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Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Queen’s University Belfast have identified and defined around 500 Irish words, many of which were previously lost, thus unlocking ‘the secrets of many other misunderstood terms’ from medieval Irish. The team of researchers are thought to have undergone a ‘painstaking five-year research project’ which involved scouring medieval manuscripts and published texts for words which have either been overlooked by previous dictionary-makers or which have been erroneously defined.

The revised dictionary is said to offer ‘a window onto a fascinating and important past world’, by both extending our understanding of the vocabulary of this period in history, as well as offering unique insights into the types of people who made use of these specific words. Their findings reveal details ‘about everyday lives, activities, beliefs and relationships, as well as contact with speakers of other languages’.

Their findings span the development of the Irish language of roughly thousand years, between the sixth and sixteenth centuries. The team has amended definitions, presented evidence which shows that some words were in use much earlier than previously assumed, and even deleted a few fake words. Further, the project is said to shed light on Ireland’s interactions with foreign languages, cultures and goods in the medieval period, including Old Norse and Anglo-Norman civilizations. The primary aim of their work ‘has been to open the Dictionary up, not only to students of the language but to researchers working in other areas such as history and archaeology, as well as to those with a general interest in medieval life’.

Students applying for Modern and Medieval Languages, as well as applicants for Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, can further explore this research, which is freely accessible in the revised version of the online dictionary of Medieval Irish, and consider how such findings unveil valuable insight into the evolution of linguistics and language throughout history as well as shed light into daily life during this period of time.

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