A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson

A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson

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In Johnson’s preface to A Dictionary of the English Language, Johnson argues the importance of preserving language. Other dialects had a produced their own dictionaries, such as the French and Italians. Various writers of the eighteenth century were alarmed at the fact that there was no standard for the English language, since there was no standard it could easily become extinct. Johnson explored many points, such as how and why languages change as well as how many words are formed.
Many words are derived from other languages; Johnson speaks of how traders managed to communicate with those from the Mediterranean and Indian coasts. They developed a type of jargon by mixing English with the language of the traders. Johnson realized that this type of slang would not be confined to the ports and could eventually become common use. “This will not always be confined to the exchange, the warehouse, or the port, but will be communicated by degrees to other ranks of the people, and be at last incorporated with the current speech (Johnson2751).” Johnson referred to this change as an external cause of language evolution, it does seem like he feels it corrupts the language; “Commerce however necessary, however lucrative… corrupts the language (Johnson2751).” Therefore I believe he felt commerce had a negative impact on the English language. Another form of this is when two different dialects come together to form a third dialect. Johnson did not seem very fond of this either for he says it “… crowd up his memory; and … will obtrude borrowed terms and exotic expressions (Johnson 2752).” I think he is saying such dialects do not make any sense and just confuse the hearer, because the third form is a distinct form of the other two dialects. Why not choose one why combine them to make a new one.
Johnson explains that language is one of the many proofs of civility among people. Being a people of class and artistic pleasures most are well read and pursue knowledge daily. This leads to what he calls internal causes for changes in language such as the sciences. Many scientific terms are created to represent new ideas and discoveries. By creating a dictionary Johnson hopes to build a foundation on which more words can be founded not eliminated. I believe that Johnson finds this type of change to be beneficial to the English language; saying “a language is amplified (Johnson2751).

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” It encourages the fruition of the sciences as well as pursuit of knowledge.
Johnson hoped to preserve the English language by giving it a strong foundation on which to build. He felt that much time and effort was put into forming the governmental systems and laws, to ensure that they could withstand the test of time. How much more effort should be put into preserving the language of the country. He says “we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language (Johnson 2752).” Johnson believed that just as much effort should be put into the conservation and preservation of the English language.



Works Cited
Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. " A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson." The Norton anthology of English literature the restoration; the eighteenth century. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 2749-2755. Print
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