Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why the DMNES? Part 2: For linguists, philologists, and historians

In addition to filling a lacuna left open by other historical-language dictionary projects, the Dictionary has the potential of being a useful resource for a wide range of types of audiences. In this post, we argue why linguists, philologists, and historians would find the Dictionary useful.
Linguists and philologists: Proper names, strictly speaking, are nouns, and thus in order to have a comprehensive view of a language at any given name, names must be taken into account. By providing onomastic data which is sortable by language, culture, and time, a more complete picture of language change and development across Europe can be seen. This holds not only in the progressive change in the name pool over time—of interest not only to linguists but also sociologists—but also in the spellings of the name. Variant spellings of the same name can provide evidence to local and dialectical orthographies, as well as pronunciations. Additionally, in contexts when almost all written documents are in Latin, names—often only lightly Latinized—can provide valuable information about early vernaculars.
Historians: Most history books tend to standardize documentary name forms to a single language-appropriate spelling. Historians who are not trained in onomastics may thus find working with primary sources difficult and confusing when different spellings of a name may—even within the same document—refer to the same person. The Dictionary can serve as a guide towards ascertaining what spellings are variants of the same name and thus could refer to the same person. It can also help to identify unfamiliar people via the information about their names, such as culture of origin or gender.