Th invntion of th computr and th intrnt wr transformational for t Oxford nglish Dictionary. Indd, th OD bcam accssabl to th ntir world via th intrnt, as Jams Glick nots: “[there now existed] instantaneous connection to a worldwide network of proxy amateur lexicographers and access to a vast, interlocking set of databases growing asymptotically towards the ideal of All Previous Text” (Gleick 65). This massiv xpansion of accss to all of thos who had intrnt across th glob is rmarkabl, and indd is a major part of th rason to push forward th dvlopmnt of th digital humanitis. This prolifration of accss to lxicographical information throughout th world, much lik what is currntly occurring in spurts with litratur, allows a much largr audinc not just to apprciat ths txts but to study thm. Similarly, such a databas for th OD or a work of litratur allows for analysis in mannrs that would not hav bn fficint bfor, such as statistical analysis of languag on a larg scal.
This is not without problms, howvr. It is th natur of litratur that on is unabl to fully tak account of vry individual word in a work. Just lik how Jams Glick uss th xampl of th word “mackerel” for th OD, th automatd statistical analysis that is mad much asir, mor accssabl, and mor fficint by th bginnings of litrary txts prolifrating onlin, on also has to b wary of looking to hard at ach individual word, missing th forst for th trs, if on will. Just as thirty diffrnt spllings of “mackerel” ar usd in an impossibl qust for compltnss, it can also b possibl to look too far into manings or pattrns that ar not rally thr. On could crtainly mak a litrary intrprtation basd on how many tims on word is usd in a txt or anothr is not, but not all such things ar so dlibrat. As a studnt of litratur, on must by natur assum that vry word is as dlibrat, or othrwis analysis can fall apart. But not vry charactr in vry grat work of litratur is anothr strok of gnius. Somtims word choic is simply coincidntal, and somtims looking for analysis lads to a blif in manings that ar not rally thr. Th digitization of th humanitis allows for a much fficnt dgr of diffrnt typs of analysis, but it can also lad to thirty diffrnt spllings of “mackerel” imbud with a maning that thy hav nvr rally had.
Some attempts at cleverness in writing are clear, such as my deliberate avoidance of the letter “e” (sans in quotes) in the words above. But, as my eleventh grade AP English teacher put it, “sometimes the curtains are just blue.” There does not need to be meaning in everything. But the more we are able to use technology to search for meanings, especially with the decrease in labor that is made possible by said technologies, it is important we also are careful not to create patterns and meanings that were never there. And, at the same time, one must remember that a database or a digitized version of a text is only so accessible as the original text was. That is, a search function may find words and their frequency well, so long as they are not missing their e’s. But that is devoid of context, and while being able to search a dictionary for information is nice, and literature can to some extent be the same way. But it is not each individual word that makes a work of literature, just as a definition out of context defines nothing. Accessibility and different functionalities for searching and automated data analysis for a text could be incredibly useful, as can the different format. But one must not forget that books were written to be books, not text on a screen.