The University Record, April 23, 2001

May 6–9 conference to celebrate completion of dictionary

From News and Information Services

The Spelling Dictionary was the first dictionary published in this country and the first published by a woman. From the collection of the Clements Library. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
Members of the Dictionary Society of North America will gather in Ann Arbor May 6–9 when U-M hosts the organization’s biennial conference celebrating the completion of the Middle English Dictionary (MED) and the electronic publication of the Middle English Compendium.

Many medievalists and English language scholars have accepted invitations to give papers at the conference. With presenters from around the world, participants will discuss such subjects as online dictionaries, Middle English spelling systems, deviant letter histories in Middle English alphabets, issues of pronunciation, American freshmen and English dictionaries, and why you say what you do and what you mean when you say it.

While a registration fee is required for the conference, three presentations are free and open to the public. One of those sessions will feature John Simpson, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), who will present “The Revolution of English Lexicography” at 7:30 p.m. May 7 in the Clements Library. A public reception will follow in the Special Collections Library. As chief editor of the OED, Simpson presides over the world’s largest dictionary program. He is an expert on proverbs and slang, and has edited dictionaries on both subjects.

The plenary session beginning at 1:30 p.m. May 9 in Room 1800 of the Chemistry Building will feature the following presentations: “Phantom Dictionaries: The MED before Kurath” by Michael Adams of Albright College; “Following Kurath: An Appreciation” by William A. Kretzschmar Jr. of the University of Georgia; and “Old English Studies after Kuhn” by Thomas E. Toon, U-M associate professor of linguistics and of English. The third free and open presentation is “The Middle English Dictionary at 71” by Robert E. Lewis, editor-in-chief of the Middle English Dictionary. Lewis’ presentation will begin at 4 p.m. May 9 in Room 1800 of the Chemistry Building. A public reception in the Chemistry Building Atrium will follow.

Two exhibitions featuring holdings from U-M’s Clements and Special Collections libraries as well as other institutions will be available for public viewing during and after the conference. “Dictionaries in Early America” will run through June 22 at the Clements Library and includes a 1577 dictionary of Spanish and Aztec; the first dictionary published in this country and the first published by a woman, for her Boston school, The Spelling Dictionary (1807); and a cartoon from an 1860 Vanity Fair showing “The Battle of the Dictionaries.” The exhibition is free and open 1–4:45 p.m. Monday–Friday.

The Special Collections Library, housed on the seventh floor of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, will present “A Worlde of Wordes: Dictionaries and the Rise of Middle English Lexicography.” Included in the exhibition will be equipment used in the preparation of the MED and books and manuscripts that served as sources for quotations. Visitors also will be able to explore the electronic MED via a computer in the exhibition. The exhibition is free and can be viewed 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–12 p.m. Saturday through Aug. 31.

Detailed information on the various programs included in the conference is available at There is a registration fee for the conference, and instructions for registering are available at

The conference is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research, LS&A, the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, the Department of English Language and Literature, the Institute for the Humanities, the Program in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and the Houghton Mifflin Co.