June 22, 2018

Oxford English Dictionary Extends Hunt for Regional Words Around the World

The Guardian (United Kingdom) (06/19/18) Flood, Alison

Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Photograph: RTimages/Alamy

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The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is asking the public to help it mine the regional differences of English around the world to expand its record of the language. 

Last year, a collaboration between the OED, BBC, and the Forward Arts Foundation to find and define local English words resulted in more than 100 new regional words and phrases being added to the dictionary. Now, the OED is widening its search to English speakers around the world, with Associate Editor Eleanor Maier calling the early response “phenomenal,” as editors begin to draft a range of suggestions for inclusion in the dictionary.

“The OED aims to cover all types of English, including standard English, scientific and technical vocabulary, literary words, slang, and regionalisms,” Maier says. “That’s why it’s important to include these words to enable us present a picture of the English language in all its forms.” 

“The Words Where You Are” appeal is looking for more suggestions. These words will go alongside the regional words suggested by members of the U.K. public last year, when BBC Radio listeners were asked to send in their local turns of phrase, which were later included in poems by authors including Liz Berry and Hollie McNish for a National Poetry Day project.

“We were surprised and pleased by the number of regional words we were able to include as a result,” Maier says. “With the public’s suggestions as a starting point, we were able to unearth a rich seam of regional vocabulary.”

Maier notes that it can be difficult for OED’s lexicographers to identify regional words, as they are more often spoken than written down, and the editors require citable evidence to include a new definition. “In recent years, resources such as Twitter have been a great way for us to monitor the words that people are using informally in particular parts of the world,” she explains. “This, combined with targeted appeals, allows a lot more of these words to be identified and researched.” 

“Regional words indicate that their users come from a particular place and often contribute to one’s sense of identity,” Maier says. “You know you are home when words can be used with the knowledge that they will be understood.”