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Chapter 11 - Recording the Most Proper and Significant Words

from Eighteenth-Century English Dictionaries: Prescriptivism and Completeness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 September 2020

Sarah Ogilvie
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
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Summary

Early eighteenth-century dictionaries departed from the hard-word tradition to include common words for a wider and expanding audience. Bailey s dictionaries (1721, 1730) provided comprehensive coverage of information of all kinds, not only linguistic, but were found lacking in clarity and lexicographic sophistication. Increasing desire for an authoritative standard for the language prompted Johnson s work on his dictionary of 1755. In this dictionary, he raised the standards of lexicography in regard to definitions (especially multiple ones), phrasal verbs, and other aspects, including the illustration of usage through the use of written authorities; however, he abandoned his hopes and intentions of fixing the language (prescriptivism) in the midst of his work, turning to a more descriptive model of English written usage. The change in method and approach occurred after the failure of his attempts to order literary and other written material he consulted into pre-ordained structures of definition. Concerns for proper speaking and spelling became louder throughout the century, because of the rapidly increasing and increasingly mobile population, as well as the Act of Union of 1707, uniting England and Scotland. Dictionary makers increasingly included guides to pronunciation and spelling in reaction to these concerns, and numerous pronouncing dictionaries appeared from mid-century onwards.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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