9 August 2010
An Innovation in Literary Culture
The authority of language requires a permanent written source. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary is recognized as a landmark for the English language. It has been inserted into literary culture, not only as a book of reference, but also as a book worthy of reading. This innovation in literary culture represents the eighteenth century English culture as Johnson emerged as the first to comprehensively document the English lexicon.
In Johnson’s endeavor to create an authoritative and credible literary source, he wrote in the Plan and proposed to write a dictionary, “by which the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated, by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened.” The production of his dictionary would preserve and protect the English language. His Plan continued to clearly spell out his intentions and proposed methodology for preparing this document. His goals set in the Plan were aimed at fixing the language, and he succeeded by establish a clear and concise meaning, offering proper pronunciation, and regulating the usage of words. Through careful selection of words, definitions, and examples of usage Johnson referenced previous sources including other dictionaries, and encyclopedias, but he claimed they were poorly organized and had poorly researched glossaries. He believed that the early lexicographers failed to give sufficient sense of the English language as it appeared in use. “Johnson’s intentions were to create a unique contribution to lexicography, by the use of illustrative quotations, some 114,000 in all” (Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language). Through these unique quotations, he established a specific definition, and showed how the word would be used in context. One of his most famous definitions is for a lexicographer defined as “a harmless drudge” and includes...