Roland Hall: a tribute to six decades of work for the OED
Roland Hall, who died on 3 May, has a record of contribution to the Oxford English Dictionary that few in the whole history of the dictionary can match, and we would like to pay tribute to his remarkable achievement.
In 1958 Roland was a young philosophy lecturer at Queen’s College, Dundee, having graduated from Oxford a few years earlier. Like thousands of others, his eye was caught by an appeal issued by Oxford University Press, asking for volunteers to help find quotation evidence for particular words being considered for inclusion in the new Supplement to the OED, work on which had only just begun under the editorship of Robert Burchfield. In fact he had been interested in the dictionary from an early age, and he wrote to Oxford offering to join in the search for evidence. By March 1959 he was already making ‘excellent contributions’ to the Supplement, and he was soon asked to help in another way: by reading back issues of the philosophy journal Mind, looking out for vocabulary which the compilers of the Supplement might wish to include. Burchfield recognized that someone with his detailed specialist knowledge might also be able to help in another way, and he was soon being asked to draft definitions of philosophical terms for the Supplement. He began work in earnest on this task – working from the quotations that had been collected by other readers for the Supplement, which were posted to him in Dundee – in 1963, and the experiment proved a great success: he went on drafting entries, both in philosophy and linguistics, for some years. (In 1967 he moved on from Dundee to the University of York to take up a Readership in Philosophy.)
One of Roland Hall’s definitions for the word lexicalize, drafted for use in the OED Supplement.
He later acted as one of the dictionary’s many specialist consultants, providing expert comment on the work of our own in-house lexicographers. His consultancy work continued long after his retirement from York: in fact he sent in his last piece of consultancy for the dictionary, in relation to the logical term invertend, as recently as March of this year. John Simpson, the former Editor of the OED, recalls:
From an editor’s perspective Roland was a model specialist consultant, always willing to offer cogent advice on any term he knew about from the disciplines of logic, philosophy, social sciences, and any other related disciplines … he always presented his suggestions legibly, concisely, and in such a way that they could immediately be inserted into the dictionary copy without any rewriting.
In the world of philosophy, Roland Hall is best known for his work on John Locke and David Hume. But to us at the OED, it is for his work on the vocabulary of philosophy, linguistics, and a range of other subjects that we know him best. And it is only fitting that we pay tribute to his six decades of contributing to the dictionary: a remarkable track record. And one which started out with an offer simply to look for quotations. Many other important contributors have begun their career in just the same way… and we are always grateful to have more volunteers.
You can follow in Roland’s footsteps and become an OED contributor by submitting evidence toward our ongoing OED Appeals programme, here.
Roland Hall image credit: Examining the OED