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The Dictionary of Old English: From Manuscripts to Megabytes Antonette diPaolo Healey ^he successful completion of the Middle English Dictionary (MED) is a cause for celebration. In that celebration we take note of a major human endeavor, an enormous intellectual enterprise . It is an important moment, in fact an historic occasion, for all of us engaged in basic research on our language. Surmounting many challenges , the editors of the MED progressed through the alphabet to the triumphant conclusion of their dictionary — despite the intractability of language, the uncertainties of funding, and the losses in personnel over time. The hopes and labors of many over so many years have now been fulfilled through the steady determination of the research team of the MED and through the resolve of its funding agencies that this was a venture of lasting scholarly significance. To mark this memorable event, I offer to Bob Lewis, and to all who have furthered the work of the MED at the University of Michigan, reflections on another lexicographic endeavor, the Dictionary of OldEnglish (DOE) at the University of Toronto, with the collective good wishes of our staff. It is not always easy to describe to the general public what we, as lexicographers, do in satisfying the "taxonomic urge" (McArthur 1986). This task is harder still when the language seems foreign even diough it is the earliest form of die audience's own. Several years ago, after the Canadian High Commission invited our project to be showcased at Canada House, London, we needed to find a succinct yet memorable phrase for describing what we do to a gathering of diplomats , politicians, business executives, academics, board members of foundations and University of Toronto alumni. Our research team deDictionaries :Journal oftheDictionary Society ofNorth America 23 (2002) ______The Dictionary of Old English: From Manuscripts to Megabytes 157 vised the slogan "From manuscripts to megabytes." We believed it accurately described the material culture, both old and new, with which we work and, equally important, it had a good alliterative ring to it. We also hoped that it revealed our rootedness in the past and, simultaneously , our willingness to embrace the new expressive technologies of the present and future. Also, on a more personal level for us in Toronto, it was an acknowledgment, once again, of the brilliant insight of our founding editor, Angus Cameron (1970-83), that computer technology might allow us to reconceptualize how dictionaries are made and used (Cameron 1983, 18-20), an insight sustained and strengthened by the project's second editor, Ashley Crandell Amos (1983-89). Finally, we had firmly in mind a colleague's wise counsel, that the goal of these emerging technologies should be to increase the knowledge available and not simply multiply the tools and tasks (Frantzen 1990, 88). All this was certainly a heavy freight for four words to bear, but all this we were trying to capture in that phrase. This essay attempts to describe what the movement from manuscripts to megabytes, from script to print to digits, has entailed for our project, focusing on the tools we have created in the recent past to aid our writing of the DOE. Much as we longed to leap like sure-footed gazelles over the mountaintops of corporate roll-outs, our experience has been a delicate balancing act over the years, trying to keep abreast of the technology curve, yet not be so far in front that things do not work. Achieving this balance is never easy, but we have been greatly aided in our technological efforts by the expertise of colleagues in the field, of the computer scientists who advise us and, most recendy, by the particular talents of the project's systems analyst, Peter Mielke, who has a gift for structural tagging and special characters. Dictionary of Old English Corpus in Electronic Form At the center of our work is the Dictionary of Old English Corpus in Electronic Form, a database comprising at least one copy of every known text in Old English, according to our present count 3037 texts or 40MB. This text corpus forms the citation base for the DOE. The comprehensiveness of its coverage is perhaps the most significant difference between our...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 156-179
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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