Alex Steer

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Scottish dictionaries need money

602 words | ~3 min

Scottish lexicographers may be the most hard-to-sell charitable cause in the world, but here goes.

Scottish Language Dictionaries, a registered charity based at Edinburgh University, has had its funding cut by the Scottish Arts Council. This is very bad news for contemporary and historical Scots lexicography. SLD is responsible for producing the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, a historical dictionary of Scots up to 1700, and the Scottish National Dictionary, which covers the period from 1700 to the present. It also produces a range of more concise dictionaries. Its website,, receives between 15,000 and 23,000 hits per day. For anyone who believes that Scots is worth studying, SLD's output is the best resource, doing for Scots what the OED does for English. It's also regularly consulted by lexicographers of English (there being no absolute boundary between English and Scots) and by historical linguists and literary historians (and historians generally). If it goes, a lot of people (and an entire country) lose a first-class linguistic resource.

SLD needs core unrestricted donor funding to replace that cut by the SAC. It's come up with a few novel ways to raise funds. It's holding a Scottish-celebrity-endorsed auction on eBay, hoping to stir up a bit of fervour for the Scots language. Dedicated word-fanatics can sponsor a word in the Concise Scots Dictionary for £20. These kinds of donation are useful, but they are also one-off. Charities need sustained income to allow longer-term financial planning. Since lexicography is a slow process, long-term funding is essential. If you want to do your bit to support Scottish lexicography, consider membership: it's £20 a year, or £9 if you're unwaged or a student.

Of course, it takes a lot of new membership applications to make up a government funding shortfall. What SLD really needs is support from major donors in the form of unrestricted funding to allow it to keep doing what it does. You can read the assessment of its unsuccessful but highly-recommended grant application to the SAC here. It requested £315,556 over the next two years, which gives an indication of the level of donation required to keep it doing what it's doing. It had a matched funding agreement in place: it's not clear from SLD's website whether this matched funding will still be provided, so it's possible SLD may need twice the requested amount. The SAC has issued a joint statement with SLD affirming its wish to find a solution to this funding problem. This is good news in the longer term, but for the immediate future SLD's operating reserves will only take it to about November before it has to start closing down parts of its operation.

So, if you're a potential donor who's interested in Scots lexicography, get in touch with SLD and ask them how you can help.

[Via: Grant Barrett, Language Log]

# Alex Steer (14/07/2008)