Learning and Teaching with the Thesaurus of Old English

E-Learning, English language, Old English literature, The Subject Centre in Scotland

oldeng_thesaurusBrief Description

This project developed a novel and illuminating interactive resource for students taking courses in Old English, the History of the English Language, and the Semantics of English, Learning with the online Thesaurus of Old English, adapting materials from a research-oriented database, the online TOE (Thesaurus of Old English).


The Thesaurus of Old English (TOE), first published in book form in 1995 and now online, contains the recorded vocabulary of Old English, spoken in the Anglo-Saxon period from about 700-1100 A.D., arranged in a semantic framework. Although English has changed radically since this time, our basic lexicon in areas such as the physical universe, plants and animals derives recognisably from this source. The fact that the words in TOE are arranged according to their meanings gives insight into many areas of Anglo-Saxon life through the examination of, for example, terms for food, warfare and clothing.

TOE is a unique resource which ought to put to full use by as many people and in as many contexts as possible. This project was designed to exploit the potential of the electronic version of this material by offering an online package containing subsets of data, notes on its use, and background information necessary for its interpretation. The resource that has been produced will be especially useful as a resource in courses focusing on the historical development and early stages of the English Language and on the Semantics of English.

Project design

The project-holders’ first step was to identify a series of 10-12 subsets of the TOE data, grouped under thematic headings: Clothing, Colour, Death, Families, Farming, Food and drink, Landscape, Plants, Time, and The Universe. Following initial technical work, background essays were written by members of the team and, as work on the project developed, regular monitoring was undertaken in undergraduate classes and by an international group of colleagues.

Technical aspects of the project were managed by Jean Anderson and content by Carole Hough and Christian Kay. Since a large number of people were involved in the project for relatively short periods of time, staffing costs have been calculated on an hourly basis.

Experience of the Thesaurus of Old English project, as well as subject expertise, was contributed by Flora Edmonds (Computing Officer), Irene Wotherspoon and Cerwyss O’Hare. Other colleagues and postgraduate students wrote mini-essays in their specialist areas.

Key Outcomes

The key product is a database-driven web site using MySQL and PHP, readily available open source tools. Use of MySQL and PHP should ensure long-term maintenance and distribution.

The resource is available freely both to the subject community and to anyone else who chooses to access it. The primary users will be teachers and students of the History of the English Language, Old English, Historical Linguistics, and Semantics.

Project Leaders

Jean Anderson
STELLA Project
University of Glasgow

Dr Carole Hough,
Department of English Language,
University of Glasgow

Professor Christian Kay,
Department of English Language,
University of Glasgow