Tag Archives: mark thakkar

Oxford Latin dictionary takes 100 years to print

Another very interesting talk at the West Oxford Academy, just up the road from chez moi.

Mark Thakkar was talking about Oxford’s Dictionary of Mediaeval Latin which has just gone to the printers even though the project was started in 1913.

Mark said the project first started at 78 Banbury Road at a place called The Scriptorium.  It was effectively crowd sourced, he said.  The literati were invited to send in quotations and RJ Whitwell (1859-1928) only sent in 30,000 of them.

West Oxford Academy
In 1913 the academics petitioned for “an adequate dictionary of mediaeval Latin”. The period in question was between 500AD to 1500AD and we’ve stuff about the former Osney Abbey, demolished by Henry VIII just down my street in a piece of privatisation called the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Were they dissolute? Certainly they were “dissolved”.

Mark pointed to Osney Abbey. One of the quotations said the pope sent his legate to the kirk and a group of scholars from Oxford University  “started a terrible fight, with a cook pouring boiling oil”. 70 folk were arrested and imprisoned. Several clerics died.

The quotations only relate to English mediaval Latin, and Mark showed that English words were sort of dumped into the Latin.

We then came to the fabulously named Robert Grosseteste (1220) who obviously had the balls to mash up his Latin grammar with some choice, that is to say pithy Anglo-Saxon.

As far as we can tell, the dictionary ends with the letter “s” – funding is a problem, said Mark. But the Packard Foundation – we’re talking an HP heir here, funded the most recent project.

A source close to the Kite tells Volesoft that mediaeval Latin was a very bastardised form of the lingo.  Mark started and finished his talk with this mediaeval picture which sort of tells its own story, doesn’t it?

Babel comes to West Oxford

Tower of BabelSusan Hutchinson has run the West Oxford Academy for a few seasons now.  I’ve spoken there myself about The Register, the Inquirer and TechEye and churnalism.

The talks happen at the West Oxford Community Centre, a five minute walk from Mill Street.  It costs two quid and for that you get a 20 minute talk from locals – and a glass of wine.

Last night we were treated to a most interesting talk by Ian Thompson, called The Tower of Babel: the world’s language families. The place was packed.

Ian started off with a comparison of numbers from different languages – it’s the ek do teen char, eka dva tri chatur common to the Indo-Iranian language groups, but there was an anomaly on his slide, with the Basque language not conforming to the pattern.

In fact, said Ian, language is largely based on onomatopeia – and there are four major language groups although there are exceptions. In Gaelic terms, the last Cornish speaker died in 1974 – there still is a tape of Ned Mandrell speaking the language.

He said: “Gaelic speaking people school kids were punished for using their own language until the late 1940s.”  My mum was born in Aberdeen 1915 and had some Gaelic, but my dad was based in Skye during the Second World War, and told me when I was a kid that no-one there understood English and the people spoke the Gaelic. How times have changed.

Interestingly, Ian spoke about the influence of the west on language analysis by academics, where Sanskrit, Greek and Latin were considered pukka languages, while the truth is somewhat different, considering languages like Chinese, and African families of language were, in the past,  undervalued by western academics. Of course many languages are dying or are already dead. Still, when the west “discovered” India, they were also a bit shocked to learn that one Panini had “discovered” the basics of language before the Christian calendar arrived.

The future talks at the West Oxford Academy look most interesting. Next week, we will be treated to a talk by Iain Tullis who will tell us how digital cameras work by taking one apart. Future topics include Oxford’s Dictionary of Medieval Latin on the 12th November and He’s not the Messiah! The dangers of cinema’s depiction of leadership by Jim Hague. ♦