NIVERSITY AFFAIRS has recently published an excellent article about the Dictionary of Old English project housed at the University of Toronto's Centre for Medieval Studies. In "Old English, Defined," author Alex Gillis reports that forty-six years into the project and half-way through the alphabet, scholars at the University of Toronto "move heofon and hell" to complete the work. The DOE's mandate is to record and define every word used between 600 and 1150 CE. When it is completed, says Gillis, "it will be more comprehensive than any dictionary in English--more detailed than the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon dictionary of 1898 and 1921, and more exhaustive than the venerable 20-vilume Oxford English Dictionary." The DOE will not appear in print--and though it is still in progress, "hundreds of universities around the world have already subscribed to this digital, online dictionary."
The story opens with a view of recently-hired drafting editor Dr. Stephen Pelle at work, and then moves on to a historical account of the founders of the project, Professor Angus Cameron and his assistant Elaine Quanz. David and Ian McDougall worked as drafting editors for three decades, and in 2014 Drs. Pelle and Robert Getz were hired as interim directors. The story offers accounts of discovering words in curses, medical texts, charms to protect livestock, and legal documents, and offers brief interviews with researchers including Catherine Monahan, reflections on the appearance of Old English in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, and some representative definitions. The goal is to finish H this year, if the controversy over hwaet, the first word in Beowulf, doesn't slow them down--and as long as the editors don't lose time falling in love with individual words.
You can read the whole article here.
University Affairs is the official news magazine of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Thanks to Dr. Lise Winer of McGill University for bringing this to our attention.