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New funding for world-class research on the evolution of the English language.


The University of Glasgow has announced that funding of more than £400,000 will be invested over the next five years in the second edition of the Historical Thesaurus of English and the creation of new Lectureship in Historical Thesaurus Studies.

The first edition of Glasgow’s Historical Thesaurus was key to developing our modern understanding of the last 1,000 years’ worth of meanings in English.
The funding announcement was made today (22 February 2018) as the University of Glasgow was presented with its Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in recognition of a half decade of work on the Historical Thesaurus. The project is described as “a unique resource for scholarship, education and creativity”.
Queen's Anniversary Prize honour
At a ceremony in Buckingham Palace, London, HRH The Prince of Wales with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall made the presentation to the University. The Prize is the highest accolade for any academic institution. Among those in attendance from Glasgow were Professor Marc Alexander, Director of the Historical Thesaurus; Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, University Chancellor; Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and University Vice-Chancellor and Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Vice-Principal and the Head of the College of Arts.
The Historical Thesaurus has 793,733 words arranged by their meaning, spanning more than 1000 years of the English language and is online.
The second edition, which today’s announcement funds, will mean 35% of the 800,000 entries in the Thesaurus will be re-dated with new evidence, over a third of the meaning categories will be revised, and 20,000 new words added.
Professor Alexander, the University’s Professor of English Linguistics, is the third Thesaurus Director after Professor Michael Samuels and Professor Christian Kay.
A 'daily joy'
Speaking outside Buckingham Palace today, Professor Alexander said: “There is nothing like the Historical Thesaurus of English for any other language, and it has been wonderful to see its importance recognised here today. For years it has been my daily joy to direct the Thesaurus and be surrounded by all the richness of a millennium’s worth of English. This prize, our new University investment, and our external funding successes will enhance Glasgow’s standing as a university at the forefront of the study of the language.
“Of course, this award is very much owed to my predecessors, Christian and Michael, who had the vision and determination to drive forward this glorious and long-lived treasure-store of our language, and I am sure they both would have been delighted to see their Thesaurus lauded on the national stage.”
Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh, Vice-Principal and the Head of the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow, said: “The announcement of additional funds and a new post in the Historical Thesaurus reflects the University and College’s continued and ongoing commitment to support our outstanding research in the Arts and Humanities and to ensuring the sustainability of the Thesaurus project. This prestigious prize deservedly honours the dedicated work of our world-leading staff and students over the last 50 years.”


This is the fourth time that the University of Glasgow has won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Previously the University won in 1994, 1998 and 2013.


Since 15 January 1965, more than 230 linguists have worked to arrange every known word in English into the extensive system of categories which made up the first edition of the Historical Thesaurus, published in 2009. Royalties from the printed Historical Thesaurus are used to fund more research into the English language at Glasgow, principally through undergraduate and postgraduate prizes and scholarships.
The Prize, unique in the honours system, is granted to an institution as a whole not an individual. As a national honour the prize carries no cash value, consisting of a silver-gilt medallion and a Prize Certificate signed by Her Majesty The Queen.
In 2015, for its 50th anniversary, an enhanced digital version of the Historical Thesaurus was made available online. The second edition of the Historical Thesaurus is currently underway.  In the online version, people can either search for individual words or browse the full series of 235,249 categories.

(images copyright University of Glasgow)

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