He is often known as “the man who made dictionaries” after the phenomenal success of his meisterwerk, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and it was through his work, his dictionaries for learners, and his papers on language teaching for professionals, that he had a profound influence on English language teaching.
This was continued by the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust which was set up in 1961 using a major portion of Hornby’s income (he was somewhat embarrassed by the amount of royalties he received).
One of the main aims of the trust is to give grants to teachers from developing countries to come to the UK and receive training; the idea being the trust should allow the skills to return to countries where they are needed.
Hornby – known to his friends as Ash – was born in Chester in the United Kingdom and educated at University College London where he took a degree in English language and literature.
In April 1924 he went to Japan to teach English at Oita University where he joined Harold E. Palmer in his programme of vocabulary research at the Institute for Research in English Teaching (IRET). Subsequently, in 1933, Palmer invited Hornby to Tokyo as an assistant. Three years later Hornby became the technical adviser and editor of the IRET’s Bulletin.
In 1937, along with E. V. Gatenby and H. Wakefield, he started work on a new type of dictionary that was aimed at foreign learners of English, it was the first monolingual learners’ dictionary. The dictionary was completed in 1940 and published by Kaitakusha two years later in Tokyo as The Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary.
The next step was the publication of an international version. Oxford University Press were interested in publishing it and asked for a copy. However, of only 3 copies which existed, two were lost in the post en route to England. Back in Japan Hornby was put under house arrest following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. He was released a while later and managed to get aboard a Red Cross ship which took him to England and he also managed to smuggle aboard the final copy of the dictionary.
Hornby finally got back to the UK in 1942 where he joined the British Council as a lecturer and trainer, later becoming linguistic advisor to the council. After World War II he became the editor of the journal English Language Teaching which became a highly influential journal in the realm of English language teaching.
In 1948 his dictionary was reissued by OUP as A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. The subsequent editions of the dictionary were, and continue to be, a great commercial success in ELT publishing. It sold 10,000 copies in the first 15 months and went on to become one of OUP’s biggest selling books of all time.
The dictionary is now in its seventh edition and is known as the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.
He was appointed OBE and made a Fellow of University College London and a Master of Arts of the University of Oxford.
The A.S.Hornby Educational Trust – official website