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The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue: 1919-1948

Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue / Dictionar o the Scots leid

The Dictionary of the Scots Language comprises electronic versions of the two major historical dictionaries of the Scots language. These were the 12-volume Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue and the 10-volume Scottish National Dictionary with its two supplements (1976 and 2005).

The original project to create the Dictionary of the Scots Language was based at the University of Dundee and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board. It ran from 2001 to 2004.

History of DOST

The original version of this survey of the history of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) was based on three sorts of materials: materials in print, chiefly in the Prefaces of the volumes of the Dictionary and the writings of Sir William Craigie and Professor A. J. Aitken; official papers, principally the minutes of the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries (subsequently, the Joint Council for the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue); and private writings, especially correspondence held in the DOST Archives.

Phase I: 1919-1948

On 4th April 1919, Dr (later Sir) William A. Craigie, co-editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), read a paper entitled ‘New Dictionary Schemes’ to the Philological Society in London. In this paper he suggested that, following the completion of OED, a number of supplementary dictionary projects should be undertaken. These he referred to as ‘period dictionaries’, each being concerned with a discrete chronological period in the history of English. His last suggested scheme was not exactly of a period of English but the dictionary that, one might surmise, lay closest to his heart, a dictionary of the ‘older Scottish.’ This proposal bore fruit as A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.

There seems never to have been any doubt in Craigie’s mind that this dictionary of Scots should restrict itself to the earlier period – up to 1700. He saw the project as lying within his plans for English, and the major sweep of English had been encompassed in OED. He conceded that, in the earlier period, Scots was a language, but had no notion that such nomenclature might continue to have any truth or even advantage after 1700. He saw the language as dividing naturally into the two periods now defined by A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and the Scottish National Dictionary (SND).

It is evident that Craigie had the dictionary of Older Scots in mind well before his paper of 1919. He had already set out his thoughts for the future of Scottish lexicography in 1916, in a letter to Dr William Grant, the first editor of the Scottish National Dictionary:

‘I … have made up my mind that when the Oxford Dictionary is finished, I shall undertake the Old Scottish one myself……It would be excellent if the two Dictionaries could be produced concurrently, so that the one could link up with the other and the continuity (or otherwise) of the words be clearly shown…’

In the collections made for the Oxford Dictionary there is an enormous amount of material which could be used for the purpose…

This collection of Scottish material consisted of some hundreds of thousands of slips, both used and unused, excerpted for OED.

Craigie set to work seriously on DOST in 1921, and began to expand the collection of quotations inherited from OED. In the winter of 1925-6, he began editing from the collections so far available to him. In 1929 a Memorandum of Agreement was drawn up between Craigie and the University of Chicago, where he was now Professor of English, for the publication of ‘A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue’, which would be printed in Oxford by Oxford University Press. According to the terms of this agreement the University of Chicago would: ‘publish the said work at its own expense, through its University Press.’

The first fascicle of the Dictionary was published in 1931. Volume I was completed in 1937 and Volume II came out in fascicles between 1938 and 1951. The Agreement of 1929 stated that the Dictionary would be completed in 25 parts of 120 pages each.

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This article is from the free online course:

Early Modern Scottish Palaeography: Reading Scotland's Records

University of Glasgow