Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The First English Dictionary

By: Leila Moslemi (lilimoslemi@yahoo.com)

English words have been borrowed by many other languages. During 1630s, some people in England wanted to create an official organization to control the English language. They wanted to fix the language in order to introduce some regularity in spelling. In the 16th century spelling remained very varied, even for personal names. People invented their own spellings which made lots of confusion. For example, there are six known examples of Shakespeare's name that he wrote himself, and in each one he spelt his name differently.

Dictionaries were not unknown in the 17th century, but they were Latin-English ones. After nine years of a hard task, Dr. Samuel Johnson produced A Dictionary of the English Language, in April 1755. Oxford had awarded him a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in anticipation of the work. The dictionary was not perfect. Although the choice of words was wide but the words expressed his personal opinions and some words were not included because he did not like them.

An important innovation in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was to illustrate the meanings of his words by literary quotations most frequently cited by Shakespeare, Milton and Dryden. He always kept hundred of books around. The books he used for his purpose were what he used in his own collection. Therefore, it remained the most important English dictionary in Britain for more than a century.

The published dictionary of 1755 was a huge book. Its pages were nearly 46cm tall and the book was 51cm wide when opened; it contained 42,773 entries and it sold for the equivalent price of £350 today. The nine-year hard task of Dr. Samuel Johnson proves the importance of dictionaries which are widely used by people and specially a foreign learner of English language. Dictionaries can help English learners to avoid making mistakes; in addition to it they could be seen as educated and socially acceptable people.


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