Go Deeper

If you would like to make use of old dictionaries to study language change and spelling, there are many more dictionary texts available to download and print on the British Library Texts in Context site, developed by London Gifted & Talented in partnership with the British Library. As well as dictionaries from 1582 to 2000, there are a series of Teachers' Guides on working with primary source material in English.

Students can gain very deep insights into the nature of language by studying old texts and comparing them to current texts. Among the issues to be drawn out are changes in register, in culture specific language and in basic semantic shift, where words significantly change their denotations and connotations sometimes over quite small numbers of years.

Research in these texts would therefore make an excellent extension activity for the most able students, allowing them to synthesise their observations of old dictionaries with current dictionaries, and take a more sophisticated attitude about the cultural context of words and the notion of what is "correct" in language at any given time.

Browse dictionaries from 1582 to 2000