DMLBS online on Logeion

The project is delighted to announce that the text of the DMLBS has been made available under licence to the Logeion project hosted by the University of Chicago and is now accessible via the Logeion interface at

The Logeion interface, which does not require a subscription of any kind, allows searching of all its many dictionaries by headword. (More advanced forms of searching across the DMLBS text are available via the subscription-based platform.)

We very much hope that this new way of accessing the dictionary will be appreciated by medieval scholars across the world. We would, of course, encourage users nevertheless to buy a copy of the printed dictionary as well!

Like the online version of the DMLBS, the text has been provided to Logeion under licence from the British Academy and the DMLBS project is unable to offer technical or other assistance with these resources.

The DMLBS project would like to extend its thanks to Logeion and especially Helma Dik for making this interface to our dictionary available.

DMLBS online on

i_logo_brepolis We are pleased to announce that the text of the DMLBS is now available online (by subscription) on the Brepolis platform.

Followers of the DMLBS project will be aware that online publication has been a long-term ambition of ours to complement the printed Dictionary. Although our own plans to develop and host an online platform for the Dictionary had to be discontinued, we are extremely pleased now to have been able to join in a partnership with Brepols to make the DMLBS more widely available.

The Brepolis platform also for the first time gives Dictionary users new methods of using the text of the DMLBS, making searches possible not only by headword (as in the printed dictionary) but across the full text, including etymologies, senses, and quotations. Although the results of full text searching must of course be used with caution (since the Dictionary is emphatically not a comprehensive collection of all the examples of use of every word cited in the whole of British Medieval Latin), this new functionality will surely open up new research possibilities for medievalists to exploit the extensive data of the Dictionary.

Further information about the Brepolis DMLBS can be found at

(Please note that Brepols is wholly responsible for the online platform and that the DMLBS project is unable to offer technical or other support for its users.)

Using the DMLBS to track down Italian loanwords in medieval British texts

This is a guest post by Megan Tiddeman, a PhD student with the Anglo-Norman Dictionary team at Aberystwyth University.

The working title of my thesis is “Money Talks – Anglo-Norman, Italian and English language contact in medieval merchant documents, c1300-c1500”. Its aim is to investigate a neglected area – the linguistic (rather than the political or the economic) effects of the huge commercial activity of Tuscan, Genoese and Venetian traders and bankers in England during the late Middle Ages.

A major part of the project is compiling a two-part glossary of around 300 loanwords from this period, firstly, Italianisms in Anglo-Norman (which were nearly always then transmitted into Middle English) and secondly, insular Gallicisms and Anglicisms in Italian material.

Many of these words were technical trading, nautical or military terms which are attested once or twice or later vanished into obscurity, though they are none the less valuable for it (e.g. attaby, a rich fabric imported from Baghdad, belendin, a high quality ginger from India or braeil, a small rope fastened to a sail’s edge). However, a sizeable proportion of these Italian borrowings in Anglo-Norman were destined to become part of the everyday lexis of Modern English:

candy / canon / carat / carpet / carrack / coton / creditour / cremosyn / escarmuche / golfe / materas / orange / reprisaile / ris / satin / sucre / taffeta / yndigo to name but a few.

A quick glance at this list confirms what we already knew – that Italian merchant galleys brought with them from their vast, trading empires, a whole host of “exotic” vocabulary (from Arabic, Persian or Turkish) into England as well as the actual goods for sale.

Gathering these loanwords together involves scouring through numerous sources – account books, port registers, Exchequer Rolls, business letters (both original manuscripts and edited material) and, of course, dictionaries. The DMLBS is an essential part of the etymological jigsaw along with the other major medieval dictionaries from Britain (AND, OED, MED), France (TLF, DMF, DEAF, Godefroy, Du Cange, etc.) and Italy (TLIO, OVI, LEI, DEI, etc.).

It would be so easy if we could type ‘Italianism’ or ‘Prestito anglo-normanno’ into a search box and come up with a ready-made glossary but unfortunately, it takes a lot more time and effort to try and sift through an immense dictionary corpus in the hope of finding the odd Italian jewel. Firstly, and most obviously, not all dictionaries are digitised. Even when they are, the metalanguage used in labelling borrowings varies greatly, often within the same volume, and can be vague or inconsistent e.g. how does “cf. Italian” differ from “<Italian” or simply “Italian”? Lexicographical “loanword policy” also changes with each dictionary you deal with and each has its own theories on the inclusion and flagging up (if they do at all) of words from other languages. A very large number of the terms in my glossary have entered Middle English (or British Medieval Latin) from Italian via French and are, naturally, labelled as Gallicisms in the OED, MED or DMLBS. Highlighting the importance of the transmission route:

ME / BML < AN < Ital. (< Arab. / Pers.)

is a fundamental part of my thesis and so it is vital that I also track down these “indirect Italianisms”. Some of them, of course, will not have their own headword at all but be hidden in the citations of another article and only discovered by happy accident and others still are labelled “origin unknown”. Finally, it can be difficult to pinpoint the direct or indirect nature of an Italian borrowing in BML e.g. vernagium, ‘strong, sweet Italian wine’, att. 1336 in the Durham Accounts. Could this be:

BML vernagium < AN vernage < Ital vernaccia or

BML vernagium + AN vernage < Ital. vernaccia ?

Despite these caveats, you have to start somewhere! DMLBS editor, Richard Ashdowne, very kindly sent me a list of around 50 headwords which have Italian in their label. Comparing this list with one I had already compiled using AND, MED and OED proved incredibly fruitful in finding evidence of both direct and indirect Italianisms in British Medieval Latin. The majority of borrowings I have found so far in the DMLBS (and I am sure there are many more) fall into four main categories:

The headword is labelled as an Italianism …

  1. … it confirmed the Italian origin of borrowings I had found in Anglo-Norman and Middle English e.g. BML caffatinus, att. 1349, < Ital. caffetinno < Ar. quffa(t) (‘basket’). This describes rounded, sugar loaves boiled in double-bottomed moulds. Also BML bukaramus, att. 1225 < Ital. bucherame < Pers. Boukhara, a costly cloth from Boukhara.
  2. … it provided (in many cases, 13th century) evidence of Italian borrowings in Britain that have no extant equivalent in Anglo-Norman or Middle English e.g. BML waldana ‘rabble, band of (armed) men’, att. 1297 < Ital. gualdana, BML calamite,  ‘lodestone’, att. c1235 < Ital. calamita or BML balzanus, ‘piebald horse’, att. 1207 < Ital. balzano.

The headword is not labelled as an Italianism …

  1. … but labelled as an Arabism. While many of the loanwords currently labelled as Arabisms in the DMLBS are indeed direct, erudite borrowings, I believe that in some cases Italian was in fact the language of transmission:  e.g. cutono attested in the Close Rolls in 1208 could very likely have been passed on from Ar. qutun via Ital. cottone. At times, both immediate etymons could  have played a role e.g. sandalum (a type of silken fabric) could be direct borrowing from Ar. sandal in its lone 8th century attestation and then be influenced by Ital. zendale the next time it emerges in BML in 1227. Obviously, text type can be a significant indicator here and it is always essential to take the nature of the source document into account.
  2. … but labelled as < OF < Ar. There are several cases where I believe Italian is the “missing link” e.g. tarita, ‘type of merchant ship, tarette’ att. 1340, Wardrobe Accounts: BML tarita < AN tarette < Ital. tareta < Ar. taridah. Also e.g. baldekinus, ‘a rich brocade from Baghdad’, att. 1218, Close Rolls: BML baldekinus < AN baldekin < It. baldacchino < Ar. Bagdadi.

The next step in exploring the DMLBS corpus would be to do a search based on Arabic labels. This would undoubtedly provide many more hidden clues as to the extent of Italian influence on Britain’s medieval merchant and maritime lexis.

The Anglo-Norman Dictionary project can be found online at and its blog at It is also on Facebook.

Digital collaborations

Technology is opening up new vistas for humanities research all the time, and they bring with them new uses for existing major reference resources, such as the DMLBS, when they are available in digital form.

In this guest post, Lynne Cahill of the ChartEx project describes one way in which the DMLBS‘s digital data is already making a huge difference to research into the medieval world of a kind that could scarcely have been imagined when the project was first proposed a century ago.

The ChartEx Project is developing new ways of exploring the full text content of digital historical records. The project will demonstrate its approach using medieval charters which survive in abundance from the 12th to the 16th centuries and are one of the richest sources for studying the lives of people in the past. Charters record legal transactions of property of all kinds: houses, workshops, fields and meadows and describe the people who lived there. Long before records such as censuses or birth registers existed charters were and still are the major resource for researching people, for tracing changes in communities over time and for finding ancestors.

The new ChartEx tools will use a combination of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Data Mining to extract information about places, people and events in their lives from the charters automatically and find new relationships between these entities. The project will then build an interactive “virtual workbench” that will allow historians, archivists and others interested in charters to explore the information extracted and add further information and comments. This workbench will enable researchers to really dig into the content of the records, to recover their rich descriptions of places and people, and to go far beyond current digital catalogues which restrict searches to a few key facts about each document.

The ChartEx consortium is an innovative partnership between historians, archivists, and experts in computer science and artificial intelligence from Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. The ChartEx Project is funded by the Digging into Data Challenge.

The NLP task involves processing both medieval English and Latin. We are using a combination of modern English resources, for which there are many available off-the-shelf, and resources compiled by the historians from their personal experience of working with charters. For the Latin, there is much less available to use off-the-shelf, so we are fortunate to have access to the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources. Being able to send a list of English words and receive (often by return) a list of all Latin words from the dictionary with that English word in the definition allows us to build up a significant base of Latin vocabulary. This is particularly important for a language like Latin. For a start, it is a relatively underresourced language in terms of electronically available word lists, dictionaries or grammars. The other issue with Latin is that there are different varieties of Latin used at different times and in different geographical locations. The DMLBS focuses exactly on the variety we are encountering in the charters, so we can be confident that the words and their definitions will be more appropriate for our purposes than entries from a classical or school Latin dictionary, for example.

The DMLBS project welcomes approaches for collaboration from other research projects for which our data and/or expertise can make a difference of this kind, especially in the development of new research methods. With a large and well-structured dataset that can be rapidly and flexibly processed, the project expects its data to be fundamental for a whole range of other forms of research, many of which can even now scarcely be imagined, in much the same way that 100 years ago our forerunners could not have foreseen what uses the results of their proposed dictionary would enable.