The OED: supporting research through innovation

The OED: supporting research through innovation

The OED has long been a partner to projects at the cutting edge of academic research and has always recognized the individuals and institutions of this community as its core user base with the drive, capacity, and energy to fully utilize the OED dataset.

We believe that the OED should be able to serve all scholars who want to investigate the sociological, historical, economic, or geographical record of the English language or use this data to fuel research in the wider humanities disciplines. Our goal now is to further develop this offering to actively support the needs of academic research as they evolve in the coming years.

Back in 1857, the OED project – or as it was then, the New English Dictionary – was the first of its kind in the English language. In seeking to construct a scientific account of the history and usage of every word in the language, the team of linguists and language experts pioneered new techniques and strategies – famously, Sir James Murray’s public appeal for aid in its word-gathering mission. When the dictionary’s first instalment was published in 1884, it quickly set the standard for the creation of historical dictionaries in other languages too.

We have recently celebrated the 90th anniversary of the First Edition, which was completed in print on 19 April 1928 and received international acclaim for its unmatched comprehensiveness and detail, later described by the Press as ‘the supreme authority, without a rival or the prospect of a rival’. A dictionary’s work is never done, however, and to maintain this unparalleled authority as the definitive record of English work soon began on supplements to the First Edition.

The first Supplement (1933) and the four-volume new Supplement (1972-1986) expanded an already enormous dataset, adding further depth to our understanding of the language. It was during this latter period that the OED team, led by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, hauled the monumental print-based project into machine-readable, digitized submission.

Collaborating with the likes of IBM UK, Reed International, and Canada’s University of Waterloo, the team harnessed the technological advances of the day – even developing the prototype for digitized lexicography as we know it – and propelled the OED into the digital vanguard to better achieve and build upon its enduring mission for the benefit of researchers and inquiring minds everywhere. With the publication of the Second Edition in March 1989 and the appearance of the CD-ROM four years later, the OED was transformed for a new audience.

Scholars were now able to access the language as never before; the massive, unique, and curated dataset that is the OED was now available at the click of a mouse, enabling investigation of its data – and the societies seen through it – in new and unprecedented ways. The capacity to explore ever more expansive and in-depth research questions only grew as the OED, once again leading the way among dictionary publishers, launched its online platform in 2000.

In the two decades since, the OED has captured more data from a greater range of sources than ever before, publishing this research in new and newly revised entries with accompanying editorial insights every quarter – a rate unimaginable to the project’s first editors. This focused and continual development from our world-class team of editors and language technologists has honed the OED as a uniquely structured and curated resource.

And just as our capabilities are constantly evolving, so are the digital research methodologies employed by researchers worldwide. We believe the OED’s potential to support this work can be realised more fully by allowing users to access and manipulate OED data directly and flexibly, in ways which reflect the diversity of the research landscape.

As the first editors of the OED were quick to recognize, the quality and breadth of the enterprise is made richer by the participation and insights of a wider group. We would like to invite you to be a part of this next phase of the OED’s evolution as we reimagine how we should be sharing our data to better facilitate this work – to better make use of this one-of-a-kind resource.

We are at the very beginning of working towards this goal to fully support the evolution of scholarship and are in the process of collecting market research from the global research community as a whole – users and non-users of the OED across the humanities and beyond. If you have ideas or comments on how the OED can work with you, your colleagues, or the wider research community to ensure that this unique dataset is used to its fullest extent, please share them with us through this short survey.

How could you use the OED dataset in your research?

The opinions and other information contained in the OED blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.

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