Parasitic dictionaries and spam books

by Sarah Ogilvie

 

A few years ago, Peter Austin and David Nathan, two Australian linguists working at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London, discovered that their dictionary of Kamilaroi, anAboriginal language of New South Wales, was for sale on Amazon. The only problem was that they had not put it there and it had someone else’s name on it. Philip M. Parker, having found their Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay Web Dictionary on the Internet, repackaged it, listed himself as author, published it through his own company (ICON Group International), and offered it for sale on Amazon as part of his Webster’s Dictionary series (the ‘Webster’s’ name has been in the public domain since 1910, so there are thousands of Webster’s dictionaries from various publishers). Parker has published more than 1400 of these ‘parasitic dictionaries’ of languages such as Bemba, French, Portuguese, Samoan, Hmong, Uyghur, Fijian, and Saami.

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Published in April 2012 no. 340

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