4.0749 OED Conference Report (1/55)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 26 Nov 90 21:47:22 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0749. Monday, 26 Nov 1990.

Date: Mon 25 Nov 90
From: Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGAN@OUACCVMB>
Subject: Report on the variations of the <it>OED</>

I was lucky enough to be invited to a conference at the University of
Waterloo, near Toronto, sponsored by the Centre for the New Oxford
English Dictionary. For varying reasons, I thought Humanist might be
interested to know what is happening in lexicography that might affect
our use of everything from a Greek learner's dictionary to the great OED
2, which exists in electronic as well as printed form.

The <it>New Oxford English Dictionary</>, issued in paper in 1989, now
is matched by the one-gigabyte electronic edition of text plus index, a
constantly maintained database that can be searched very rapidly with
software designed at and now marketed from the University of Waterloo
OED centre by Open Text Software. The software is actually two
interdependent programs, PAT and LECTOR, which together allow people
with powerful PCs employing the UNIX and other operating systems to
search and display information such as Shakespeare's use of the word
<b>nature</>, in context, with definitions and cross-references
provided. One could also ask, say, for the first twenty five instances
of nature's being used in English, or one could ask in what senses it
was used between 1625 and 1674. The database at Waterloo is fluid or
organic rather than static, so it does incorporate emendations and
corrections. Using the program at Waterloo, one of my friends there
prepared for me a rather large book of all the citations to Milton, some
12,000+, together with the sense number and asterisks to indicate each
of the hapax legomena and each initial usage of a word.

Frank Tompa, the programming wizard with the OED project at Waterloo,
said that various experiments are being made with compressing the data
so that it can be made to fit on smaller hard-drives without cramming
all the memory of a PC, and he discussed some of the failures of linking
all of James Murray's categories (as with "Poetic usage" or "Archaic")
by modern hypertext methods. He also discussed the problems of
constructing a meaningful descriptive grammar from the morass of
materials in the electronic OED.

Interestingly enough, the same software used for the OED can handle
effectively the enormous database concerning DNA that is now
accumulating information, so that gene-pool people are now in residence
at Waterloo studying how to apply the software to their project. Others
are applying the software to the complete Kant or to a corpus of
Canadian folk-songs or to a dictionary of classical ballet terminology
and dance notation (Labanotation).

Sales of the book version of the OED 2 are better than expected,
reported Tim Benbow, OUP Director for Dictionaries, and, despite the
enormous expense of the project, a compact one-volume (!) edition of OED
2 is planned, using, as he said, something like an electron microscope
to examine its fine print. A second CD-ROM edition, or really a first
edition of the OED 2 on CD-ROM, is planned for late 1991 or early 1992.
A third edition of the paper OED 2 is projected for the year 2005.
There will be spin-off dictionaries of new English words which will be
issued periodically, one of which, <it>The New Word Book</>, will be
edited by Sara Tulloch. Also, there are plans to collect a British
National Corpus, which will be an enormous database, over 100 million
words, of contemporary British usage, a cooperation between OUP and
Longmans, the University of Lancaster and the British Library.