It’s ‘veni, vidi, vici’ time as Latin dictionary is finished

Oxford Mail: Dr Giuseppe Pezzini, left, Dr Richard Ashdowne, centre, and Dr Carolinne White pore over the dictionary Dr Giuseppe Pezzini, left, Dr Richard Ashdowne, centre, and Dr Carolinne White pore over the dictionary

AFTER a century of work, academics at Oxford have finally completed a monumental Latin dictionary.

Tomorrow the British Academy will finally publish the last part of its Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources.

Started in 1913, the finished dictionary is the culmination of a century-long enterprise which has had more than 200 researchers working on it over the years.

Oxford University’s Dr Richard Ashdowne, the current editor of the dictionary, said: “This is the first ever comprehensive description of the vocabulary of the Latin language used in Britain and by Britons between AD 540 to 1600.

“For the last 100 years the project has been systematically scouring the surviving British Medieval Latin texts to find evidence for every word and all its meanings and usage.

“Much of this fundamental work was done in the early years of the project by a small army of volunteers, including historians, clergymen, and even retired soldiers.

“They provided the project with illustrative example quotations copied out from the original texts on to paper slips.

“This was an early form of crowd-sourcing previously used in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Dr Ashdowne is the third editor to have led the project over the 46 years of the dictionary’s drafting. The dictionary has 58,000 word entries containing over 90,000 senses and just over 436,000 quotations.

It is made up of 3,830 pages across 17 parts.

Many words in the dictionary are still used today in a modern form, like the Medieval Latin ‘huswiva’ which corresponds to modern English housewife and was found in 12th century Latin texts.

Prof Tobias Reinhardt, Corpus Christi Professor of Latin at Oxford University and chairman of the British Academy’s medieval Latin dictionary committee, said: “The completion of the dictionary is a symbol of the resilience of the humanities in Britain.

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“The importance and usefulness of dictionaries are often forgotten by the public, in the same way as people forget the word-processing software they use day-to-day.

“Dictionaries enable us to track and understand the development of language and are useful not just today but for future generations.”

The project’s history is narrated in a display in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, which runs from tomorrow to January 6.

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