Guest Post : Dr Patrick Owens on the Morgan-Owens Lexicon / by Anthony Gibbins

If you are a reader of Legonium, you will know that the pet store has played an important part in the past few episodes. It was difficult to find an appropriate Latin translation of pet store, but I found zoopolium within the Morgan-Owens Lexicon. The Morgan-Owens Neo-Latin and Contemporary Latin Lexicon is such a monumental piece of work (and monumental work in progress!), that I asked Dr Patrick Owens - the current editor-in-chief - if he would write something on it for Legonium. I am grateful to Dr Owen's for penning this fascinating account of the Lexicon's history, as well as a glimpse towards its bright future.

Origin and History of the Lexicon

In 1998, after attending the Conventiculum Lexintoniense, Dr. David W. Morgan began to create a list of Latin vocabulary for the modern world. Dr. Morgan soon recognized that there was neither a consensus among the various enclaves of Latin speakers regarding modern terminology nor was there a single reliable repository or dictionary. In 1999, therefore, Dr. Morgan collected all of the handbooks and dictionaries that were in use for Latin speakers from around the world and painstakingly transcribed those entries which he deemed worthwhile. It wasn’t until after he had worked through a dozen such volumes that he discovered the futility of this project: many or even most of the terms contained in these dictionaries were not drawn from literary sources but entirely invented. Moreover, many of the dictionaries readily borrowed from modern languages with no regard for ancient Latin precedents or the language’s inherent rules. Dr. Morgan named this first project the Silva (Latin for the collection). The Silva was published online without editorial comments in 2000.

The shortcomings of the Silva were the catalyst for a larger project, which would give precedence to terms and phrases attested in Latin literature and would conform any coinages or neologisms to the tendencies of the language. This new Neo-Latin lexicon would provide practitioners of active Latin with a reliable source of Latin vocabulary for the modern world, complete with citations, example sentences, and the grammatical information typically found in scholarly dictionaries. When Dr. Morgan began this momentous task he recruited his colleagues Dr. Milena Minkova and Dr. Terence Tunberg as co-editors and collaborators. Minkova and Tunberg collaborated with Morgan for some time, but due to their distance and other factors, Morgan continued the work alone, periodically updating a draft publically under the name Adumbratio (or the draft) on the Furman University server. Dr. Morgan considered the Adumbratio to be the bare bones of a future comprehensive work of contemporary terms and phrases for authors and speakers of Latin.

In 2011 Morgan and Dr. Patrick M. Owens collaborated to create a print English-Latin and Latin-English dictionary for students and teachers. During the preparation of this smaller dictionary, Dr. Owens collaborated with Dr. Morgan on certain aspects of the Adumbratio (mainly emendations and formatting issues). The prospect of the learners’ dictionary was suspended due to Dr. Morgan’s fight with liver disease. Sadly, David Morgan passed away on February 6th, 2013.

Dr. Owens was left with thousands of volumes and tens of thousands of loose notes and photocopies from Dr. Morgan’s estate. When Furman University decided to remove Dr. Morgan’s pages from its servers, Wyoming Catholic College (where Dr. Owens was an Assistant Professor of Latin) agreed to host an updated version of the Adumbratio, in order that Dr. Owens could continue to maintain its presence on the Internet.

Current State of the Project

The format, namely a MS Word document that Dr. Morgan used when he began making lexicographic notes in 1998, was well suited for a small document for private use. As the document grew to more than 700 pages, however, the format proved to be clumsy and ill-matched to the new goals. As a result of this, some Internet sites created pdf documents of the entire Lexicon, disregarding the guidelines of the Common Use License that the Lexicon enjoys. 

Users often lament the Lexicon’s format. Over the past four years there have been several hundred new lemmata and additional articles. It is frustrating and discouraging to create new lemmata when the editor recognizes that the entire interface needs to be revamped; this has led to a decline in regular updates. There are nearly a thousand new notes, emendations, and articles to be added to the body of the text, but they have been set-aside until a new interface is created.

In February of 2017, after taking several graduate courses in lexicography at UC Boulder, Dr. Owens constituted a Board of Directors and Advisors for the Neo-Latin Lexicon. Dr. Owens recognized that the project required collaboration from scholars with various backgrounds and its work could not be sufficiently accomplished by a single editor working alone. While there were a number of disparate issues addressed at our first annual board meeting, the board agreed that the Lexicon would benefit from (1) an independent Internet address, (2) a new interface (3) funds perhaps provided by grant money, (4) a collaboration of slips for new lemmata, and (5) a process for identifying mistakes and easily making emendations. The current editor-in-chief, Dr. Owens, is currently working towards these goals.

'Follow me,' the police officer says, leading Jessica and Marcellus out of the pet store. Miranda leads them past the bakery into the town's forum.