Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

The Use of Corpora in Lexicographical Research in Scots

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

The Use of Corpora in Lexicographical Research in Scots

Article excerpt

There are many advantages to using corpora for lexicographical research in Scots, especially in the identification of fine gradations in meaning, set phrases, and particular grammatical constructions. This chapter illustrates how Scots dictionary editors are currently making use of such resources.

Keywords: Scots, Older Scots, lexicography, word collection, oral sources

Scottish Language Dictionaries (SLD) is the major body for lexicography in Scotland with stewardship of the great scholarly heritage that produced A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and The Scottish National Dictionary (SND).1 Formed in 2002, on completion of DOST, it continues the work of the two bodies responsible for these works. Since 2009, SLD has been funded by the Scottish Government. Its current priority projects are the complete reediting of the Concise Scots Dictionary and a major overhaul of the functionality of the online Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL).2 The DSL consists of DOST and its additions and SND with its two Supplements, the more recent of which was added in 2005. One of the difficulties of updating the functionality of the DSL lies in the different editorial policies adopted in the two parent dictionaries. Apart from divergences in the structure of the entries, there are differences in selection of words to be included. DOST aims to reflect the entire lexicon up to 1600. For the following century, not all words shared with English are included. SND covers the period from around 1700, where DOST leaves off, and aims to include only those words which are not found in English and those words shared with English which have applications or senses specific to Scots.

There have been advantages and disadvantages to this approach. On the one hand, it would have been a waste of scarce resources to reduplicate the work of English lexicography by documenting shared material. On the other hand, it has meant that there is not a complete dictionary of modem Scots including the shared items. From the point of view of linguistic strategists, this makes a very regrettable statement about the status of Scots. On a practical level, it hinders any steps towards such things as a spell checker for Scots and tools for machine translation. More significantly, it poses a problem for would-be writers of Scots who may speak it fluently but who lack confidence when putting their language down on paper. Such is the reverence that many users feel for dictionaries, that there is a perception that if a word is not in a dictionary it cannot be a real word in the language of that dictionary. This can leave a writer feeling uncomfortable about using the shared vocabulary item which would be his or her natural choice. If such a writer were to consult corpora such as the Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech (SCOTS), they would be able to see the shared words in use in a variety of contexts from Scottish Standard English to dense Scots, in which the writer or speaker avoids shared items as far as possible, using them only where no exclusively Scots alternative exists.3

In spite of these shortcomings, we are very fortunate to have such a valuable body of scholarship available and work continues to maintain the record of the language, to update past records in the light of modem scholarship, and to make Scots dictionaries available to users in the most appropriate and convenient forms, online and in print.

Word collection

Historically, the collection of data for lexicography involved volunteer readers laboriously copying quotations from source texts onto paper slips stored in bundles in one of many pigeonholes. If the quotations served to illustrate more than one word, the slip might be taken from its original pigeonhole and moved to a second or third home. Occasionally, editors at SLD or the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) wish to consult original slips and, if they have been moved on in this way, these can be impossible to trace. …

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