A missing word?

I was copy-editing a paper for a language journal today, and came across this:

“… children may or may not identify phonemes better audiovisually than auditory only.”

The prescriptivist in me baulked at the combination of adverb and adjective, and so I changed it to:

“… children may or may not identify phonemes better audiovisually than auditorily only.”

At this point Microsoft Word (Word for Mac 15.3.2) chipped in with a wavy red underline. (I should perhaps add that so far in this post, it has also picked up audiovisually and prescriptivist!)) It did, however, make me stop and think.

I checked my two desktop dictionaries, The Chambers Dictionary (13th edition, 2014) and the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (eleventh edition, revised, 2008), and neither of them lists auditorily. Somewhat chastened, I went back to the text and revised it to:

“… children may or may not identify phonemes better audiovisually than when they are auditory only.”

relying on the reader to link they with phonemes rather than with children.

However, later in that same paper, I came across:

“… by locating the … onsets visually and auditorily …”

This is a not unusual feature in a paper where different authors are responsible for different sections.

Time to check the OED online, where I got the message “No dictionary entries found for ‘auditorily’”. However, it also pointed out that auditorily could be found in three quotations and three times in a full-text search (these were, in fact, the same three occurrences):

2011   Internat. Jrnl. Amer. Linguistics 77 163   Stress placement was judged auditorily..and verified through instrumental analysis..by measuring pitch, amplitude, and duration. [at instrumental]

1966   K. De Hirsch et al. Predicting Reading Failure viii. 82   Five auditorily gifted children who read well had been intensively trained in phonics. [at phonics]

1961   L. F. Brosnahan Sounds of Lang. i. 15   Articulations which are similar..must require greater precision of execution..in order to keep the resulting speech sounds distinct, both proprioceptively and auditorily. [at proprioceptively]

There is possibly a register restriction here, so I went to check in my corpus of academic journal papers which have been sent to me for copy-editing. This is a corpus of approximately 13.5 million words, and I found 28 examples of auditorily in 22 different papers. All of them were from language journals.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this reflects nothing more than my copy-editing preferences, I should add that in my corpus these papers are in their pre-copy-edited form.

So is “The definitive record of the English language” missing something? Not necessarily. There is a note on both the noun and adjective entries for auditory which says:

“This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1885).”

My corpus dates from 2006 to 2016, so it is possible that this is a recent innovation.

There is more to be done on this.



About adrianstenton

Adrian Stenton is a PhD candidate at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics and is currently investigating number concord in the species noun phrase. Adrian is part of the project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public, which is supervised by Prof Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.
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8 Responses to A missing word?

  1. Paul Nance says:

    Very interesting! My first reaction was to suggest auditorially, but it seems odd to use the adverb formed from a different adjective, auditorial, which I have never used and cannot remember having heard. On he other hand, OED lists both auditorial and auditorially, with 19-century citations.

  2. adrianstenton says:

    This is interesting. I had a look at Worcester’s dictionary and I’ll include the relevant entries as a new post.

  3. Valerie Gorman says:

    As this section of the OED has not yet been revised in our work on the 3rd edition, I am not surprised there is no entry in ed. 2. If you drop a note to the editors of the OED expressing your concern and give them citation details for use, they will be pleased beyond belief. Our project relies on users to help us since we are a limited team and can’t possibly spot everything. Since the editorial work on the 3rd edition started at M, it will bra long time before we get round to A.

  4. Valerie Gorman says:

    Again, other than me, I don’t think any editors are reading your blog and I’m a library research editor so I don’t have an impact on new entries. If you follow this link to contact the editorial staff, I’m certain they will take your suggestions seriously. We do work out of sequence when there is a reason to do so (frequency of user searches is one reason). Bringing new, missing, or erroneous uses to our attention is always worthwhile. Here’s the link:

  5. Valerie Gorman says:

    In the event you haven’t seen it, there is a wealth of information on all aspects of the OED on their website including information about the editorial revision project and the rationale underlying it. I would strongly encourage you to point your users and students to the http://www.oed.com to allow them to better understand this unique linguistic resource. ‹(•¿•)› V

    • Thanks, Valerie! All our students get a thorough introduction into the OED and all its uses, and I have taught them about the OED and how to make use of it for about forty years or so ;-). This may be unique, actually, if I think about it. I know various people working for the OED (I meet them at conferences), and I also know that some of them follow this blog, since we’ve received the occasional comment (not on my suggestion about Fowler though). I’m glad to hear that you are a follower too! We also appreciate your comments very much, so thanks for getting in touch.

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