The PDE lexicon and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)


Due:                 October 18th, 2001. Late penalty: 2% per day.

Length:            about 1500 words (6 typed pages)

Format:            DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME on the report.

                        PUT your STUDENT NUMBER and a CLEVER AND SPECIFIC TITLE


Objectives:       To use the electronic OED and McArthur’s Oxford Companion to the English Language

(1)            to determine the influence of one of (Chinese, Japanese, African languages, Spanish) on British English, and

(2)            to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the OED for answering this question.


Instructions:  Classifying and interpreting the data from the OED, summarize the influence of African language(s) OR Japanese OR Chinese OR Spanish on British English. You might consider (1) whether the words come from particular semantic fields, (2) when the borrowings date from, (3) how well integrated they are into British English. (4) What are the advantages and disadvantages of the OED for answering this question?


I do not want you to turn this into a thesis, so (1) you may wish to select “Sample 100” before (2) selecting “Etymology” and (3) typing “Afri” OR “Jap” or “Chine” into the “Word:” field. [SPANISH WILL BE MORE DIFFICULT, as the string “Sp.” or “Span.” or “Spanish” often appears in the etymology field EVEN IF THE WORD IS NOT BORROWED FROM SPANISH. YOU WILL HAVE A LOT OF FILTERING TO DO.] I have attached a printout from the “search” screen so that you can see what your output should look like.


Your source:  You can and should read a little about the history of the OED in Crystal (443) and Millward (305).  But your best source of information is the entry for "Oxford English Dictionary" in


McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1992. PE 1625 O85 1992 GENR, UNIV; PE 1072 O9 1992 TRIF, VUPR. 


The twenty-volume second edition of the OED (1989) is available in hard copy in many college libraries (not New College, however) and in Robarts:


The Oxford English Dictionary =[OED]. Ed. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. 2nd ed. 20

vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989. PE 1625 M7 1989. Fourth floor of Robarts library, but out of sequence (in the apex).


The second edition of the OED was generated from electronic text (with software developed at the University of Waterloo), and is now available on line at  


Now that an electronic OED exists, its editorial practices, past and present, can be described, sometimes with frightening accuracy.  The Appendix of Tables in John Willinsky's Empire of Words: the Reign of the OED (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994) shows us that Shakespeare, Scott, Milton, Wyclif, and Chaucer were the top 5 authors cited in the first edition of the OED, for instance, and that Shaw, Kipling, Joyce, Wodehouse, and Lawrence were the top 5 authors cited in the Supplement.


An electronic OED can be searched not just for "headwords", but for words occurring in particular fields - the "etymology" field, for instance.  You can even search the whole entry: when writing a paper on the eighteenth-century phrase "sterling English", I was happy to discover all sorts of occurrences of the word "sterling" that weren't under that headword.


WARNING: Text retrieval programs have an irritating habit of presenting you with exactly what you asked them to find:


(1)     The fact that a word (e.g., "Greek", "African") occurs in the etymology field doesn't mean that the word itself is derived from Greek: the Greek word might just be a cognate form. This is a particular problem for Spanish: you’ll often find that if a word is borrowed from French, that the OED editors have presented us with cognate forms from Italian and Spanish. 


(2)     Your string (“Afri”) may pull up data that has nothing to do with an African language. When I initially searched for the string "Afr" in the etymology field, I found that it picked up "AFr" - Anglo-French - as well as "African", "Afrikaans", &c.  Keep this in mind.