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On historical language dictionaries and language boundaries

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact George Walkden.

I work on the history of English, and so I’m a regular user of the Middle English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary, both in their online versions. Those of us who work on earlier states of English necessarily routinely consult dictionaries of other languages too, and in this talk I will include the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources and the Anglo-Norman Dictionary. I will consider the kinds of decisions that historical dictionary editors make about determining which language a word belongs to, and the several ways in which the dictionaries signal those decisions to their users. Their practice is, in fact, variable, and this stems partially from an underlying difficulty in handling mixed-language texts. I will spend some time in looking at medieval mixed-language texts, and in particular will question the status of the determiner ‘le’.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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