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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
Middle English Dictionary Online
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0074  Thursday, 1 February 2007

From: 		Al Magary <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 30 Jan 2007 17:11:44 -0800
Subject: 	Middle English Dictionary Online

News from the University of Michigan that should interest many on this list:

Say what? U-M Library puts English language history online

http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=3125

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-This book was 75 years in the making at the University 
of Michigan, has more than 15,000 pages and takes up nearly four feet of 
shelf space.

And now what has been called the greatest achievement in medieval 
scholarship in America and the most important single project in current 
English historical lexicography is off the bookshelf and freely 
available in an online version.  <http://ets.umdl.umich.edu/m/med/>

The task for editors compiling the Middle English Dictionary was to 
document the English language from just after the Norman Conquest up to 
the introduction of the printing press at the end of the 1400s. With 
that innovation the language became more or less standardized, but 
during the Middle Ages, the language evolved under the stress of events 
and social change, particularly as French culture was absorbed into the 
language. These were truly the formative years of the English language, 
presenting major challenges to lexicographers.

By converting the contents of the Middle English Dictionary into an 
enormous database, the dictionary has been made searchable in ways 
impossible in a printed document of its size. Medievalists, English 
language scholars and the curious can now access the dictionary free of 
charge.

The database includes information on the origins of technical writing, 
popular culture, notable literary works, medicine, law, science, 
ship-building, encyclopedias, translations of the Bible, maps, letters, 
wills, acts of State, recipes, philosophy, mathematics and numerous 
other subjects, providing a distant mirror of Medieval culture and 
society. In addition to the linked information, the dictionary also 
provides the full, searchable text of more than 100 important Medieval 
documents in their entirety. "We've always wanted to see an interlinked 
web of dictionaries that together cover the very multilingual world of 
medieval Britain along with antecedent and successor languages," said 
Paul Schaffner of U-M's Digital Library Production Service. "The 
division between dictionaries has always been rather artificial in a 
multilingual society where words tend to slip back and forth between 
languages. There are many words, especially commercial and legal words 
that cannot be easily assigned to one language or another."

The need for free access to this resource was made apparent by inquiries 
from around the world. Now the English teacher in Uganda can finish a 
translation of a Middle English mystery play for his students, the 
English gentleman attempting to determine the origin of his surname on 
behalf of a society of those with the same name will find an easier path 
to success and independent scholars and emeritus faculty will have full 
access for their research. Students at various colleges and universities 
who use the Middle English Dictionary for class assignments will be able 
to complete their assignments from home computers.

"Support from the National Endowment for the Humanities was crucial in 
bringing this project to completion," said John Wilkin, who led the 
digitization project and is the architect of U-M's digital library 
effort. "Now, with support from the U-M Library, this invaluable 
historical and linguistic resource will open the path to our shared past 
to more people than ever before."

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