Here is where the Professor Householder comes into the picture.
“In World War II he was assigned to an army unit that met in New York City in an office at 165 Broadway that made phrasebooks in various languages that were issued to U.S. servicemen and servicewomen who traveled throughout the world, something like 80 pages long each, with words, definitions, phrases, illustrative sentences, things like that, the stuff that goes into bilingual dictionaries,” Adams noted. “He was somebody with some dictionary experience who was known because of work he'd done during WW II.”
As Householder was known within government circles, “In 1959 the then-U.S. Office of Education asked him if he would organize a conference on bilingual dictionary-making,” Adams reported. “The government was asking someone on whom they knew they could rely professionally and as a civil servant to put together this unusual conference
To confirm his theory Adams sought help from IU librarians, who “worked very hard to try to find the original letter asking Householder to do this, or anything really to do with it at all, but they were unable to locate anything.”
One reason Adams moved ahead with the book project is that “Edited volumes like this were produced originally in a very old-fashioned way,” he said. “Back in the 1950s and 60s it was a homegrown publishing system, a conference publication didn’t go to a university press like it would today, it was distributed to libraries and to a few scholars or professionals who were really interested in the subject.”
Books published this way, noted Adams, “Were awful in many respects. They were offset print, and the editing was often negligent. When we pick up an academic book today, we expect there to be references and citations done in a uniform way, we expect an index, notes on contributors. 1962’s Problems in Lexicography, like a lot of those cheaply produced books, didn't have any of that scholarly apparatus.”
After reading the book several times, “I would think, in 1960 a bunch of powerful linguists got into a room together, and they all had the same bibliography in their heads; they knew what they were referring to when somebody in the room mentioned the Great Hungarian Dictionary by X. Right? But where would you find that dictionary now? Who published it? What was the date? They all knew that in the room then, but we don't know that today.”
A first step, he decided, was preparing the project as a 21st century academic book that people could read and use in ways that aren’t possible with the 1962 publication.
Moreover, Adams saw value in moving ahead and revisiting the 1962 book through critical and historical lenses. “There’s stuff in this book that's so durably important, I thought, maybe we ought to figure out something about the context in which it was made, and what it offered to people at the time.”
One interesting finding in Adams’ book is that “A group of scholars who participated in the 1960 conference very interestingly overlaps with a group of European emigres who fled the Nazis and widespread antisemitism in Europe, and who end up in New York at about the same time,” he said. “They're known to one another, at least by reputation, and they begin to participate in projects together.
“But the point is, everybody coming out of the war was aware of all of this stuff, and there's this network of people — wartime colleagues, emigres — that develops status and authority within the linguistics community after the war, and they are represented in this book.”
Problems in Lexicography, Adams explained, “is a wonderful example, or case study, of IU leading the field in North America and globally, and a reminder that when academics get together with a purpose in mind, they can change something about the world. They can influence it significantly. We still do this every day on the Bloomington campus.”