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Who decides what’s in the dictionary? - Ilan Stavans


19,127 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

While the concept of a dictionary dates back to ancient civilizations, the first English dictionary wasn’t published until 1604. In the centuries that followed, many more dictionaries were written by individual authors who chose what to include or exclude, with most quickly becoming outdated. One 19th century lexicon had a different fate. Ilan Stavans digs into the history of Webster's Dictionary.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

The best way to start thinking deeper about dictionaries is to surf through the entries of Merriam-Webster. Sites for commercial lexicons are free and open to the public. Let yourself be surprised by what you find. Learn about the role and history of dictionaries from this conversation with Ilan Stavans, the educator of this TED-Ed lesson. Vice has an article on language and immigration that is useful to appreciate how people foster linguistic change. Curious about Spanglish? This New York Times article has more information about the hybrid tongue born from the intersection between English and Spanish. These are some suggestions that will help you think more broadly about the life of words.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Ilan Stavans
  • Director Lisa LaBracio
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Lisa LaBracio
  • Illustrator Tara Sunil Thomas
  • Animation Assistant Natasha Villegas
  • Music Salil Bhayani
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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