Historical Thesaurus of Scots

The Historical Thesaurus of Scots (HTS) began as a pilot project at the University of Glasgow, under the direction of  Dr Susan Rennie and in partnership with Scottish Language Dictionaries. The project aims to create the first historical thesaurus for the Scots language, based on the data in the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL). The first phase of the project, which ran from 2014 to 2015, was funded by a research grant from the ARHC. The editorial team consisted of Dr Rennie as Editor, Dr Magdalena Warth-Szczyglowska (Research Assistant) and Viola Legény (Project Assistant). Iseabail Macleod, former Director of the Scottish National Dictionary Association and author of the Scots Thesaurus (1990), and Professor Christian Kay, then Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, acted as editorial consultants.

ScThesIMThe HTS lexicographers began by creating a hierarchy of categories in two subject areas: weather and sports & games. These were based initially on the semantic categories in Macleod’s Scots Thesaurus, with some new subcategories added. The editorial team also took inspiration from the hierarchical structure of the Historical Thesaurus of English. They then built search queries to find related headwords in the Dictionary of the Scots Language: for example, flauchter (snowflake) in the weather category of snow. The resulting digital thesaurus gave condensed forms of definitions from both the Scottish National Dictionary and Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, linked to the relevant entries on the DSL website.

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The pilot Historical Thesaurus of Scots website at www.scotsthesaurus.org was launched in 2015. It includes a searchable thesaurus covering the sample categories of weather and sports & games, with the option to view the data in either linear or interactive visual format. The HTS team subsequently worked with Education Scotland to produce teaching materials for schools based on Scots weather words.

** View Scots Word Clouds from the Historical Thesaurus of Scots **

Dr Warth-Szczyglowska working with Education Scotland

A press release which accompanied the launch highlighted over 400 terms related to snow which the HTS team had identified, and this brought the thesaurus worldwide attention and support. The story was featured as far afield as the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Japan Times. The BBC later commissioned a Scots poem and short film based on the snow words identified by the project.

Despite the success of the pilot and the overwhelming public response, the HTS did not receive continued funding and the project team were dispersed. In 2017, Rennie left the University of Glasgow to return to freelance lexicography, and has been keeping the project going on a voluntary basis ever since.

The following publications provide further details of the methodology of the HTS, and an insight into its future possibilities:

Susan Rennie (2016), Creating a Historical Thesaurus of Scots‘ [paper]

S. Rennie & M. Warth-Szczyglowska (2015), Creating a Historical Thesaurus of Scots‘ [conference presentation, FRLSU, Aberdeen]

Magdalena Warth-Szczyglowska (2016), ‘The category of golf in a new Historical Thesaurus of Scots‘, Sport in History

Scots beat Inuit in words for Snow‘ (UofG press release, Sept 2015)

Education Scotland teaching materials based on HTS weather words

Scots Language Centre article on the HTS 

SQA blog on the launch of the HTS website