A massive language research database responsible for bringing words such as “podcast” and “celebutante” to the pages of the Oxford dictionaries has officially hit a total of 1 billion words, researchers said Wednesday.
Drawing on sources such as weblogs, chatrooms, newspapers, magazines and fiction, the Oxford English Corpus spots emerging trends in language usage to help guide lexicographers when composing the most recent editions of dictionaries.
The press publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the most comprehensive dictionary of the language, which in its most recent August 2005 edition added words such as “supersize,” “wiki” and “retail politics” to its pages.
Oxford University Press lexicographer Catherine Soanes said the database is not a collection of 1 billion different words, but of sentences and other examples of the usage and spelling.
“The corpus is purely 21st century English,” said Judy Pearsall, publishing manager of English dictionaries. “You’re looking at current English and seeing what’s happening right now. That’s language at the cutting edge.”
Words with lasting power
As hybrid words such as “geek-chic,” “inner-child” or “gabfest” increase in usage, Pearsall said part of the research project’s goal is to identify words that have lasting power.
“English gets really creative, really fun. What we’re putting in dictionaries is words that will stick around,” she said.
Launched in January 2000, the Oxford English Corpus is part of the world’s largest-funded language research project, costing $90,000-$107,000 per year.
It has helped identify how the spellings of common phrases have changed, such as “fazed by” to “phased by” or “free rein” to “free reign.”
“Buck naked” increasingly has evolved to “butt naked.”
The corpus collects evidence from all the places where English is spoken, whether from North America, Britain, the Caribbean, Australia or India, to reflect the most current and common usage of the English language.