The Dictionary of Old English

About the Dictionary of Old English

The Dictionary of Old English (DOE) defines the vocabulary of the first six centuries (C.E. 600-1150) of the English language, using twenty-first century technology. The DOE complements the Middle English Dictionary (which covers the period C.E. 1100-1500) and the Oxford English Dictionary, the three together providing a full description of the vocabulary of English.  Under the direction of editors Angus Cameron, Ashley Crandell Amos, and now Antonette diPaolo Healey, the Dictionary has published (as of 2009) the following major research tools: the Dictionary of Old English Corpus on the World Wide Web, the DOE: A to G online, the DOE: A to G on CD-ROM, the fascicles for the letters A-G on microfiche, and an online bibliography of Old English texts and Latin sources cited in the DOE. More than one third of the Dictionary -- eight of the 22 letters of the Old English alphabet -- has been published, and more than 60% of the total entries have been written to date. See DOE on YouTube.

The Dictionary of Old English Corpus

The DOE is based on a computerized Corpus comprising at least one copy of each text surviving in Old English. The total size is almost five times the collected works of Shakespeare. The body of surviving Old English texts encompasses a rich diversity of records written on parchment, carved in stone and inscribed in jewelry. These texts fall into several categories: prose, poetry, glosses to Latin texts and inscriptions. In the prose in particular, there is a wide range of texts: saints' lives, sermons, biblical translations, penitential writings, laws, charters and wills, records (of manumissions, land grants, land sales, land surveys), chronicles, a set of tables for computing the moveable feasts of the Church calendar and for astrological calculations, medical texts, prognostics (the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the horoscope), charms (such as those for a toothache or for an easy labour), and even cryptograms.

Scholarly Method

From the outset, the project has employed innovative methods and technologies. Most dictionaries tend to be deeply indebted to their predecessors. By contrast, it is the database of the Dictionary of Old English Corpus which determines the headwords, definitions and quotations. Research based on a comprehensive analysis of the surviving records of Old English is perhaps the most significant difference between the DOE and the work of earlier scholars. The project has followed in the footsteps of those who have established new standards in modern lexicography by providing parsed lists of all attested spellings, grammatical information, and detailed sense divisions (supported by illustrative citations from the Corpus) for each word. The DOE has an International Advisory Committee with members from Canada, Great Britain, the United States and Germany. The editors also consult with scholars throughout the world who have expert knowledge of specialized vocabulary, such as legal, medical and botanical terms.

Use of Technology

The DOE is a pioneer in the application of technology to lexicography. In 1997 the project launched its most sophisticated research tool--the Dictionary of Old English Corpus on the World Wide Web, which makes the Corpus with its complex search capabilities available to any institution in the world with access to the Internet. In 2007, the Web Corpus was made available to individual subscribers. Also in 2007, the project released DOE: A to G online, the first web version of the first eight letters of the Dictionary. It offers Boolean searches on multiple fields of the Dictionary as well as links to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Financial Support

The DOE has received research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Ottawa; the British Academy, London; the Connaught Fund, University of Toronto; the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, New York; the Early English Text Society, Oxford; the Marc Fitch Fund, Oxford; the Jackman Foundation, Toronto; the McLean Foundation, Toronto; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York; the National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, an independent federal agency; the Salamander Foundation, Toronto; the TAPoR (Text Analysis Portal) Project, funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation; the University of Toronto; Lulu, Raleigh, NC; and Xerox Corporation, Palo Alto and Toronto, among others. Support has also been given by many scholars and friends throughout the world. The search for funds is ongoing.