Problems in Defining Ethnicity Terms in Dictionaries

Dragica Žugić, Milica Vuković-Stamatović


Despite the fact that lexicographers have increasingly been taking more care when it comes to defining socially sensitive terms, we argue that ethnicity terms still remain rather poorly defined. In a number of online monolingual dictionaries we surveyed in this study, we find that ethnicity terms are generally simplistically defined, mostly in terms of geography and citizenship, and argue that such definitions are too reductionist and sometimes even erroneous. We also find that some disparaging ethnicity terms are not labelled as such in some of the dictionaries surveyed. We also present a case study from Montenegro, in which a dictionary of the national academy of sciences was immediately revoked over a few ethnicity and ethnicity-related terms, after a violent outcry from two of Montenegro's ethnic minorities, dissatisfied with how their ethnicities were defined and treated in the dictionary. Based on our survey and the earlier findings from the literature, we recommend that international dictionaries follow a standardised model of defining ethnicities, which would additionally refer to an ethnicity's culture and potentially language, and be as inclusive as possible. We also recommend that editors and lexicographers of national dictionaries pay special attention to how they define the ethnic terms relating to the minorities living in their country or region, following a combination of a standardised and a partly customised approach, which would take into account the specific features of the minorities.


ethnicity terms; ethnicity-related terms; dictionaries; labels

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ISSN 2224-0039 (online); ISSN 1684-4904 (print)

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