The Oxford English Dictionary is everywhere recognized as a comprehensive authority on the history of English from 1150 to the present day. Both literary and linguistic scholars, as well as many others, use the dictionary in order to find out more about words and their meanings, and to study and learn from the unrivalled stores of quotation evidence provided for the individual entries (drawn from literary and non-literary sources from the earliest days of English up to the present). In particular, OED‘s representation of language has crucially affected literary and linguistic understanding of how English has changed and developed, and of the contribution made to this process by individuals such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and other major writers.
Yet we know remarkably little about the methodology and underlying editorial practices of this enormous ‘engine of research’ (a term first used of the dictionary by one of its publishers, Charles Cannan, in 1905). Although OED is a landmark in lexicography and provides a reference point for many sorts of language studies, it is itself comparatively little studied. By exploring and analysing OED‘s quotations and quotation sources, this research project seeks to illuminate the foundations of the dictionary’s representation of the English language.