Fixing Babel

Fixing Babel
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An Historical Anthology of Applied English Lexicography
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Rebecca Shapiro
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Fixing Babel provides authoritative transcriptions of documents from the front matter of major English dictionaries over a two-hundred-year period. Fixing Babel provides commentary on and annotates a wide range of lexicographical concerns.
We all think we know what a dictionary is for and how to use one, so most of us skip the first pages—the front matter—and go right to the words we wish to look up. Yet dictionary users have not always known how English “works” and my book reproduces and examines for the first time important texts in which seventeenth- and eighteenth-century dictionary authors explain choices and promote ideas to readers, their “end users.” Unlike French, Spanish, and Italian dictionaries compiled during this time and published by national academies, the goal of English dictionaries was usually not to “purify” the language, though some writers did attempt to regularize it. Instead, English lexicographers aimed to teach practical ways for their users to learn English, improve their language skills, even transcend their social class. The anthology strives to be comprehensive in its coverage of the first phase of this tradition from the early seventeenth century—from Robert Cawdrey’s (1604) A Table Alphabeticall, to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755), and finally, to Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). The book puts English dictionaries in historical, national, linguistic, literary, cultural contexts, presenting lexicographical trends and the change in the English language over two centuries, and examines how writers attempted to control it by appealing to various pedagogical and legal authorities. Moreover, the development of dictionary and attempts to codify English language and grammar coincided with the arc of the British Empire; the promulgation of “proper” English has been a subject of debate and inquiry for centuries and, in part, dictionaries and the teaching of English historically have been used to present and support ideas about what is correct, regardless of how and where English is actually used. The authors who wrote these texts apply ideas about capitalism, nationalism, sex and social status to favor one language theory over another. I show how dictionaries are not neutral documents: they challenge or promote biases. The book presents and analyzes the history of lexicography, demonstrating how and why dictionaries evolved into the reference books we now often take for granted and we can see that there is no easy answer to the question of “who owns English.”



Editorial Method

List of Abbreviations

William Clark

A Dictionarie in English and Latine for Children, and Yong Beginners (1602)

Robert Cawdrey

A Table Alphabeticall, 2nd ed. (1609)

[I. B.] John Bullokar

An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the Hardest Words Vsed in Our Language (1616)

Henry Cockeram

The English Dictionarie: Or, an Interpreter of Hard English Words (1623)

Edmund Coote

The English Schoole-Master (1627)

Thomas Blount

Glossographia: Or a Dictionary (1656)

Edward Phillips

The New World of English Words: Or, a General Dictionary (1658)

John Ray

A Collection of English Words, Not Generally Used (1674)

Elisha Coles

An English Dictionary (1676)


Gazophylacium Anglicanum (1689)

Abel Boyer

The Royal Dictionary (1699)

[J. K.] John Kersey

A New English Dictionary (1702)

John Kersey

A New World of Words: Or, Universal English Dictionary, 6th ed., rev. by John Kersey (1706)


Glossographia Anglicana Nova: Or, a Dictionary (1707)

John Kersey [Philobibl.]

Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)

Nathan Bailey

An Universal Etymological Dictionary (1721)

Thomas Dyche

The Spelling Dictionary (1725)

B. N. [Benjamin Norton] Defoe

A Compleat Dictionary (1735)

Nathan Bailey

Dictionarium Britannicum, 2nd ed. (1736)

Thomas Dyche and William Pardon

A New General English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1737)

Samuel Johnson

The Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language (1747)

Benjamin Martin

Lingua Britannica Reformata: Or, A New English Dictionary (1749)

Samuel Johnson

A Dictionary of the English Language (1755)

Joseph Nicol Scott

A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1755)

Samuel Johnson

A Dictionary of the English Language . . . Abstracted (1756)

James Buchanan

Linguæ Britannicæ Vera Pronunciato: Or, A New English Dictionary (1757)

William Johnston

A Pronouncing and Spelling Dictionary (1764)

John Trusler

The Difference between Words, Esteemed Synonymous, in the English Language (1766)

William Kenrick

A New Dictionary of the English Language: Containing, Not Only the Explanation of Words . . . but Likewise, Their Orthoepia or Pronunciation (1773)

James Barclay

A Complete and Universal English Dictionary on a New Plan (1774)

John Ash

The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775)

William Perry

The Royal Standard English Dictionary (1775)

John Walker

A Dictionary of the English Language (1775)

Thomas Sheridan

A General Dictionary of the English Language (1780)

Francis Grose

A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785)

John Walker

A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (1791)

Hester Lynch Piozzi

British Synonymy (1794)

Noah Webster

A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806)

Noah Webster

An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828)

Dictionaries with Their Complete Titles



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