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Lexicography is the study of lexicons, and is divided into two separate academic disciplines. It is the art of compiling dictionaries.

Traces of lexicography can be identified as early late 4th millennium BCE, with the first known examples being Sumerian cuneiform texts uncovered in the city of Uruk. Ancient lexicography usually consisted of word lists documenting a language's lexicon. Other early word lists have been discovered in Egyptian, Akkadian, Sanskrit, and Eblaite, and take the shape of mono- and bilingual word lists. They were organized in different ways including by subject and part of speech. The first extensive glosses, or word lists with accompanying definitions, began to appear around 300 BCE, and the discipline begins to develop more steadily. Lengthier glosses started to emerge in the literary cultures of antiquity, including Greece, Rome, China, India, Sasanian Persia, and the Middle East. In 636, Isidore of Seville published the first formal etymological compendium. The word dictionarium was first applied to this type of text by the late 14th century.

With the invention and spread of Gutenberg's printing press in the 15th century, lexicography flourished. Dictionaries became increasingly widespread, and their purpose shifted from a way to store lexical knowledge to a mode of disseminating lexical information. Modern lexicographical practices began taking shape during the 18th and 19th centuries, led by notable lexicographers such as Samuel Johnson, Vladimir Dal, the Brothers Grimm, Noah Webster, James Murray, Peter Mark Roget, Joseph Emerson Worcester, and others.

During the 20th century, the invention of computers changed lexicography again. With access to large databases, finding lexical evidence became significantly faster and easier. Corpus research also enables lexicographers to discriminate different senses of a word based on said evidence. Additionally, lexicographers were now able to work nonlinearly, rather than being bound to a traditional lexicographical ordering like alphabetical ordering.

In the early 21st century, the increasing ubiquity of artificial intelligence began to impact the field, which had traditionally been a time-consuming, detail-oriented task. The advent of AI has been hailed by some as the "end of lexicography". Others are skeptical that human lexicographers will be outmoded in a field studying the particularly human substance of language.


Coined in English 1680, the word "lexicography" derives from the Greek λεξικογράφος (lexikographos), "lexicographer", (in turn from λέγω (lego), "to say", "to speak") and γράφω (grapho), "to scratch, to inscribe, to write".

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