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An Examination Of How Far Elyot’s Dictionary, Johnson’s Dictionary And The Oxford English Dictionary Essay, Research Paper

In any discussion of the way in which dictionaries reflect their era we must consider three things: the intellectual environment which gave rise to a given dictionary; the factors that contributed to its compilation and how each one effected subsequent lexicography in England. Let us look first at the Renaissance to see how contemporary concerns about language helped shape the dictionaries of the day. The Renaissance, (circa 1500-1650), was a period of revolution. Changes were wrought in virtually every area of life and this necessitated a fitting development in the vernacular because every class of man wanted access to the fruits of the Renaissance; its influence would have been limited if works of the period had not been translated into English. Thus the language grew to accommodate these changes and several key points heavily influenced this expansion: The ‘Revival of learning’ (that is, the renewed interest in Classical literature); the introduction of the printing press by Caxton in 1476; better education and the expansion of trade with the growth of the Empire; all these factors led to an awareness of the deficiencies of the vernacular to reflect such momentous changes. The printing press provided the literate public with dozens of replica texts but, without a recognised standard, spelling varied greatly, especially from writer to writer. Moreover the novice reader was still unable to understand the borrowed Latin words that littered the translations, so common in the sixteenth century. Thus, during the Renaissance dictionaries were either Latin-English or English-Latin. Sir Thomas Elyot began the tradition of Latin-English dictionaries. Elyot, (1490 ?- 1546), was a true Renaissance spirit who compiled and translated books on education, language and government in the vernacular. His work led to a realisation of the inadequacies of the English language and its dictionaries when compared to the classical sources he translated and consulted. Consequently in 1538 he compiled his own dictionary. In the preface to this dictionary Elyot criticised existing dictionaries in the vernacular, ‘I well perceived, that all though Dictionaries had been gathered one of an other, yet nevertheless in each of them are omitted some Latin wordes,’. He claims that not only does his dictionary contain one thousand more words than any existing Latin-English dictionary, but it contained ‘propre termes belongynge to law and phisike, the name of divers herbes knowen among and also a good number of fishes founden as well in our ocean as in our rivers…’. From this we can see that the nature of Elyot’s dictionary was tailored to the changing conditions of life brought about by the Renaissance. He tried to cater for the intellectual awakening that took place at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the new areas of learning that it opened up to the readership such as science and law. How then did Elyot go about compiling such an innovative work, since he worked without an English precedent? As Starnes (Footnote p.51) says ‘Elyot was a Humanist; and the authors he read and admired were, with a few exceptions, the ancient Greeks and Romans….It is quite natural, then, that in the compilation of his <+#>Dictionary<-#> Elyot should turn to those compilers who had been concerned largely with classical writers and with classical Latin.’ For this reason the only sources Elyot cites are classical, for example, Tortellius, Nestor, Perottus, Varro and Festus, all of whom had written works on the ancient languages. This is characteristic of the age thanks to the revival of learning. His main source was the Latin <+#>Dictionarium<-#> (1502), by the Italian, Ambrosius Calepinus. Interestingly enough seven of Calepinus’ cited sources are the same as those of Elyot, which suggests that Elyot drew on his sources by way of Calepinus. More importantly though is Elyot’s adoption of several elemental features from Calepinus which went on to serve as the basis for all subsequent dictionaries. Like Calepinus’, Elyot’s <+#>Dictionary<-#> (1538) entries are arranged etymologically. Among these entries are proper names, and the illustrations are supported by demonstrative quotations. We only have to compare entries to see how similar the two texts are.>Elyot’s <+#>Dictionary<-#> (1538) Calepinus’ <+#>Dictionarium<-#> (1520)Diogenes<-”>, a famous philosophers name. <+”>Diogenes<-”> nomen philosophi cynici <:#288,9025><+”> <-”> famosissimi…<+”> <-”> “Dione<-”>, a goddesse of the see, mother of <+”>Dione<-”> una ex nymphis oceani &Venus. Tethyos filia: vt quidam perhibent: a qua Venus ex Iove nata sit..It is not surprising that, with his interest in classical learning and the lack of a good English model, Elyot turned to the continental Calepine. However, as Elyot himself admitted some of the faults of the <+#>Dictionary<-#> probably derived from, ‘to moche trust had in Calepine’, and, it may be assumed not enough attention paid to the English idiom. In 1542 Thomas Berthelet printed another edition of Elyot’s dictionary which amended many of these previous faults and was in the words of Elyot, full of words ‘neuer of any man (that I can here of) declared and sette forthe in englyshe’. More importantly is the spirit in which Elyot wrote, that of the true Renaissance champion, when he said, ‘In this fourme haue I fynyshed this worke, to the glorye of almyghty god, and the no lyttell profyte (I truste) of all englyshemen. which are and shall be desyrous of doctrine…’ ‘Footnote’Proem addressed to Henry VIII in <+#>Bibliotheca Eliotae: Eliotis Librarie. . Elyot’s efforts were made in the hope that his dictionary would give as many people as possible access to the knowledge already available to scholars, by way of the revival of learning: this is a feeling explicitly stated in claims such as ‘I haue not omytted fables and inuentions of paynymes, for the more easy understandyng of poetes.’ (Footnote)Ibid (Proem). In this sense Elyot’s dictionary truly reflected the spirit of his era. His method of augmentation for the 1542 edition was largely dependent on the works of other contemporary compilers such as Budaeus, a French Humanist, also a Classical scholar of the Renaissance. For example Elyot’s inclusion of ‘the auncient coymes, weyghtes, and measures,’ is undoubtedly taken from Budaeus’ <+#>De asse<-#> of 1514. He was also indebted to another contemporary Robert Stephanus (1503-59). He drew particularly on the Frenchman’s Dictionarium, seu Latinae linguae thesaurus<-#> (1532, 1543, 1573), and Dictionarium Latino-Gallicum<-#> (1538, 1546, 1552), a Latin-French dictionary, which in itself owed much to Calepine, and Budaeus’ Annotationes in quattuor et viginti Pandectarum libros<-#> (1508). From the Dictionarium<-#> it is likely that Elyot took the idea of a new line for every new illustration, something that made the edition much clearer. As well as structurally, he also drew on Stephanus for illustrations themselves and for many Latin terms. So we can see that Elyot himself recognised his faults as a lexicographer and set about amending them in his own lifetime. He selected what he needed from the Calepine and supported it with the works of contemporary writers: the Dictionary<-#> of 1542 was a marked improvement on that of 1538, and clearly anticipated and dealt with contemporary needs which arose from the ‘revival of learning’ during the Renaissance. In the years following Elyot’s death Berthelet persuaded the academic Thomas Cooper, (1517?-1594), to assume editorship of his dictionary. Thus in 1548 Berthelet published the revised Bibliotheca Eliotae<-#>. At this stage in the history of lexicography, any work, however diligently researched was bound to be flawed purely because of the sheer lack of precedent. For this reason Cooper was reluctant to take on the task. Finally though, he was persuaded to take on the revision of the dictionary ‘to render a service to the youth of England and thereby contribute to the welfare of his country.’ (Footnote)Starnes p.69 (Starnes). The result was one which inspired many other English lexicographers, even Cooper himself who published his own Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae<-#> in 1565. In itself this relied heavily on the Bibliotheca Eliotae<-#> and remained the definitive work for the next thirty years. In the years between the Elyot-Cooper dictionaries and Johnson’s the gap was bridged by ‘hard word’ dictionaries. In themselves these were not remarkable except that they set the intellectual ball rolling towards the goal of the comprehensive, all English dictionaries that were first attempted with effect by Johnson. This is the next work we shall examine because it is the next radical development in the history of lexicography. Let us look now at the Restoration during which Samuel Johnson wrote his dictionary to see what contemporary issues influenced his compilation. Just after the death of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, England was a place characterised by a search for stability and this meant a new phase in lexicography too. Prior to this, as early as 1582, Richard Mulcaster had anticipated the deficiencies in English lexicography that would be felt in the years to follow, when he said; It were a thing verie praiseworthie in my opinion, and no lesse profitable than praise worthie, if som one well learned and as laborious a man, wold gather all the words which we use in our English tung, whether naturall or incorporate, out of all professions, as well learned as not, into one dictionarie, and besides the right writing, which is incident to the alphabete, wold open unto us therein both their naturall force and their proper use.<:F (Footnote)Baugh & Cable p.226In the years following advances were made in this direction, for example, John Bullokar’s English Expositor<-#> was published 1616; in 1623 Henry Cockeram’s English Dictionarie: or, an Interpreter of Hard English Words<-#>; in 1658 Philips’ New World of Words<-#>: all of these made some headway towards Mulcaster’s ideal, but all were works that dealt primarily with ‘hard words’: They failed to standardise the most common words in use. Moreover it was apparent that ‘hard word’ dictionaries were not as sophisticated as the earlier bilingual dictionaries, and merely opened the first door to some of the secrets of Academia to ‘unskilfull persons’ (Footnote)Cawdrey <+#>A Table Alphabeticall<-#><+#><-#><+#><-#> 1604<+#><-#> Over one hundred and fifty years on this, for Johnson, was still the main area of concern in English orthography. Even Nathaniel Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary<-#> of 1721, which dominated the field up until Johnson, was no match for any contemporary continental work, and in this respect England still fell along way short of the mark. The Academies of France and Italy were institutions that triggered a great deal of debate in the period. Whether or not England should imitate them was an issue over which scholars were divided. Many of Johnson’s near contemporaries, such as Swift, supported the cause, fearing that without some kind of governmental reign on the language, ‘Such as Chaucer is, Dryden shall be’. Johnson however, did not believe that an Academy was the only means of stabilising the language; If an academy should be established for the cultivation of our stile, which I, who can never wish to see dependence multiplied, hope the spirit of English liberty will hinder or destroy, let them, instead of compiling grammars and dictionaries, endeavour, …to stop the licence of translatours, whose idleness and ignorance, if it be suffered to procede, will reduce us to babble a dialect of France.<:F @Footnote@Johnson <+”>Preface<-”><+”><-”> He was not alone in this opinion,; others such as Joseph Priestly agreed with him, evidence of which can be found in his Grammar<-#> (1761), which states; I think it not only insuitable to the genius of a free nation, but in itself ill calculated to reform and fix a language. We need make no doubt but that the best forms of speech will, in time, establish themselves by their own superior excellence This opinion tied up with another question that Johnson was particularly concerned with; whether a dictionary should be prescriptive or descriptive. On this Johnson differed not only from a number of his contemporaries but from his predecessors too. Unlike Renaissance lexicographers, Johnson worked in an era where a certain amount of ground work had already been done in establishing an English vernacular: it was now a question of standardising that vernacular. Evidence of this belief is found in the preface to his dictionary where he said; When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledge authority. He believed that it would be futile to try and alter linguistic inconsistencies wrought over hundreds of years by a variety of different influences. For example, dialectal differences meant that; every penman endeavoured to express, as he could, the sounds which he was accustomed to pronounce or to receive, ….The powers of the letters, when they were applied to a new language, must have been vague and unsettled, and therefore different hands would exhibit the same sound by different combinations.<:F @Footnote@Johnson <+”>Preface<-”><+”><-”> > Instead, the spirit in which Johnson wrote was as a man who recognised the flaws in his vernacular but was realistic enough to see that wide scale linguistic reform, such as had been attempted during the sixteenth century by the likes of Smith, Hart or Bullokar, was impractical and overly ambitious. > we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life…with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who…shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, …to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength. Thus Johnson made the best of a bad situation, so to speak. ‘It has been asserted,’ he said, ‘that for the law to be “>known<-”>, is of more importance than to be “>right<-”>. Change,…. is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.’<:F @Footnote@Ibid Moreover, he recognised how hard the battle would be to try and keep up with the corruptions of oral utterance, or copy that which every variation of time or place makes different from itself, and imitate those changes, which will again be changed, while imitation is employed in observing them.<:F @Footnote@Johnson <+”>Preface<-”><+”><-”> How then did Johnson go about compiling his dictionary? We already know that he was aiming for some level of standardisation but that he also wanted his dictionary to be as useful as possible. For this reason we see that he was ‘often obliged to sacrifice uniformity to custom;’; for example inconsistencies that existed between words such as length and long were inconsistent derivatives of the sort that ‘to change all would be too much, and to change one is nothing.’<:F @Footnote@Ibid In his plan for the dictionary in 1747 he stresses his aim is to preserve the purity of the language by drawing on ‘polite authors’. He is faithful to this plan when compiling his dictionary, and outside a necessary dependence on existing dictionaries, these authors are his main source of material. For example, an entry such as ‘<+”>hence<-”>’ is included despite it being ‘vitious’, because it ‘crept into use even among good authors,’. For his material Johnson looks back to authors of antiquity, having ‘fixed Sidney’s work for the boundary, beyond which I make few excursions.’ Writing of this period is what he considers to be ‘the wells of English undefiled,’, and every supporting quotation ‘contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language .’ So essential to his work are these quotations that he regards them as definitive in themselves; ‘when it happened that any authour gave a definition of a term, or such an explanation as is equivalent to a definition, I have placed his authority as a supplement to my own,’. Something else that characterises Johnson’s dictionary is his personal judgement throughout the text. For example although he gives little credit to modern authors, he occasionally patronises chosen friends, such as Pope in the entry under ‘<+”>beer<-”>’; ‘Flow, Welsted! flow, like thine inspirer, beer’. When he does use contemporary authors it gives the modern reader insight into England during the Restoration, for example the entry under ‘”>pester<-”>’ reads thus; ‘A multitude of writers daily pester the world with their insufferable stuff. (Dryden)’ He also includes some words which, although used by only one author, he considers to be worthy of common usage, such as ‘<+”>pictorial<-”>’; …A word not adopted by other writers, but elegant and useful.’ In this sense we can see that the language that Johnson dealt with was one which he considered to be open to judgement, a judgement exerted by the lexicographer often in keeping with his taste in literature. During the Renaissance lexicographers were not so much exercising their taste as trying desperately to make some sense of the language for there “>to be<-”> a vernacular about which later linguists could make choices. In other areas too, we see a personal, even human element to his work. Given that it was his aim to faithfully record the language, it stood to reason that there would be areas of it with which he would be unfamiliar, such as technical terms or rural colloquialisms. Often he openly admitted defeat, in the case of ‘”>etch<-”>’, for example, which he simply explains as ‘A country word, of which I know not the meaning.’ In this respect we see the nature of his approach; to do his best even in areas where he was not very well informed. Moreover it is a revealing comment about the experimental nature of the period. This applies too, to scientific terms. In his illustration of these we clearly feel Johnson’s presence since, rather than omit them, he defines them in a ‘language’ he feels at home with. For example, under ‘<+”>attraction<-”>’, as well as giving the scientific nature of the word, he seems more interested in it for its metaphorical sense; ‘”Feel darts and charms, attracts and flames,/And woe contract in their names.”‘. This of course is in keeping with his bias as a writer himself and part of the result that Johnson’s dictionary was a one man effort and thus liable to bias. Johnson’s dictionary is both a good reflection of its era and its originator. It is significant as an example of contemporary lexicography and as an historical document of the period. It filled a necessary void in the field but in a way that was personal to Johnson. His own criticisms of the vernacular and of himself as an orthographer are audible throughout the text, and, although he is quite obviously biased towards literature in his search for authority, this makes for a very personal work. Far from being a hindrance to the modern reader trying to get a sense of eighteenth century language it gives us a realistic, practical view of the environment in which Johnson worked. In itself this is surely a reliable, if a little biased, account of contemporary fee lings toward the vernacular. I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth;….When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well.<:F @Footnote@Johnson <+”>Preface<-”><+”><-”> In the years to follow the prevailing opinion towards what a dictionary should be altered. It is helpful to examine this attitude to see the motivation behind the Oxford English Dictionary. Johnson’s dictionary remained dominant. Chiefly he had looked back to the past to harness a linguistic model for the future. However Johnson had been concerned with etymology only to the extent that he distinguished between Germanic and Latin sources. Later lexicographers were more interested in the history of the language for its own sake to try and see how the vernacular had progressed. The period leading up to the publication of the OED was characterised by this desire to trace the language back to its roots. In the late Eighteenth century the emphasis shifted to the spoken word, in contrast to Johnson who had been concerned chiefly with the written language and had paid little attention to areas such as pronunciation or dialect. In 1775 Richardson’s dictionary worked with these new concerns in mind, hoping to explain the connection between words by way of etymology. His dictionary was more radical and less elitist than Johnson’s, in the sense that it dealt with a broader range of words and was thus more comprehensive. In many respects it was the for runner for the OED. Certainly they both tried to tackle many of the same deficiencies that were becoming so evident in lexicography; aspects such as the lack of etymological knowledge. In the latter half of the Eighteenth and the first half of the Nineteenth century several important events influenced the eventual compilation of the OED. In 1783 Sir William Jones discovered the link between Sanskrit, a language of ancient India, and Latin which completed the Indo-European family of languages. Alterations which had been wrought over the ages rendered languages seemingly disparate but as it transpired the Indo-European group of languages were all linked. Looking at this table for the verb ‘to be’ the line of derivation is self evident; Old English<-”> <+”> Gothic Latin Greek Sanskrit<-”> eom (am) im sum eimi asmi eart (art) is es ei asi is (is) ist est esti asti sindon (are) sijum sumus esmen smas sindon (are) sijup estis este stha sindon (are) sind sunt eisi santi This link enabled linguists to establish rules applying to sound changes which assisted research in etymology. Without this discovery the OED would lack much of the information it provided on the history of the vernacular, which in turn made it an invaluable aid to research in the language. In 1822 the philologist Jacob Grimm established a set of rules that accounted for the correspondences between some Germanic consonants and other languages in the Indo-European family. For example the letter ‘p’ in Latin and Greek became the letter ‘f’ in the Germanic languages. Thus instead of a disparity between the Latin ‘piscus’ and the English ‘fish’ it became apparent that the two words were of the same origin. Again ‘Grimm’s Law’ was an essential discovery on the path towards the level of etymological knowledge that facilitated the compilation of the OED. Finally the establishment of the Philological Society of London in 1842, represented the spirit of these changes. In 1857 at a meeting of the society a committee was established to collect all the words not already documented in a dictionary with a view to publishing a supplement to existing dictionaries. One of the members, Dean Trench, already renowned for his works on the language, read a paper to the Society “On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries”, a paper which set out the historical principles with which a dictionary should concord, viz. the recording of every word occurring in literature since the year 1000 with its etymology. Like Johnson before him, the editor A H Murray attributed primary authority to ‘all the great English writers of all ages’. It was in this environment that the OED was born. However, although still the definitive British dictionary and an immeasurable improvement on the individual publications of the past, the OED is not critically unassailable. For example, without the popularised interest in the history of the language, it seem unlikely that the thousands of volunteers that researched the dictionary would have done so. Although this was an essential part of its being, it obviously threw the doors open to human inaccuracies. It is not unlikely that words were omitted purely because they were overlooked or even due to a personal preference in texts researched. In fact many modern criticisms of the OED are over its dubious policy of lemmatisation: who decided, and how what would or would not be included? Since it would evidently be both impossible and misleading to include “>every<-”> word ever written, there had to be some process of selection. Again, as with Johnson, preference was given to established authors when looking for textual evidence of the existence of words. For example, as Schafer argues, Shakespeare is probably over represented because of his popularity, and while his popularity may be a good gauge of his ability it can be misleading when it comes to documenting the history of the language. Schafer proves this when he compares the documentation of Shakespeare with that of his contemporary Nash. A broader criticism is that the Elizabethan period as a whole is over represented. On a different note but still the same issue, there seems to have been inconsistencies in the policy of lemmatisation when it came to categories of words such as proper names and malapropisms. For instance, although England and Lapland were included, France and Germany were not. This, it has been suggested, was possibly due to the method of compilation by volunteers. Moreover the trend for intellectual literature that derived its humour from the ridicule of the ignorant in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in particular, threw up countless malapropisms; a trend in humour epitomised by Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals<-#> of 1775. The policy of inclusion of such fashionable words was erratic and apparently without rules. It is clear then that while the OED was a pioneering work it still reflected both the technical inadequacies of the era, for example the need for a computerised system of compilation, and the personal prejudices of its editors, for example in the glaring bias towards literature for its source material. Since its first publication many of the ‘flaws’ have been remedied. As technology advances of course it will be possible to eradicate all the human errors previously unavoidable. Nevertheless, as is true of all the dictionaries examined, there will never be a omniscient judge of what is or is not acceptable in language simply because of the fickle nature of ‘opinion’, and the unavoidable metamorphoses of speech through time. The rapid alterations in government, fashion, and any other nominal aspect of society, will render it impossible for any power to create fixed boundaries for something as free spirited as language. Language is the vehicle through which society registers change and consequently adapts to suit these changes. The very fact that the OED now lists entries such as ‘yuppie’, ‘Mexican wave’ or even ‘AIDS’, is not only evidence of the changing face of language, but, perhaps more importantly, the changing face of society, ‘embalmed’ forever by the diction ary.

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