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Chapter 4 - Johnson and Language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2022

Greg Clingham
Affiliation:
Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

This chapter interrogates critical commonplaces about Johnson’s use of and approaches to language, engaging both with lexicography and the making of Johnson’s celebrated Dictionary (1st ed., 1755), alongside his thinking on language more widely. Johnson’s interest in empiricism and data collection, alongside his deployment of metaphors of slavery and contested power, shed light on his lexicographical method, as does his innovative decision to include letters and letter-writing as a productive source of information, especially of “ordinary” use. His engagement with register and contextual use, with the intricacies of connotation alongside denotation, and with loanwords (and their influence on processes of change and assimilation) document an approach dominated not by rigidity and stasis but by a wide-ranging commitment to a language that, then and now, was marked by its “exuberance of signification.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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