Lexicographers are, by definition, those who work on creating dictionaries. They compile facts for dictionary entries, write the entries themselves, and edit the work of other lexicographers. Entry level positions involve assisting senior workers in creating the dictionary.
However, those employed at a senior level are involved in making sure that the definition of the words remains accurate, and in monitoring new coinages that should be included in new dictionary editions. It’s essentially a job that’s informed by the changing face of language—its history and its eventual development.
There are several types of dictionaries, such as English dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries, English dictionaries for learners and technical dictionaries. This means the job roles and the requirements for the job can differ, and what each position involves will depend to a large extent on your area and level of expertise.
Salary & benefits
A junior lexicographer can earn £18,000 to £20,000 a year, while editors in the field can earn as much as £25,000 a year. Senior lexicographers can make up to £40,000 or more annually, although higher positions generally demand more (unpaid) overtime work.
As the job entails working with dictionaries and other language-related materials, lexicographers are largely stuck in an office. Junior lexicographers can afford to work on freelance projects elsewhere, involving editorial work such as editing and/or writing. Those working in managerial positions, however, may find it hard to make the time for additional part-time work.
One problem within this field is the limited number of companies that work on dictionaries. This isn’t a problem for entry level employees, but it can serve as a challenge for those seeking higher positions. Many experienced lexicographers shift to other related careers in publishing and journalism.
As with related fields, employers here will consider graduates from any academic background. Of course, applicants with degrees in English and linguistics will have better chances of getting hired. Editors and those entering niche lexicography fields might also need postgraduate units.
For instance, a dictionary lexicographer working on words’ etymologies needs postgraduate training. Most editors, in fact, have doctorate degrees. After all, they are working on a material that tracks the progress of language. It’s only natural that only those with the higher academic credentials will have the capacity to research and pontificate on these matters.
Job training here is largely on the job, although many employers do provide new hires with essential books and references. Additional training isn’t necessary, especially for entry level positions. There are, however, short courses in the field, as well as conferences and seminars on important issues and matters regarding language.
Training & progression
Junior lexicographers can be promoted to editors, although what they do is essentially defined by the current editor. However, some may have to work as assistants to editors or as general editorial assistants.
Later on, as they gain experience and academic credentials, they can get promoted to senior editor. Since there are few companies engaged in this field there are very few senior positions available, so many lexicographers go to other related professions.
In any case, the skills in lexicography are essential to such sectors as publishing and journalism.