The Hyper Usage Guide of English, or HUGE-database, is a sub-project within Bridging the Unbridgeable. It is the first database to combine more than two hundred years of usage advice into a single reference library. Robin Straaijer coordinates the database project, while our student assistent takes care of much of the data entry.
Initially, the HUGE-database will only available to researchers, but we have plans to eventually make the database freely available to the public. Users can expect to find detailed advice on many usage problems in the English language, and will be able to compare usage advice across guides, acrosse time, and across different varieties of English. The HUGE database can be found at http://huge.ullet.net.
For a little more information, Robin has made a couple of short videos about the HUGE-database that you can watch on our YouTube channel. He has also written an article for the Slate.com blog Lexicon Valley about the database.
Why this database?
This relational database was conceived within our research project at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics called Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public. There are a number of questions regarding usage problems – those items of disputed usage – that the project feels need to be answered. Some of these questions are the following:
- When does a certain usage become problematic, or preceived as such?
- When does it end being (perceived as) problematic or disputed?
- Which usage problems persist?
- Why do these things happen?
- Are there differences between the different varieties of English?
- What is the role of usage guides?
The problem in trying to answer these questions was that no historical overview of usage advice in English existed. Conceived as a solution to this problem was the creation of a database of usage guides of English, with full-text entries of many usage problems. The database would also include scholarly secondary works dealing with usage guides or specific usage problems. This is now the Hyper Usage Guide of English database, or HUGE-database for short. It is hyper in two senses. One, the usage advice in the HUGE-database transcends any one particular usage guide or language variety. And two, the information in the HUGE-database transcends the usage advice itself. Because of the incorporation of secondary references, it can operate on a meta-linguistic level.
Usage guides The HUGE-database contains selected usage guides from the entire history of the genre, which is the period 1770–2010. The year 1770 is chosen because that year the first usage guide was published. A usage guide is defined as a work that only offers advice on usage; therefore grammars which include usage advice – many of which were published before 1770 – were not included.
Usage problems The first batch of usage problems started with were those 55 investigated in Attitudes to English Usage by Mittins et al., published in 1970, to which were added those from David Crystal’s Grammatical Top Ten. This resulted in a total of 60 usage problems, with which the data-entry process was started. A tally was kept of other usage problems that appeared repeatedly in the usage guides entered into the database, and notice was taken of those not appearing in the original list that seemed to be particularly salient.
References In addition, the HUGE-database also includes bibliographic information of secondary sources that deal with specific usage guides or usage problems. Inclusion of the references also started with Mittins et al. 1970, and the sources they mention in their list of references.
Who is this database for?
Linguists The HUGE-database is useful for historical and sociolinguist. The database can provide a temporal or social focus for historical and sociolinguistic inquiry regarding usage. It is possible to track when certain usages become (perceived as being) problematic. It is possible to compare usage advice across time, language variety & author. It is also possible to relate these to their treatment in the linguistic literature at various points in time. The database is also useful for scholars working on usage from a perspective of critical discourse analysis. The fact that we provide full-text entries also allows for investigations of the language & rhetoric of usage advice. The information on secondary sources also allows such investigations to be related to scientific discussions in the literature by linguists at various points in time.
Educators For educators and teachers of English to native speakers as well as those who learn English as a foreign language, the HUGE-database provides an overview of and insights into the problems of usage in general, as well as specific usage problems. The advantage of this information is that it has a sound basis in linguistic research.
The public It is our wish that, eventually, private persons can use this HUGE-database to find answers to questions on specific points of usage by either consulting individual usage guides or by comparing advice from different ones.