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Phantom Dictionaries: The Middle English Dictionary before Kurath Wl Michael Adams forking late one May evening, perhaps proofreading the Middle English Dictionary's bibliography, Carlos Palmer, one of Hans Kurath's enterprising assistant editors, may have heard a rustle against the curtains in the Middle English Dictionary offices on the fifth floor of Angelí Hall. On a similar evening, another assistant editor, Margaret Ogden, while inspecting a microfilm copy of the Sloan manuscript version of Guy de Chauliac's Chirurgie, may have followed a sourceless shadow to a critical variant. Dick McKelvey, in charge of production, returning to his desk after managing the Mendelssohn Theater's box office one night, may have found his notes for the next day's work in disarray and, while straightening the mess, reassessed his priorities. An inaudible voice may have reminded Sherman Kuhn of this or that conclusion drawn in the survey of Middle English dialects that Samuel Moore, Sanford B. Meech, and Harold C. Whitehall had published nearly two decades earlier, compelling him to insertion, deletion, or emendation of items in die dictionary's list of regional texts. If these spectral speculations rise in the imagination, it's no surprise, for the ghosts of earlier editors and their phantom dictionaries , dictionaries of Middle English conceived yet disembodied, benignly haunt the Middle English Dictionary (MED) to this day. Today's MED is essentially Kurath's MED, a model of positivist language research.1 Kurath came to the MED an acknowledged expert 'Richard W Bailey has remarked that "Kurath's method as a lexicogrpaher had much in common witii his method as a dialectologist. 'Fine-spun distinctions,' Dictionaries:Journal oftheDictionary Society ofNorth America 23 (2002) 96Michael Adams in American English and, as the organizer and editor of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada, a proven manager of large publishing projects. But he was not a Middle English specialist and he had never edited a dictionary. The dictionary's future was thus necessarily borne of its past, and as Kurath devised a new plan and brought the MED to publication, he studied the materials that Samuel Moore and Thomas Knott, both of whose editorial periods ended prematurely, had left behind them. Kurath filled the MED with quotations that illustrated , not only Middle English usage, but the phonological, morphological , grammatical, and semantic development of Middle English terms, as well. He defined synonymically, eschewed encyclopedic information , minimized dialectal and etymological claims, while providing the evidence for future generations of scholars to untangle the web of Middle English in the fullness of time. He cast a bibliography so wide that it caught, not only the central literary texts of Medieval England, but those which represented the multiple registers of which Middle English was composed. He printed a dictionary for serious students of Middle English, one with little white space, no distinguishing fonts, and a baffling system of dates and stencils. In none of this did he follow Moore's or Knott's lead; each had intended to produce a dictionary different from each other's and from Kurath's. Yet, from plan to he wrote in his 1954 Plan which inaugurated the Dictionary, 'are apt to reflect personal bias or fancy rather than distinct meanings . . . Like the dialect fieldworkers , the editor should present the unvarnished evidence as fully as possible , with little irreversible theorizing, so allowing the consumer to interpret it as suited the need" (1992, 806) . According to David A. Hollinger, the MED is a "monument of specific information" (1989, 76). Hollinger argues that "the apotheosis of pluralism" at the post-war University of Michigan places the MED in the context of other apparendy "neutral" scholarship of the period and place, like The American Voter, by Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Donald Stokes, and Warren Miller, "a scientifically self-conscious, rigorously professional work of data and methods which made no compromises with the world of The New Republic" (1989, 75), that is, the world of "irreversible theorizing " and of heavily varnished evidence. Kurath, like Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons, "reflected the dominant mood" of the era, that "a scientific discipline ... 'is clearly primarily dedicated to the advancement and transmission of empirical knowledge and only secondarily to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 95-114
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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