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A Brief History of The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue

This article explores the history of the dictionary of the older Scottish tongue, a key resource for accessing early modern Scottish language
© Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
Phase II: 1948-1981

Craigie retired in 1936 and returned from Chicago to Watlington, near Oxford, where he continued to edit material for DOST.

This continued largely under his sole hand until the appointment of Adam J. Aitken in 1948. Aitken was 27 when he took up this post and remained with DOST for the rest of his career.

Although DOST continued to be published by Chicago University Press until 1981, there were during that period a number of crises, the first of which occurred in 1950. By 1949 it had become clear that the Dictionary could not be completed in 25 parts but was likely to run to 10-12 more. The Press confirmed that it was neverthless prepared to face the extra cost that this would entail.

In 1950, however, the situation worsened. There was a change of attitude in Chicago due to rising costs and the failure to attract outside funding. The increase in scale and costs led to Chicago’s unwillingness to continue under the previous agreement with Craigie alone. In October a new contract was signed with Chicago to which the University of Edinburgh became a party. To help to meet the increase in costs, Edinburgh agreed to forego royalties; Craigie agreed to hand over to Edinburgh for its use in completing the work, without payment, all records, papers and other data relating to the work if for any reason he ceased compiling the dictionary.

While this went some way to securing the Dictionary’s future, its production was by no means secure. The competing demands of the publishers and of the task produced a precarious financial situation. Moreover it was not possible to have the staff that ideally were required for the task, and Craigie and Aitken had to struggle on as best they could.

In 1951 the matter was brought before the Scottish Universities’ Conference by Edinburgh University. The timing of this was provoked not only by the situation with DOST but that of the Scottish National Dictionary (SND) which was undergoing a financial crisis of its own in Aberdeen.

One of the outcomes of these initiatives in Scottish studies, in which such a prominent part was taken by Angus McIntosh, Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Edinburgh University, was the setting up in 1952 of the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries with McIntosh as its Convener. In 1955 Aitken took over from Craigie as editor of DOST and by the close of this period its funding and government had altered radically. DOST had become for management purposes a department within the University of Edinburgh, which also provided accommodation. DOST was overseen by the Joint Council representing the four Universities and funded in part by them and in part by a variety of charitable foundations. Two years later Craigie, a notable scholar in many fields, and one of a line of extraordinary Scottish lexicographers, died at the age of ninety.

As it turned out, so far from being a time of disintegration, this was a period both of consolidation and expansion; despite perennial financial pressures the number of staff increased.

Aitken was the sole Editor until, in 1973, Dr J.A.C. Stevenson, who had come to DOST in 1966 from a career in teaching, was appointed Joint-Editor with him. Stevenson’s scholarly instincts and meticulousness in the analysis of language were fully in keeping with the quality and attention to detail for which DOST was renowned. He fitted with ease into a lineage of high scholarship and, through the 1970s especially, developed the highly analytical style that is so evident in the volumes from that period on.

In 1969, Aitken expressed the hope that DOST might be completed in 1976, shortly after the scheduled completion of SND in 1974. In 1971 the fact that SND was approaching completion (it was completed in 1976) and the expectation that DOST would follow soon thereafter, gave rise to a number of proposals for the future. One suggestion was a project to produce an abridged dictionary. This led ultimately to the publication of the Concise Scots Dictionary (CSD). As the completion of SND drew closer it led to a further debate as to whether the Joint Council should be wound up and DOST supported until its completion by Edinburgh alone. However, by the end of 1976 the old Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews and the new Universities of Dundee and Stirling had confirmed their desire to continue to participate in funding the project.

Such support did not preclude financial problems, and in 1981 what was perhaps the most serious crisis yet blew up.

In 1980 the Universities threatened withdrawal of support if a firm end date were not established. The Conference of the Scottish Universities Courts made it clear that it would be unlikely that the Universities would continue to support the Dictionary after 1988. It was undeniable that the editing was taking too long. The calculations of Aitken and Stevenson proved that this date could not be met following the traditional methods.

The whole situation was explored at the Joint Council meeting in February 1981, when various options were proposed. A further meeting was arranged for April to give Aitken time to complete his researches into the viability of these options, so that a final decision might be reached.

In the meantime a crisis of another sort arose with the publisher, Chicago University Press. The basic problem was that the scale of the Dictionary had doubled, at least, in comparison with what was envisaged in 1929. In 1981, Chicago University Press withdrew as publisher.

This news was announced at an emergency meeting of the Joint Council in April that year when the question of the whole future of the Dictionary was addressed.

DOST’s financial predicament produced an outcry of complaint from a range of eminent scholars, in the form of an open letter reported on the front page of the Scotsman. This was sufficient to ensure the continuation of a high standard of editing, albeit with no guarantee that funding would continue beyond the working lives of the present staff. Indeed, part of the package of 1981 was that after the retirement of Stevenson in 1985 and Aitken in 1986 the Universities would support only two posts, one editor and one editorial assistant.

By November 1981 Aberdeen University Press (AUP) had expressed an interest in publishing DOST, and in 1983 they were granted the right to publish the rest of it. They installed a microcomputer in the DOST offices and from then until 1994 edited copy with a minimal level of tagging was prepared for printing in-house and recorded for the first time in electronic form.

© Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
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