Words, More Words


Ruby Jones and Mike Procter look at the history and development of the most important English dictionary - the Oxford English Dictionary.

Transcript


Voice 1

Hello. I'm Ruby Jones.

Voice 2

And I'm Mike Procter. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

Anyone learning a new language will know the value of a good dictionary! This word book is helpful in understanding the meaning of words. Dictionaries can show people how and when to use words properly. Often, language students will carry a small dictionary with them all the time. Or, they will keep a larger copy at home to help them with their studies. But imagine having a dictionary made up of 20 separate books - and weighing 62 kilogrammes!

Voice 2

That is the size and weight of the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED. Experts consider the OED to be the highest authority on the meaning and pronunciation of the English language. In an earlier Spotlight programme, we told the story of Ammon Shea. Shea is a man from New York. He spent a whole year reading the OED from beginning to end! Our programme also described how the dictionary project began in 1879.

Voice 1

James Murray was the man responsible for gathering information for the first version of the dictionary. He planned to include the history and meanings of a huge number of words. That is, all the words in the English language from the twelfth century to the modern day! This was a very slow job. So, Murray gathered a large team of helpers. Their aim was to finish the dictionary within ten years. However, after five years the team was still working on the letter ‘a'! Murray then understood that he needed more helpers. And so, he published a public notice. It said:

Voice 3

"An appeal to the English-speaking and English-reading public! To read books and make copies for the...new English Dictionary! ... We want a thousand readers - and we are sure that we will get them. They will help towards completing the work within the next three years. They will help us gather all the information we need to prepare the Dictionary."

Voice 2

So, how exactly did these readers help? First, each reader chose particular words to research. The readers then read both ancient and modern books. As they read, they searched. They searched for useful quotations. Each quotation was a sentence that used one of their chosen words. The quotation showed how the book's writer used that particular word. For each word, the readers wrote the name of the book and the quotation on a piece of paper. The readers then sent these pieces of paper to the research team. The researchers received about a million of these quotations! And they developed a method of organizing them all. They placed them in alphabetical order depending on the word they explained. This meant that Murray and his team could see how the people's use of a word changed over time.

Voice 1

James Murray noticed that one man in particular was very helpful. Over some years this man sent thousands of quotes to the dictionary team. His name was William Minor. He became involved in the dictionary research in an unusual way. Marina Santee tells us his story.

Voice 3

Doctor William Minor was from the United States. He had served as a military doctor in the American civil war. He saw terrible events during that time. And they deeply affected his mental health. His family sent him to London to recover - far from the memories of war. But, Doctor Minor still continued to suffer from periods of great mental confusion. He did not know what was real and what was imaginary. During one of these times, Minor shot and killed a man. So, the authorities put him in a prison for insane criminals.

While he was in prison, Minor read about Murray's appeal for help. So, he began to put together a long list of quotations. He sent this list to Murray - and many more lists after that. Minor did not tell Murray that he was writing from prison. And it was not until many years later that Murray discovered the truth about his faithful helper! Murray went to visit Minor in prison. And the two men became friends. In 1910, the British government permitted Minor to return to his family in America. And Murray gave Minor a present to take with him - the first 6 completed books of the new dictionary! People can still see the results of Minor's work printed on the pages of the OED today.

Voice 2

The complete OED was first published in 1928. Since then, the English language has continued to develop. So the publishers have continued to make changes to the OED. They planned to publish a complete second version by 1989. They wanted to offer not only a printed book - but a version for computers too! A huge group of workers gathered together: project leaders, word experts, computer engineers. 120 people entered all the existing written information into computers. They also had to include 5000 new words and meanings! 50 readers searched every computer file for mistakes. The chief dictionary editor is John Simpson. He organized a team of word experts. They examined the computer version of the OED word by word. And, thanks to an army of workers and modern technology, the second edition appeared on time!

Voice 1

The Oxford English Dictionary marked its 80th year in 2008. It exists as a twenty-part book. But you can also buy a CD version - and you can visit the OED website online.
All through the dictionary's history, the OED editors have known that people have been their main resource. That is still true today. John Simpson says:

Voice 4

"There is no longer one English - there are many Englishes. Words are flooding into the language from all corners of the world. Only a dictionary the size of the OED can really capture the true richness of the English language... We now have an online edition - and I would be very happy to have many new readers helping us to map the past, the present and the future of English."

Voice 1

Today, the OED has a webpage that invites people to send in new English words that they have found - or new meanings for old words. You can find a link to that page on the Spotlight website, http://www.radio.english.net. Look for the script page of this programme. It is called ‘Words, More Words'.

Voice 2

The writer and producer of today's programme was Ruby Jones. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You are always welcome to e-mail Spotlight at radio @ english . net. Thank you for listening today, goodbye.

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
irayana
said on March 28, 2010

one time i did it with Oxford photo dictionary!
it was amazing and i learned so much(2200) but i forgot more than half of that!
but i think its good less than 5 thousand word….

Avatar Spotlight
Rafael Angel
said on April 07, 2010

Knowing vocabulary is considered an important skill. I think that teachers and students don’t focus their attention to that skill. In fact, a person who knows at least 5000 words can speak a language more efficiently. So, we should learn 5 or more words daily, including our native language.

Avatar Spotlight
nguyenthuy
said on December 10, 2014

knowing words is a advantage to learn english more efficiently. A good dictionary will help me to understand exactly about pronounciation , meaning and the way to use it . I think that if you want to learn any new language , you should have a good dictionary . Thank for this program for useful information about OED.
Thanks