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About this project

This is a digitization of Henry Sweet's A Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, published in 1896. More specifically, it's a conversion of the scanned PDF version into HTML. In addition to simply converting the text to HTML, I've implemented a couple of features to help with the goals of the project, as explained below.

The Preface, Arrangement and Contractions, and Variations of Spelling pages are all from the original dictionary. I did not include the Inflections section, which is a brief summary of early West-Saxon grammar. I reckon that that information is easily found elsewhere, such as in Sweet's First Steps in Anglo-Saxon.


The Sweet dictionary is good. It's better some ways than the classic Bosworth-Toller (BT)). (Sweet has some thoughts about the BT dictionary in his preface, which are mostly interesting for historical interest and for the amusement value of lexicographical infighting.) And at the moment, the Wiktionary entries for Old English, which are great, are incomplete, though of course that will change in the fullness of time. In any event, as a scanned PDF, the Sweet dictionary has some limitations. My goals in this conversion are:

In my testing, searching (using Ctrl+F) in a browser is smart enough to ignore the diacriticals, so that you can indeed find ābīdan by searching for abidan.


Notes on the entries

A full-on conversion could do a lot with the information that Sweet has. The information could be broken down into relevant lexical elements, stored in a database, and fronted with an app that could search this data and then pull up all related entries. (I think this is what BT does?)

That would be great, but I'm not the person to do that. Instead, the more modest goal here is to convert the PDF into HTML. I have taken a couple of small steps to help achieve the goals. Here are some notes about the current state of the conversion:

I realize that Sweet's space-saving conventions aren't necessary in an online version. But it would add add quite a bit of time to reverse these, so to speak. Plus it introduces other possible issues, as noted in the To-do list. Hopefully, the light semantic marking of the components of the entries (using CSS styles) will help toward that goal in the future.


Search tests and notes

The premise of this conversion effort is that we can load up the entries as a web page and then use the browser's Find function (Ctrl+F or Cmd+F) to search for specific terms. This is a simple search mechanism and does not support nice-to-have features like near searches (basically, "did you mean ...?"), etc. — the sorts of things that could be built into a database-based search.

I've done some experimentation in different browsers using Find to search for entries. All of my testing has been done on a Windows 11 computer.

The testing suggests that although some browsers simplify some searches, users might need to enter the literal OE characters that are in the word that they want to find. Given the audience for this work, maybe it's not such a terrible burden for people to enter OE characters for their search, in the same way that they already enter those characters in other contexts? I'm interested in feedback on this question.


To-do list

Expand contractions/abbreviations

Either expand Sweet's contractions (e.g. lLt = "late Latin") into full terms or at least link them to the abbreviations page.


Substitute headwords (roots) for the ~ character

Sweet uses the ~ character in examples and in subentries to indicate "put headword here". It would be useful to just go ahead and substitute the headword, since we're not concerned aboout space.

This is needed for searchability. For example, suppose you're looking for æscan ("to demand"). This appears in the converted dictionary like this:

ǣsce (ǣsc|e) inquiry, questioning; search, investigation [āscian].

~an demand (legally).

Even with Sweet's original entry (ǣsc|e) closed up to ǣsce (see Notes on the entries earlier), a search for æscan (or ǣscan) won't work, because the verb is entered as a subentry (~an). So at some point, each of the subentries needs to be expanded.

However, replacing ~ with the headword/root has to be done carefully; it's not entirely a mechanical substitution, especially when there's a ge- prefix involved.

There's also an issue in that substituting headwords for ~ in subentries can put things out of alphabetical order (if that matters). Here's an example, using one of Sweet's entries (simplified):

dæg|rīm number of days.

~rima . dawn.

~sang daily service.


~wōma dawn.

dǣge bread-maker [dāg].

dægþerlic daily: on pisum ~an daege on this very day [dæg].

If we blindly substitute dæg for ~ in ~wōma, we end up with a headword dægwōma, which is correct (there is such a word), but it's out of alphabetical order with respect to dǣge and dægþerlic, the terms that follow.


Expand other shortenings

Sweet often uses hyphens to indicate alternative forms, like the -yn addition here:

cynren, -yn n. kind, species.

I'm pretty sure that we can expand these truncated alternatives, which would make the alternative forms more searchable. For example, in this case, the entry might look like this, with the stem repeated:

cynren, cynryn kind, species.

Another shortening that Sweet uses is to simply list alternative stem vowels (more rarely, consonants) after the main entry, like this:

cięrm, ea, eo shout, clamour, cry.

It would be useful also, I think, to expand these into full words that include the alternative letters.

There are many hyphen-based abbreviations and other shortenings like this, given Sweet's interst in saving space, so this would not be a mechanical substitution.


Make entries individually bookmarkable

We can link directly to individal entries in BT and Wiktionary, which is very useful. I'm experimenting with a method to allow something like that in this converted dictionary.

For the experiment, I've added a linked symbol () to the end of entries. When you click that link, it copies the URL + a bookmark of that entry to the clipboard, and you can then paste it, bookmark it, send it to someone, whatever.

To see this in action, go to page 34 (ff.) and click one of the symbols.

This approach relies on what's supposed to be cross-browser JavaScript, but we'll see.

Note: When you use one of the bookmark URLs, you might need to scroll up a few lines to see the linked entry. I'm working on this issue.


Better layout

The current layout uses jQuery to dynamically load the header information (at the top of the page). This is only possible for HTML that's served by a server; for security reasons, it's not possible to load a page from a user's local disk.

I mention this because it would be neat to be able to just send someone a zipped folder of HTML files so that they could have a local copy of all this information. If people want to be able to do this, we can cobble together versions of the files that e.g. repeat the header information in each page.


Correct some of Sweet's typo-type issues?

I'm reasonably sure that there are tiny mistakes in the text — terms that should be marked as metadata (italized) that are not; choices that Sweet made about when to create a separate headword vs. an inline alterative; etc. In all cases, if we can be certain that this is the issue, and if fixing it would make the conversion more useful (better search, easier comprehension), we should make appropriate changes.

PS I haven't found any outright typos yet, at least, not in the modern English definitions. :)


Other improvements to be named later



Who did this

This work was started by me, Mike Pope, and it currently lives on my personal website. At the time I started this project (early 2024) I was a second-year student of Old English. I learned about Sweet's dictionary after I'd already been using Bosworth-Toller and of course Wiktionary. I found Sweet's entries very useful, but found the PDF limited for searching for OE words. So I embarked on this project. Whether the end result will actually be useful to anyone is entirely unknown, but in the meantime I will have had an interesting (though at times tedious) project to work on.

You can contact me with questions, comments, and corrections via email at mike (dot) pope at the Gmail place. If you'd like to help, I'd also be happy to share the work.



This HTML conversion is licensed under a "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International" license. This means:

Be nice :)

Here's the formal statement and link to the license details:

HTML conversion of Sweet's "A Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon" by Mike Pope is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


Other credits

My friend Michael Broschat provided tremendous help by getting his own copy of Sweet's dictionary and in effect rescanning it, page by page, so that I didn't have to work off the sometimes dim or splotchy PDF I got online. He spent a bunch of time experimenting with ways to try to capture the various unusual characters in the text. ("I have never seen such a typographically difficult text," he observed.)

Michael's in-depth effort speeded the conversion process considerably, probably by about 50%. (I was originally spending over an hour per page, but once I started to work with his scans, it went quite a bit faster.)