The authority of the Oxford English Dictionary is crucially dependent on the enormous number of quotations which the early editors amassed from a wide range of periods and sources. Unlike modern language corpuses, however, the OED has never been able to give a full account of its use of sources. Electronic searches of the dictionary, reported in a new research project, Examining the OED (www.english.ox.ac.uk/oed) reveal that the quotations document some periods and some authors much more intensively than others. Do such variations reflect the varying characteristics of the English language, or instead the resources available to the lexicographers and the choices they made from them? The eighteenth century is a relatively under-represented period whose most quoted authors are, as for other periods, canonical male writers, although the OED also relies heavily on dictionary sources (notably Bailey). Research is now underway in these topics along with a study of the implications of 'first quotation' searches (e.g., comparing Pope, most quoted for his Iliad and Odyssey, with the epistolary novelist Richardson), and of the revisions being made in eighteenth-century documentation by OED3.
Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Olga Timofeeva, Heli Tissari, and Tanja Säily
Table of contents