vocabulary. In a dictionary, no term is preferred. Each entry has its canonical form (you will find that nouns in dictionaries are typically singular) with a definition or definitions that aspire to enlighten the reader as to its meaning or meanings. Thus, DAT must include entries for “manuscript repository,” “document,” and “archive,” and these definitions should assist the reader in understanding the various senses that archivists have imbued these terms with over the years as well as the senses that these terms have now. This means that, within the entry for “archive,” DAT must provide a definition for the verb form, simply because archivists actually use it that way. “Archive” is no less deserving of full treatment as both noun and verb than “folder,” which was SAA’s Word of the Week for September 27, 2016 (https://tinyurl.com/SAA-word-folder). When defining a term, the Dictionary Working Group gathers citations from archival literature. We unearth a term’s earliest appearance, seek examples across decades, and observe current uses. Full-text online searching has made this work efficient and occasionally surprising. Any archivist might be forgiven for thinking that “hidden collection” is a new-fangled notion, but in fact the phrase appeared in an SAA presidential address in 1939. In dictionaries, the canonical form of a noun is usually singular, but here we encounter a snake in the archival grass: the word “archive” itself. English usage can make even the decision between singular or plural a difficult egg to unscramble. Do you work in “an archive” or in “an archives”? A review of the literature has revealed that the choice may very well depend upon which side of the Atlantic Ocean you call home. Unlike controlled vocabularies, dictionaries do not prescribe or proscribe use, so DAT will contain archivists’ professional terminology and will describe how archivists have used terms, but it will never, ever indicate how words ought to be used. So, do all the archiving! Archive in your archive, or in your archives, if you prefer. We won’t tell you what to say, or even how to pronounce it, although we will note that a 1939 SAA business meeting came down firmly on the side of ark-EYE-val. (See Philip Brooks, et. Al., “Shorter Notices,” The American Archivist: October 1940, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 48–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.17723/aarc.3.4.b7154568426k2831)
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