Our language research

Our language research programme, one of the largest in the world, lies behind everything that we produce to help meet the language needs of a rapidly evolving world. At the heart of what we do is the evidence: evidence of how language is used by real people in real contexts, and how it is changing across time. Alongside traditional techniques, we use very large databanks (called ‘corpora’), typically a billion words or more, across a range of languages, incorporating text from a variety of sources, domains, and dialects. Evidence-based lexicography ensures the most accurate and well-informed description of the language which in turn ensures, for example, that the most important and frequent meanings are covered first, that information on collocation and usage reflects accurately what people typically write and say, and that new words and other language changes are identified and monitored as soon as they start to appear.     

Living language and Oxford’s unrivalled corpus

Every day, we collect thousands of examples of words from across the English-speaking world. We amass these examples from a range of sources and subjects—from newspapers and technical journals to chat rooms and blogs. We use powerful technology to collate and analyse this information to see how English is really used, and how it is changing day by day.

The result is the Oxford English Corpus, a collection of more than 2.5 billion words of English from all over the world. The corpus is part of our commitment to language research and to producing the most up-to-date and accurate dictionaries that offer the fullest picture of English.

Learn more about the Oxford English Corpus >


A global perspective

Our dictionary and language coverage extends well beyond British English to the English of Australia, South Africa, Canada, the United States, India, and other parts of the world. We also publish one of the largest and most comprehensive range of bilingual dictionaries in the world, including dictionaries of Spanish-English, French-English, Chinese-English, and Russian-English.

As well as teams tracking the English language, we have teams of international language experts scouring a range of media, monitoring and tracking the latest language trends from the moment they appear, for inclusion in our print and online dictionaries. Our advanced compilation methods use native speakers of both languages working alongside each other to ensure that every usage and every translation is authentic and exact.

Our language experts cover all types of language, including informal and colloquial as well as standard and technical language, offering clear labelling and advice on usage and grammar.


The Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words – past and present – from across the English-speaking world.

For more than 100 years the OED has told the story of the English language by reporting in detail on individual words and their development across the centuries from AD 1000 to the present day. The First Edition of the dictionary was first published in instalments (or ‘fascicles’) between 1884 and 1928, and later in ten (and then, after some rebalancing of the contents, in twelve) volumes. But the language keeps on growing: each year there are more new words, and more information is discovered about old words.

Since the mid 1990s, the OED has been undergoing its first comprehensive revision and update. Around 70 editors, mostly in Oxford and New York, review each word in turn, examining its meaning and history, noting where meanings have changed – or where old definitions no longer suffice – and recraft the entries in the light of the most up-to-date information. In 2000, the first fruits of this huge scholarly project were published online at www.oed.com, where regular updates and revisions to the text have continued to be added every three months as the ongoing revision work progresses.

Explore the rich history of the OED >