Object 2: My French-English Dictionary

May 27, 2021

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This object is a dictionary which I use to help me translate between English and French.

Dictionaries, like this one, supply definitions and certification of what is correct vocabulary.

This object is interesting to this exhibition because it demonstrates our reliance as humans on external sources for knowledge. Although language is becoming increasingly malleable, dictionaries are still regarded as the absolute source of ‘proper’ language. Much of what we regard as being ‘proper’ language is often outdated and unrepresentative of the language spoken by most people. Despite the language of dictionaries not matching the language of the public, we still force this language upon ourselves. When I use my French dictionary and I want to say the word ‘e-mail’ it translates it as ‘courriel’ which my French teacher tells me I am supposed to say despite the word most people use being ‘e-mail’ or ‘mail’. The editors at the Oxford University Press who get to decide whether the word for email in French should be ‘courriel’ or ‘e-mail’ are the ones who own the knowledge of the French language because they get to choose what that knowledge is.

A second reason this object enhances this exhibition is by indicating that there isn’t an owner of knowledge. No one truly owns the knowledge of language because language is a cultural construct which is ever evolving. My Oxford French dictionary may tell me to say the word ‘eat’ as ‘manger’, another dictionary may say the word for ‘eat’ is ‘faire minette’ and my friends and I may decide that we prefer to say ‘bouffer’ and none of these definitions would be incorrect. Language is owned by everyone and thus by no one, we pick and choose what we like and what we don’t and in doing so we end up making up something which has no real rules and no real owner.

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