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The Middle English Compendium: Past, Present, Future Frances McSparran "Indexes and dictionaries .. are the compendium of all knowledge" Ti me Middle English period spans roughly the years 1150-1500 and presents a complex social and linguistic culture. The English used during this period varied according to region , and the language changed in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary , and spelling habits over these three to four hundred years. Middle English was thus not uniform and static but formed a continuum of different dialects, shifting and changing over both space and time, and influenced in various ways, particularly in its lexis, by contact with the other languages used within the country.2 The written varieties of Middle English are preserved in a huge body of literary texts and documents of all kinds, and the print MiddleEnglish Dictionary (MED), completed in 2001 under the editorship of Robert E. Lewis, and based on about three million quotations drawn from this mass of texts and records, offers a rich and reliable record of the lexis and usage of this 'The quotation, dated 1714, is taken from OED2 (1989), s.v. compendium, sense 2(b). 2Alongside Middle English in all its various dialects and registers, Latin was used extensively as the language for administration, religion and learning, Anglo-Norman and other French dialects were the languages of social prestige and of literature for much of the period, and Welsh spilled over the borders into the western part of the country; these intermingled language contacts influenced English, especially in the area of lexis. Dictionaries:Journal ofthe Dictionary Society ofNorth America 23 (2002) The Middle English Compendium: Past, Present, Future127 period, making it a fundamental resource for medievalists working on the language and the literary culture of medieval England. In 1996, as the print MED neared completion, a small committee was appointed by the Office of the Vice-President for Research (OVPR) in the University of Michigan to consider the merits of creating an electronic version of the dictionary. As we discussed forms of delivery and access, we were eager to find ways to make the rich resources of the MED most accessible to the varying needs of students and scholars, and, with that in mind, I proposed that we make an electronic MED the central component in a cluster of interconnected electronic resources and designed a model showing how this should work. The main components , which we would produce locally, would be an electronic version of the MED, a HyperBibliography of Middle English texts, based on the bibliographies created in the production of the print MED, but updated and expanded, and a Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, the nucleus of which had already been developed by the Humanities Text Initiative (HTI) witiiin the University of Michigan Library. These core components would be closely linked to one another, and I further proposed the gradual addition of links between them and related but independent electronic projects being developed elsewhere. Discussions with John Price-Wilkin, head of Digital Library Production Service (DLPS) within the University of Michigan Library and our committee's technological expert, established that die implementation of diis design and its distribution on the Internet were practical possibilities. This project was to become the Middle English Compendium (MEC). With the backing of OVPR,John Price-Wilkin and I jointly prepared a grant proposal for developing these three core resources and submitted it to the National Endowment for the Humanities. A generous two-year grant from NEH in 1997 and significant additional support from OVPR and the University of Michigan Library funded the project, and full-time work began in the fall of 1997. Two new staff membersjoined the project; one of these, Paul Schaffner, a medievalist and former MED research editor, managed the conversion of the print MED into SGML markup, while other essential technological support and programming were provided by Digital Library Production Service.3 John Price-Wilkin provided overall guidance for production , while I have had overall editorial responsibility. Within the 3Most of the MED existing in late 1997 was available only in hard copy, produced in house by Selectric typewriters and published by photolithography; 1 28Frances McSparran two-year period, November 1997 to November 1999...


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