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The Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue: 1981-2002

Introduction to a key resource for accessing early modern Scottish language.

Phase III: 1981-1994

The 1980s started inauspiciously with the crisis of 1981 and promised worse with the imminent retirement of both the editors who had brought the project through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Aitken retired in January 1983 and was re-appointed, part-time, as a University Fellow. Stevenson became Editor-in-chief in December 1983. At this point two and a quarter editors were expected to finish the rest of DOST – the bulk of ‘S’ and the whole of ‘T-Z’. When Aitken retired in 1986, the editorial staff consisted of Mr H D Watson and Mrs M G Dareau who was experienced in editing from previous employment on DOST, but was part-time.

In 1984 the charitable organisation The Friends of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, was set up to help with fund raising. This initiative grew directly out of the concern felt by scholars at the possibility, made public in 1981, that DOST might founder. It was administered by a distinguished body of Trustees. By the end of the decade they had raised enough money from a variety of funding sources to maintain a part-time editor (Dareau) and a full-time editorial assistant/editor, Miss K.L. Pike.

Watson became Editor-in-chief on Stevenson’s retirement. He had at that point six years experience of lexicography, having like Stevenson come to it from teaching. Watson was assiduous in applying the methodology passed on to him by Aitken and Stevenson, which meant that the conditions that had provoked the crisis of 1981 simply continued to exist. During the second half of the 1980s Dareau’s experience led gradually to her becoming responsible for the revising stage of editing, and from 1987 Pike became the third member of the editorial team. In 1988 both Watson and Dareau were re-titled Senior Editor, with Watson retaining administrative responsibility and the title Director.

In 1993 the collapse of AUP added renewed publication difficulties to DOST’s other problems, which were resolved with a return to OUP. This seemed to bode well for the final stage of DOST and there was a hope that the publication of the paper version might lead on to an electronic version similar to the electronic OED.

Phase IV: 1994-2002

In November 1993, in a letter to the Convener of the Joint Counci, Dr Victor Skretkowicz of the Department of English in the University of Dundee, Dareau took stock of the situation with regard to editing. She suggested that a completion time of 12 years would be necessary for the remaining unedited material. Skretkowicz instituted a review of the editorial methods and management of DOST in relation to the costs to completion of the project.

The review was carried out in March 1994. Its aims were:

  1. to fix a firm date for completion and make recommendations on how this might be achieved;
  2. to examine the organisation and working practices of the staff, and editorial policy;
  3. to make recommendations concerning staffing levels, and to consider replacement or addition of equipment.

The result of their deliberations was the proposal that funding might be easier to obtain if a completion date of 2000 were to be guaranteed. However, it was unanimously agreed that the DOST published post-Review must maintain the quality of that published before. It was hoped that the time saving required on the production side would be made largely by employing a data-entry agency to key the edited copy from slips. A trial demonstrated the practicality of this approach and a contract was agreed covering the keying and three phases of corrections for some 180,000 citation slips.

An important consequence of keying the material at a relatively early stage in the process was the ability to sort the quotations electronically. However, the challenge of speeding up the editing still remained. It was clear to the editorial team that there was no time to waste, as evidenced by their response to the Review document:

We have carefully addressed the specific points made by the Review and our responses will demonstrate … our commitment … to achieve completion by the end of the year 2000.

As soon as ‘S’ was completed in August 1994 a simple calculation was made, dividing the time available by the work to be done. This crude calculation gave a target editing rate which would have to be achieved, and then sustained over the six year period to 2000. New editing guidelines were instituted and tested, which showed that the target was achievable but challenging; there was certainly very little slack in the system.

By the end of 1994, Professor William Gillies of the Department of Celtic in the University of Edinburgh had been appointed Project Manager. Mr William Aitken, Secretary of the Joint Council, formerly Director of Management Information Services in the University of Edinburgh, took on responsibility for the budget. The production schedule drawn up by the staff in the months immediately succeeding the Review was monitored and refined in collaboration with Aitken. A schedule was drawn up by Aitken and checked regularly in the light of actual progress. It served to demonstrate to the Joint Council and to the Universities that the demanding targets set in 1994 were in fact being achieved. The quality and size of the team was also critical. It consisted of the three full-time editors and one full-time and two part-time editorial assistants. The team combined size and experience to a greater degree than at any time in the past.

In 1996 a follow-up review took place, and the reviewers reported that they were favourably impressed with progress, and that the target completion date remained at 2000. As a result, the Universities affirmed their willingness to fund the project to completion. The funding situation was somewhat eased by events in 1999 when an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant of £155,000 was secured. An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund also yielded a sum of £34,000.

Editing was completed in early December 2000 and all copy finally dispatched to OUP by mid-July 2001. The final part of DOST was published in 2002, 87 years after Craigie outlined his idea for a dictionary of the ‘older Scottish’.

© Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd.
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