The New OED Project at Waterloo

The University of Waterloo , in collaboration with the Oxford University Press , has revolutionized the means by which people can access information.

Towards the New OED

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), by far the largest dictionary of the English language, began as a series of fascicles published between 1884 and 1928. In 1933, the Oxford University Press consolidated this information in twelve volumes and added a one-volume supplement. The Supplement was later expanded to four-volumes, which were completed in 1986.

Together, the OED and Supplement represent 21,000 pages describing more than 600,000 words and phrases according to derivation, history, usage, pronunciation, and variations. More than 2,400,000 quotations illustrate the evolution of meanings.

The next step, to revise and integrate the OED and Supplement, was a formidable undertaking, impossible by traditional typesetting methods. Only the computer, with its extensive capacity for searching and manipulating text, offered an economical and efficient alternative. In preparing for the March 1989 publication of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, the Oxford University Press and its associates welcomed the collaboration of the University of Waterloo, a pioneer in software development and computer science education since the early 1960s.

Thanks to lexicographers and computer scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, the OED2, as it has come to be called, combines the OED, the Supplement and over 5,000 additions. An important extension of this monumental work is the development of the electronic version.

The University of Waterloo and the New OED

Waterloo's expertise in the development of sophisticated software made the University a natural partner in the search for innovative and efficient techniques for processing text. In 1984, the University joined forces with the Oxford University Press in the New Oxford English Dictionary project. Waterloo's role was to advise in the initial stages, assist Oxford in a world-wide user survey, design a database for maintaining and accessing OED material, and encourage related research in the humanities, social sciences, and computer science.

In January 1985, the University of Waterloo established the Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary . Our activities have received the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Secretary of State for Canada, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo.

In April 1985, the Oxford University Press and the University of Waterloo confirmed the details of their collaboration with a ``Heads of Agreement'' contract. The partnership has led to an enthusiastic exchange of people and ideas between the two institutions. Publishers, editors, administrators and lexicographers from Oxford have joined the Centre for up to four months at a time, while Waterloo personnel have made similar visits to England.

Collaboration with the Oxford University Press has led to our involvement in other projects too, notably computerizing the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary . In our work with Oxford and other publishers, the University of Waterloo is constantly broadening its international research base in the field of software applications.

The main components of our text management software are the mature products of years of research. In recognition of the significance of the record, NSERC included a description of the project in its 1991 publication Great Canadian Success Stories. While the research continues at the University, the tangible results are further developed and commercialized by Open Text Corporation , a spin-off company located in Waterloo; commercial applications hold promise for countless new users.

The fundamental goal of the Centre remains to support innovative research. From encouraging research related to the New OED project, our mandate has grown to include interdisciplinary collaboration on text research in general. For example, we assist scholars in applying our software to texts they are analyzing, compiling, annotating and revising. With our sophisticated computer facilities and offices for both personnel and visitors, the Centre is a natural focal point for researchers in all fields.

A critical component of the Centre's success has been close cooperation with lexicographers at the Oxford University Press, as well as with researchers in the humanities and social sciences, who have served as users and evaluators of the software and methods. This success is expected to be continued through similar approaches with other research partners.


Information Sharing

We welcome queries and requests for information, including searches for material in the OED. We answer some requests directly and we forward others to interested researchers.

For each year in the period 1985-1994, the Centre served as an international forum for publishers, editors, and scholars from the humanities, social sciences and computing both to discuss new directions in electronic text and to share their research. Proceedings of the annual conference and copies of technical reports are available from the Centre.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo enjoy unlimited access to text software and data files, including the OED, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, a six-month extract from the Ottawa Citizen and other texts. We also welcome off-campus researchers ‹ lexicographers, linguists, philosophers, sociologists and computer scientists ‹ to take advantage of our facilities and our expertise. Whether brief or extended, their visits are mutually beneficial: in completing their research projects, the scholars invariably enhance our understanding of the direction for further developments.