Project Profile:

Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME)


Description: Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME) is a historical database of monolingual, bilingual, and polyglot dictionaries, lexical encyclopedias, hard-word glossaries, spelling lists, and lexically-valuable treatises surviving in print or manuscript from about 1475 to 1755. Texts of word-entries whose headword (source) or explanation (target) language is English tell us what speakers of English thought about their tongue in the period. Their lexical insights, which may at times seem misguided to us, shaped the history of our living tongue. Any contemporary’s testimony about the meaning of his own words has an undeniable authority. For this reason, LEME is not a period dictionary like The Middle English Dictionary or the yet unrealized Early Modern English period dictionary. The scholar who proposed the latter, Charles C. Fries, would have recognized LEME to be a source of “contemporary comments” that illustrate word usage. What Fries could not have imagined eighty years ago was a technology that would store all these quotations as distinct word-entries in searchable form. LEME incorporates some of what he hoped to create.


  • Ian Lancashire, Professor, Department of English
  • Sian Meikle, Associate Chief Librarian for Digital Strategies and Technology
  • Isabelle Zhu, PhD candidate, Department of English, University of Toronto

Funders: SSHRC, Canada Foundation for Innovation, University of Toronto Library, University of Toronto Press

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