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Thursday, 31 January 2013
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About the project
The Oxford English Dictionary is everywhere recognized as a comprehensive authority on the history of English from 1150 to the present day. Both literary and linguistic scholars, as well as many others, use the dictionary in order to find out more about words and their meanings, and to study and learn from the unrivalled stores of quotation evidence provided for the individual entries (drawn from literary and non-literary sources from the earliest days of English up to the present). In particular, OED's representation of language has crucially affected literary and linguistic understanding of how English has changed and developed, and of the contribution made to this process by individuals such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and other major writers.

Yet we know remarkably little about the methodology and underlying editorial practices of this enormous 'engine of research' (a term first used of the dictionary by one of its publishers, Charles Cannan, in 1905). Although OED is a landmark in lexicography and provides a reference point for many sorts of language studies, it is itself comparatively little studied. By exploring and analysing OED's quotations and quotation sources, this research project seeks to illuminate the foundations of the dictionary's representation of the English language.

Initial results indicates the range of topics under investigation: the OED's variable coverage of sources and periods and its representation of eighteenth-century language and of female sources, the relationship between dictionaries and writers, and the progress of the revision of the OED currently underway in Oxford (OED3).

In order to understand the role of quotations in OED, we look at two previous dictionaries which significantly influenced OED in this respect (Johnson and Richardson), and consider the intellectual climate in which the OED was produced.

The most recent addition to the site is a review of the re-launched OED Online (December 2012), which took down the online form of OED2: see pages beginning at OED editions, updates and revision (e.g. Re-launched OED Online).

We are also reviewing the history of OED's compilation in two main ways:
(1) tracing its accumulation of quotation evidence from 1857 onwards – in particular looking at OED's treatment of different periods, and 
(2) reproducing facsimiles of historical documents (with commentary as appropriate) marking the OED's path from inception to completion.
More recently, a section of the site dedicated to OED's treatment of literary quotation sources begins with a study of Auden's quotations in OED and will move on to Joyce and other authors. Work is also progressing on two other specific subjects:

  • a study of the language of selected eighteenth-century female authors and their representation in OED (on pages beginning here), supported over 2009 by the Leverhulme Trust

Further pages explain the different editions and stages of OED and how to search OED. We also include a full bibliography, a glossary of specialized terms, and a library of downloadable articles published by leading scholars in the field.

Our research is crucially dependent on the electronic form of the dictionary, OED Online (published by Oxford University Press), where more information about the OED may be found.

Note added in October 2011
The OED website changed radically in December 2010 (as reviewed here); most importantly, the electronic version of the unrevised OED (i.e. the second edition of 1989) was taken down so that users can no longer make systematic comparisons of the revised with the unrevised forms of the Dictionary - comparisons on which much of the analysis so far conducted by the Examining the OED project has been based. Our future analyses will therefore use different resources, currently under review (and possibly including consultation of electronic forms of OED2 at the private offices of OUP). 

Please use the site map or search function if you cannot find the information you are looking for. If you would like to be informed by email of updates and additions to the site, or to report any broken links, please contact us.

Importance of quotations
Aims and findings
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