Shakespeare’s Neologisms: From Myth to Evidence

Following on from the AHRC-funded Encyclopedia of Shakespeare’s Language project, we are pleased to announce that we have been successfully awarded a grant (£9,740.15) from the British Academy. The project will establish whether, and to what extent, widely held views about Shakespeare’s neologisms are a myth, and also improve our understanding and appreciation of his words.

The website of the well-respected Shakespeare Birthplace Trust proclaims that “William Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words”, with similar estimates being found across non-academic and academic works alike. However, these estimates are often based on the number of words in the Oxford English Dictionary that have as their first citation a work attributed to Shakespeare. No study, however, has systematically scrutinized each of these words, hunting for earlier uses.

The recent advent of Early English Books Online (the largest repository of historical English printed works), paired with the recently-released Enhanced Shakespearean Corpus, means that it is timely to undertake such a study. This study will also investigate a further set of potential neologisms based on a list of words that only occur in texts attributed to Shakespeare.

The project will be led by Prof. Jonathan Culpeper, with Prof. Jonathan Hope acting as a consultant, and Isolde van Dorst providing research assistance.

About Mathew Gillings

PhD Linguistics student at Lancaster University.
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