Text and Meaning: Contributions to a Revised Dictionary of Medieval Irish

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages

Abstract

In western Scotland and Ireland, Gaelic languages which are remnants of the ancient Celtic languages of these islands, continue to be spoken in an unbroken tradition down to the present day. There exists in Gaelic one of the oldest and richest vernacular literatures in the medieval world stretching back to the sixth century. A vast body of material has survived through the ages and is preserved in libraries in Ireland, Britain and continental Europe. It contains a wide range of material dating from the 7th to the 17th centuries including secular law texts, religious explorations of Heaven and Hell, accounts of the history of the world, exquisite poetry and a body of narrative tales unparalleled anywhere in the world. These texts are written in earlier forms of Gaelic and would be largely impenetrable even to modern Gaelic speakers without the work of generations of scholars who have edited, translated and interpreted the texts.

The primary tool for the interpretation of these texts has been the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of the Irish Language, which was published as 23 separate volumes starting in 1913 and ending in 1976. The completed dictionary runs to over 2000 pages and contains over 35,000 entries. It is the most authoritative and comprehensive dictionary of Irish and is widely considered of immense importance to Celtic and Irish scholarship around the world. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Dictionary is now between 40 and 100 years old and many entries are well out of date. The proposed project will address this problem by examining 100 new textual editions that were not available to the original compilers of the Dictionary. In many cases these are texts that were completely unknown to the compilers while in other cases more recent and more authoritative editions have surpassed earlier efforts. The project will uncover previously unrecorded words, excise ghost words and suggest new or revised definitions, thereby providing scholars with a more comprehensive and authoritative source than was ever available before, and this will have significant impact on the quality of new textual scholarship for decades to come. In recent years, project staff have added words such as griogchan 'constellation', indladad 'pampering', and ainmesc 'alcohol free', to the Dictionary, as well as borrowings from French and English such as crosboga 'crossbow'. Research has also turned up occasional ironies, such as idirlion, the Modern Irish word for 'Internet', which is shown to have originally meant 'trap'.

The Dictionary was brought into the 21st century in 2007 with the publication, funded by the AHRC, of an electronic edition (www.dil.ie). This made it much more accessible to scholars working in all areas associated with medieval Ireland and Scotland including linguists, historians, textual scholars, archaeologists, folklorists, Indo-Europeanists, and scholars of comparative literature and religion. The new revised Dictionary will contain much new information on words relating to agriculture, medicine, law, music, religion and society that will be of particular interest to historians and archaeologists nationally and internationally, and will trace the origin and development of words over a period of a thousand years.

The Dictionary will be published online and a version will be made freely available for mobile devices. The general user will be able to subscribe to 'Word of the Day' which will introduce them to some of the more significant words and concepts in the early language. The rich vocabulary of the Dictionary is ripe for exploitation by creative writers and thinkers in the modern languages, and project staff will collaborate with authors, translators and terminologists to enable them to reinvigorate the vocabulary of the modern Gaelic languages, which suffered marginalisation and impoverishment in the 19th century, through active engagement with the earlier language.

Planned Impact

The proposed project will provide a comprehensive view of the Gaelic languages of Ireland and Scotland from the seventh century to the seventeenth. In addition to its contribution to the scholarly study of the medieval language, it will constitute an unparalleled resource for the enrichment and understanding of the modern languages of these two countries.

The key, non-academic beneficiaries of this research will be writers and translators working in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, as well as language planners engaged in the creation of new terminology in the two languages. The general public in the UK, Ireland and overseas, whether they speak Gaelic or not, will also benefit directly and indirectly from the analysis proposed here.

The electronic Dictionary has enormous potential to contribute to the cultural life of the general public, challenge fixed ideas about Gaelic culture and raise the profile of the Gaelic literary and intellectual tradition. It has already proved to be of considerable interest worldwide with nearly 23000 hits on the site daily, over a third of which come from the US and a quarter from the UK and Ireland (see Case for Support fn. 1). The resource will be enhanced in this new project in order to make it more accessible to the general user (see Pathways to Impact). This enhancement will enable all users to trace the rich history of the language and its speakers stretching back over 1500 years. Changes in the vocabulary often point to interaction with neighbouring peoples including Anglo-Saxons, Welsh, Norse, Latin, Anglo-Norman French and English and reflects innovation as well as colonization. Innovations in vocabulary reflect and record changes in social organisation, religion, dress, medicine, education, music, agriculture, economic activity and much more, all of which can shed light on the lives and thoughts of Gaelic-speaking peoples. By communicating a history of the Gaelic world in terms of single words, we hope to convey something of the complexity and diversity of Gaelic cultural heritage to audiences that might expect to find only conservatism and tradition.

The demise of Gaelic aristocracies in the 17th and 18th centuries led to the gradual marginalisation and impoverishment of Gaelic-speaking peoples and their culture in Ireland and Scotland. This was inevitably accompanied by a loss of status for the languages which resulted in stunted growth in the lexicon and eventual decline. The languages now have varying degrees of state recognition in the three jurisdictions in which they remain (Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland), and sustained efforts have been made to modernise the languages and create terminology appropriate for modern life. Creative writers, translators and terminologists/lexicographers all have a role to play in the revitalisation of language through its vocabulary and the electronic Dictionary can contribute to this agenda by providing access to the rich storehouse of words that have fallen out of use. Through a collaborative programme we hope to empower writers and language planners to augment the expressiveness of the modern languages through an exploration of the continued relevance of historical terms and so to contribute to the sustainability of the languages in the face of increasing influence of English on the lexicon.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Since July 2015, the project has maintained a dedicated Twitter account and Facebook page. In addition to words, usages and citations drawn from within the original dictionary, newly discovered terminology is regularly highlighted. A member of the eDIL project team also participates in discussion of the new finds on social media in an attempt to encourage dissemination not only amongst the scholarly community but also amongst the wider public, who make up the greater part of eDIL's followers. It is evident from their interaction with Twitter and Facebook that speakers of modern Irish are receptive to the idea of absorbing some of these terms into the language; in other instances, the selected terms have been of interest to archeology and history enthusiasts for the light they shed on social, religious and political concepts, on aspects of material culture and on the unique world-view of pre-modern Ireland.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Research Project Grant
Amount £229,345 (GBP)
Funding ID RPG-2015-089 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2018
 
Description Research Student Development Fund of the University of Cambridge
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 08/2016 
End 07/2017
 
Description Defining Medieval Words for Modern Audiences 
Organisation Aberystwyth University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Sharon Arbuthnot presented a paper 'English in an Irish Dictionary: Thinking about Definitions and Translations in the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language', as part of a session on 'Defining Medieval Words for Modern Audiences' at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 2016. In informal discussion, editorial methods, opportunities for impact and issues of sustainability were raised and experiences shared.
Collaborator Contribution Other papers in the session were presented by Heather Pagan (Anglo-Norman Dictionary) and Patricia Stewart (OED). The session was organised by the OED.
Impact This collaboration was not multi-disciplinary The main outcome was the conference paper 'English in an Irish Dictionary: Thinking about Definitions and Translations in the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language
Start Year 2016
 
Description Defining Medieval Words for Modern Audiences 
Organisation Oxford University Press
Department Oxford English Dictionary
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Sharon Arbuthnot presented a paper 'English in an Irish Dictionary: Thinking about Definitions and Translations in the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language', as part of a session on 'Defining Medieval Words for Modern Audiences' at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 2016. In informal discussion, editorial methods, opportunities for impact and issues of sustainability were raised and experiences shared.
Collaborator Contribution Other papers in the session were presented by Heather Pagan (Anglo-Norman Dictionary) and Patricia Stewart (OED). The session was organised by the OED.
Impact This collaboration was not multi-disciplinary The main outcome was the conference paper 'English in an Irish Dictionary: Thinking about Definitions and Translations in the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language
Start Year 2016
 
Description Projects in Celtic Lexicography 
Organisation Aberystwyth University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Projects in Celtic Lexicography is an ongoing collaboration between the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS), the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (DASG), Faclair na Gàidhlig/the Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru/ Dictionary of the Welsh Language and eDIL. The purpose if to share information on best practice and funding opportunities, to offer a platform for disseminating information on progress and to work together in raising awareness of the lexicographical work being carried out on Celtic languages. The eDIL team maintains a strong presence within the group and is keen to participate in external events. sharing best practices, funding possibilities,
Collaborator Contribution Partners have been instrumental in extending the range of projects involved in the collaboration, arranging opportunities for eDIL to present papers at seminars and conference, organising workshops at which plans and practices of other members have been shared, and providing advice and support when called upon. Opportunities which have arisen through this collaboration are listed below
Impact Participation in a session entitled 'Projects in Celtic Lexicography'at the 29th Irish Conference of Medievalists, University College, Dublin (2016) Presentation at Ceardlann um Dhigitiú, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin (2016) Participation in Workshop on Use of Unpublished Manuscript Materials in Dictionaries, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig (2015) The collaboration is not multi-disciplinary Participation in Technical Workshop, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig (2015)
Start Year 2015
 
Description Projects in Celtic Lexicography 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Projects in Celtic Lexicography is an ongoing collaboration between the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS), the Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic (DASG), Faclair na Gàidhlig/the Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru/ Dictionary of the Welsh Language and eDIL. The purpose if to share information on best practice and funding opportunities, to offer a platform for disseminating information on progress and to work together in raising awareness of the lexicographical work being carried out on Celtic languages. The eDIL team maintains a strong presence within the group and is keen to participate in external events. sharing best practices, funding possibilities,
Collaborator Contribution Partners have been instrumental in extending the range of projects involved in the collaboration, arranging opportunities for eDIL to present papers at seminars and conference, organising workshops at which plans and practices of other members have been shared, and providing advice and support when called upon. Opportunities which have arisen through this collaboration are listed below
Impact Participation in a session entitled 'Projects in Celtic Lexicography'at the 29th Irish Conference of Medievalists, University College, Dublin (2016) Presentation at Ceardlann um Dhigitiú, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin (2016) Participation in Workshop on Use of Unpublished Manuscript Materials in Dictionaries, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig (2015) The collaboration is not multi-disciplinary Participation in Technical Workshop, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig (2015)
Start Year 2015
 
Description A Guide to Using eDIL for Manuscript-based Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh spoke at 'Palaeography and Manuscript-based Research', an intensive postgraduate workshop held annually at University College, Cork. A major component of the talk was explaining how the wildcard and grammatical search functions of eDIL can be used to suggest candidates where manuscripts readings are uncertain. The event was well-attended and the benefits of using these functions of eDIL to improve further editions of medieval Irish texts were clearly taken onboard.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.ucc.ie/en/smg/postgrad/
 
Description Demonstration of the new eDIL website, University of Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Demonstration of the new eDIL website at an event hosted by the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, with the intention of raising awareness of the resource and highlighting eDIL's usefulness to other academic disciplines. Feedback on the day and subsequently though eDIL's social media sites, as well as website data collected since the event, showed demonstrable widening of the user-base.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Interview with the Irish News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Prof. Toner (PI of the eDIL Project) was interviewed by the Irish News in April 2014. He drew attention to the academic aims of the project, some interesting finds, and hopes that the Dictionary might be more widely used for the enrichment of modern Irish. The link to the online version of the interview was circulated widely on social media and generated a good deal of positive comment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.irishnews.com//old-words-make-comeback-as-iris/
 
Description Launch and demonstration of new eDIL website, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Demonstration of the search facilities of the new eDIL website to scholars, students and general public with the intention of raising awareness of the resource and highlighting its usefulness in particular to representatives of other academic disciplines (such as history, archaeology, cultural studies) and to modern language planners and translators (who might locate and revitalise obsolete terminology). Feedback on the day and subsequently though eDIL's social media sites, as well as website data collected since the event, showed demonstrable widening of the user-base.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Participation in Technical Workshop, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Knowledge- and experience-sharing workshop intended to assist the team behind Faclair na Gàidhlig (the Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic) establish best practice for a digital dictionary. Having developed and subsequently revised a search engine and website, eDIL had a major contribution to make and has maintained close links with Faclair na Gàidhlig and a number of other dictionary projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Participation in Workshop on Use of Unpublished Manuscript Materials in Dictionaries, hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Contributed expert opinion at a workshop hosted by Faclair na Gàidhlig (the Historical Dictionary for Scottish Gaelic) on the selection and treatment of unpublished manuscript materials in the creation of a dictionary. This reinforced eDIL's links to related dictionary projects and paved the way for future collaboration. Points raised also served to inform future eDIL policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Presentation at Ceardlann um Dhigitiú, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participation in day of presentations and workshops on current digitization projects related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. The event included also contributions from other dictionary/corpus linguistics project such as Foclóir na Nua-Ghaeilge, Faclair na Gàidhlig, Dachaigh airson Stòras na Gàidhlig (DASG), and teanglann.ie/foclóir.ie. Insights into issues, practices and strategies were exchanged and networks reinforced.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to An Coiste Téarmaíochta (Irish-Language Teminology Committee) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact An interactive session which formed part of an official meeting of the Irish-language terminology committee intended to encourage the body to consult eDIL when drafting new vocabulary and to consider the dictionary as a storehouse of words and phrases suitable for the revitalisation and enrichment of the modern Irish language. The committee expressed willingness not only to refer to eDIL when responding to requests for new terminology but also to collaborate further with the eDIL Project team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description eDIL Twitter account and Facebook page 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Since July 2015, the project has maintained a dedicated Twitter account and Facebook page. The Facebook page features 'Word of the Week', regular updates on progress and events relating to the eDIL project and other relevant posts. The Twitter account is updated daily and, in addition to 'Word of the Week' and other news, highlights topical, amusing and informative words, quotes and usages from within the existing dictionary and newly found. As of March 2017, the Twitter account has 1,470 followers and the Facebook page has 770.
Only a small proportion is currently working in academia; as far as can be established, most followers are members of the general public, often with Irish or Scottish ancestry. Geographically, the greater part is based in Western Europe, the United States and Canada, but Russia, China and South America are also well-represented. There is a good level of interaction, especially on the Twitter account, and obvious interest in both the language itself and in the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL https://twitter.com
 
Description eDIL Workshop for historians and archaeologists 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Professor Gregory Toner offered a workshop at the 30th Irish Conference of Medievalists targeted specifically at historians and archaeologists. The aim was to encourage scholars in these disciplines to use the dictionary, employing English search-terms, to enhance their understanding of material culture, social practices, political organisation and so on. Although the audience was smaller than envisaged, those who attended were receptive to the idea of exploring this category evidence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/news-events/icm-2016-30th-irish-conference-medievalists