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Noah Webster and the American Dictionary of the English Language “The
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Noah Webster and the American Dictionary of the English Language

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1Noah Webster and the American 7better employed in rooting out those
Dictionary of the English Language “The anxious weeds, than in mingling them with
author, it is well known, met with much the flowers.” – Joseph Dennie, Gazette of
opposition at the commencement of his the United States, 1800. The political
labors; and it is equally notorious, that atmosphere of the time period was
as he proceeded in the accomplishment of responsible for the failure This was the
his design, he was seldom cheered with the era when the modern political parties
voice of encouragement.” James Luce formed Federalist Party: favored
Kingsley, North American Review. Heather centralized government and opposed the
McIlvaine. extension of suffrage – Webster was a
2Biography. Born in 1758 on a farm in Federalist Republican Party: favored
Connecticut He attended Yale and was decentralized government and supported the
exposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment extension of suffrage Webster was
In the winter of 1779-80 he became criticized both by federalists (for his
interested in education reform 1783 the decision to include common words) and by
“blue-backed speller” 1785 Dissertations the republicans (for being a federalist)
on the English Language – suggested “The lexicographer’s business is solely to
spelling and grammar reforms 1800 first collect, arrange and define the words that
advertised for the American Dictionary – usage presents to his hands. He has no
it was printed in 1828 Fought for right to proscribe words; he is to present
copyright laws Died in 1843. them as they are.” – Webster.
3Spelling Reform. Webster believed that 8Writing the Dictionary. Webster
spelling reforms would contribute to the thought the process would take 5 years –
development of a national language He was by 1818, he was only on “B” To support his
aware that America was a nation of family while writing, he published the
immigrants, and simplified spelling would ill-received Compendious Dictionary
aid them in learning the new language and Radical orthography: groop, wimmen, tung
lessen the differences in sectional Common words like crock By the time
dialects Benjamin Franklin supported Webster completed the American Dictionary
Webster’s ideas “You need not be concern’d in 1825 the Federalist Party was dead and
in writing to me, about your bad Spelling, populism was on the rise He had abandoned
for in my Opinion, as our Alphabet now the spelling reforms Dropped the “k” in
stands, the bad Spelling, or what is words like “mimic” and the “u” in words
call’d so, is generally the best, as like “favor” Its publication in 1828 came
conforming to the Sound of the Letters and at the height of the Second Great
of the Words.” – letter to his sister, Awakening Webster used biblical references
Jane Mecom, 1786. rather than literary quotes to define the
4Proposed Alterations. The omission of words Instrument, n. 2…The distribution of
all superfluous or silent letters the Scriptures may be the instrument of a
(bread=bred, head=hed, give=giv, vastly extensive reformation in morals and
built=bilt, friend=frend, publick=public, religion. All these factors helped make
neighbor=nabor) A substitution of a the dictionary a success despite the rocky
character that has a definite sound for beginning.
one that is more vague and indeterminate 9Etymology. Like many lexicographers at
(mean=meen, grieve= greev, laugh=laf, the time, Webster was intrigued by the
daughter=dawter, character=karacter, etymology of words His etymological
machine=masheen, pique=peek, tour=toor) An research began around 1809, distracting
alteration in character, or the addition him from working on the dictionary for
of a point would distinguish different almost 10 years His method of discerning
sounds, without the substitution of a new etymology was based on the appearance of
character (?, ?, ?). words If the number of letters and basic
5Example of “American Language”. “In structure of a word in one language was
these essays, ritten within the last yeer, similar to that of another, he assumed
a considerable change in spelling iz that they carried the same meaning His
introduced by way of experiment…The man etymological conclusions were founded on
who admits that the change of his strong religious beliefs He believed
housbande…into husband, iz an the Bible was a factually reliable source
improovement, must acknowledge also the to trace the origins of language Most
riting of helth, breth, rong, tung, munth, current lexicographers dismiss his
to be an improovement. There iz no etymological conclusions.
alternativ. Every possible reezon that 10Webster’s Effect on Today. He believed
could ever be offered for altering the that the misunderstanding of words led to
spelling of wurds, still exists in full social and political upheaval – they
force; and if a gradual reform should not should not be used vaguely The
be made in our language, it will proov politicization of words is evident in
that we are less under the influence of Webster’s struggle to find initial support
reezon than our ancestors.” – Noah for his dictionary, and in the definitions
Webster, Collection of Essays and Fugitiv that were published Politician n. – “of
Writings, 1790. artifice or deep contrivance” It remains a
6Inconsistencies in Webster’s Proposal. politically heated issue In 1961 the
He substitutes the voiced alveolar /z/ Merriam-Webster Dictionary released a
sound in “reason” and “is” with a “z” but notoriously permissive edition; the
does not make the same changes in the editorial staff settled decisions on words
plurals “essays” and “words” The voiceless and usage by a show of hands “If
alveolar /s/ sound of the “c” in nine-tenths of the citizens of the United
“ancestors” should be replaced with an “s” states, including a recent President, were
Webster’s proposal was met with widespread to use inviduous, the one-tenth who clung
criticism His own inconsistencies to invidious would still be right, and
demonstrate how ingrained the conventional they would be doing a favor to the
methods of spelling were, and how majority if they continued to maintain the
difficult change would be. Eventually he point.” Dwight Macdonald Nuclear v.
stopped trying to introduce the extreme Nucular.
phonetic respelling of words, but he 11Works Cited. Lepore, Jill. “Noah’s
continued trying to remove silent letters. Mark.” The New Yorker 6 Nov 2006: 78.
7The Initial Reaction. When Webster Micklethwait, David. Noah Webster and the
first proposed the dictionary it was American Dictionary. London: McFarland,
received with condemnation “If, as Mr. 2000. Rollins, Richard. The Long Journey
Webster asserts, it is true that many new of Noah Webster. University of
words have already crept into the language Pennsylvania Press, 1980.
of the United States, he would be much
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