Admitted to ACLS: 1994
The membership of the Dictionary Society of North America (DSNA)— a mix of academics,
practicing lexicographers, and others who work with words and word usage—come from over 40 countries, with
the majority working in the United States and Canada. They are scholars of dictionaries, librarians, booksellers,
translators, linguists, publishers, writers, book collectors, journalists, lawyers, and people with avocational interests in
dictionaries, glossaries, and thesauri.
Like many smaller societies, the DSNA confronts major economic and technological concerns. Membership in
the DSNA has declined in recent years, from over 350 eight years ago to about 200 today. To some extent, our
relationship with Project Muse, the digital publications database which provides online access to our annual journal,
has offset the reduction in membership income; new online revenues now also cover publishing costs. Ironically, while
that income has greatly exceeded our expectations, it may also be reducing membership: some of our academic
members, who can now receive Dictionaries online through their libraries, have decided to drop their DSNA
memberships. Likewise, some libraries that were DSNA institutional members have dropped those memberships
because their Project Muse subscriptions provide what is for them the primary benefit of DSNA membership.
DSNA’s membership has always included a significant number of working lexicographers—professionals who create
dictionaries and thesauri—in addition to academics and those in allied fields. In recent years, the lexicography
industry has been deeply affected by increased free access to dictionaries online, as well as by the consolidation
of publishing companies and a shift from full-time workers to freelancers. This shrinking workforce has reduced
our membership numbers, which in turn has diminished the interaction of professionals working in the field with
professionals studying the field.
One of the society’s strengths—having many long-term members—carries with it a weakness: many who have members
for decades are retiring, and we have been less successful then we had hoped at attracting new, younger members
to replace them. There are several reasons. The gateways to our field are closing: lexicography is taught at fewer
institutions than in the past .Our every-other-year conference schedule and annual journal allow people to lose track
of us, and annual journals are not cited or indexed as widely. And we have only one paid staff person—a nonmember—to
follow through on day-to-day capacity-building and membership development.
DSNA is now working to increase membership, improve the content and impact of our publication, and achieve
greater visibility and relevance.
We have convened a membership committee to make fundamental changes in how we conduct member business in
order to create more interest in our society and more benefits attendant to DSNA membership. These include making
radical changes in membership categories and fees, and shifting the DSNA blog to a proper website. The editor of
Dictionaries has been working to improve its ranking and citation rate and is considering twice-yearly publication to
increase website traffic and general visibility. While making money will require spending money, we believe the costs
will be well worth it.
In addition, our leadership connected with the American Dialect Society and the Linguistic Society of America and
has become part of the “Word of the Year” program in January 2016. Specifically, the DSNA sponsored, based
on recent usage, a “Word to Watch” for the upcoming year as a complement to the retrospective Word of the Year
that the Dialect Society has designated for almost 20 years. The Word to Watch for 2016 is “ghost”: to disappear
electronically from someone’s life or to make a person disappear electronically from someone’s life. We hope to
make similar connections with other allied societies.
We are starting to host regional symposia to generate interest and to share ideas, information, and contacts. The first
took place in January 2016 in New York City, and others are being considered for Boston and Philadelphia. DSNA
members in the New York City area named their group MetroLexNYC, and groups with similar names will hopefully
be founded elsewhere. MetroLexNYC planned a flexible and informal program, with just three presenters; we will
test these and other format innovations at future gatherings. The initial response to the event indicates great interest
in the format—indeed, after a huge snowstorm, almost 40 people attended. We plan to host quarterly gatherings to
maintain interest between conferences and to encourage attendance from lapsed and potential new members.
The DSNA connects with its membership through a semiannual newsletter that provides information about the Society
and its members, dictionaries or lexicographic research in progress or recently published lexicography courses and
workshops, and recent or forthcoming conferences of lexicographic interest. We also publish the annual Dictionaries,
which contains articles on issues relevant to the Society; notes and queries on the making, critique, use, collection,
and history of dictionaries; descriptions of significant dictionary collections; reviews on lexicography or closely
related topics; and bibliographies.
The Society meets every other year to present and hear papers about dictionaries. Occasionally, the Society holds
meetings with related societies, such as the Society for the History of the English Language. Attended by roughly
100 people, our conference holds only one session at a time, engendering a collaborative atmosphere.
The Dictionary Society of North America was founded after a 1975 Indiana State University colloquium, “Research
on the History of English Dictionaries.” DNSA was admitted to the American Council of Learned Societies in 1994.
We have a membership base of 400 individual members.Our principal publication, The Journal of the Dictionary
Society of North America, is published by the Dictionary Society of North America.
For more information on the Dictionary Society of North America, visit www.dictionarysociety.com.
Excerpted from Learned Societies Beyond the Numbers: 2015.