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Johnson's 'Preface' to the English Dictionary

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All things in this world are continually in a state of transformation. Language, like the rest of the things in this universe, adheres to this broad-spectrum notion. Johnson’s work tries to adjudicate the high regard for a written language among the various types of English that would boast of a fixed, acceptable form and a complete set of conclusions. He had an unreasonable admiration for his communal associates. He endeavors to code the English language in his well-known dictionary. He opts for the upper- and middle- class usage as a means to achieve his objective. In many occasions, Johnson had pronounced against the lower-class oral language. Contrary to this, he favored the written and oral languages of the prestigious social groups in the society.

In the wake of things, the author decides to ‘correct’ this anomaly. This is substantiated by his statement, ‘I have labored to improve our language to grammatical clarity and to free it from immoral idioms, colloquial barbarism and crooked combinations” (Woolf 2005). Through this statement, he asserted that there existed certain standards of accuracy in the English language that needed to be adhered to by others. Johnson’s ‘preface’ to the English Dictionary intends to alleviate the good judgment of linguistic crisis. He achieves this through the provision of a structure that illustrates the language and points of suggestions that attempt to resolve the problems associated with meanings and grammar. In addition, the author’s undertaking pays a lot of attention to the genuine utilization of the language as much as it was accomplished by the engagement of a diminutive section of speakers (Woolf 2005).

The author’s peculiarity brings to mind more than the strangeness connected to intellection. In his work, Johnson is determined to stabilize the language and make it acceptable to the whole society. He intends to bring changes in the pronunciation and usage of the language rather than to compel unyielding regulations, similar to those of the continental academies, on the society. This dictionary makes clear the various meanings and understanding of words through close evaluation of the use of quotations from authoritative and renowned authors. The diversity of the dictionary reflects on the vast reading and knowledge that Johnson acquired in matters regarding quotations. This dictionary was written down with the assistance of several amanuenses.

From the beginning, Johnson’s Dictionary brings out the necessity to view the theme and intentions of this piece of work as captivating. The generations of his audience, prior to his medical diagnosis, would find his work enticing and knowledgeable.  As much as there existed other dictionary makers prior to Johnson, the personality of the lexicographer was efficiently and effectively invented by him. In his cause of action, Johnson reinvented himself as the imminent figure in matters concerned with literature. This is the reason why he is widely renowned in literature records.

The author almost took this ‘lexicographer’ invention as a general standard of linguistics. He proposed that this change in linguistics led to technical words assuming a metaphorical sense. He writes in his preface that, “The inventive sense of words is frequently driven out of use by their metaphorical acceptations, yet must be inserted for the sake of a regular origination”. Furthermore, he states that, “I know not whether ardour is used for material heat, or whether flagrant in English ever signifies the same with the burning”. In this case, the author highlights the, “…primitive ideas of these words” (Woolf 2005).

By contrast, Johnson transforms the scientific connotation to the most important and natural one. He then demotes the psychological significance to secondary category through the numbering system he employed. However, if the entire arch of definitions, operating from ardent, through ardently, to the ultimate ardour is analysed, it can be viewed clearly that the move was not only from a technical to a figurative one but, involved other several steps. These steps included: the move from the philosophical and natural aspect to the imaginary and literary one.

The focal point of Johnson’s dictionary, as highlighted in the lifestyle he had, lies in his works and readings. He relates his works with the writings of other authors such as Shakespeare, where he obtains illustrations. These illustrations are not only for words but also, the different worlds in which they lived in.  Johnson dwelled in unearthing the original intention to a novel one. This was to make him significant as he discovered the words and meanings that matched his thoughts. The author’s readings sought to relate the appropriate quotations to subsequently correct meanings. The recognition of him as of unsound mind was due to the discovery that his work, in whichever form, would oftenly be incomplete.

Johnson realized the weaknesses in his work as well as prior works with regard to dictionary writing. He states that, “No dictionary of a living tongue can ever be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling way”. This further highlights that as much as the dictionary he had written was intended to bring changes to the English language, it was liable to corrections. He goes on to assert that, “A whole life cannot be spent on syntax and etymology” (Woolf 2005). Johnson’s eye opener, in the end, brings out the notion of a poet predestined to augment a lexicographer rather than a linguist who is incompetent in putting words correctly. His claim that, “even a whole life would not be sufficient” further brings out the picture of a patronized poet who suddenly discovers that he is a contemporary author.  Just like an individual frantically tries to run away from something, Johnson realizes that all he could do was to throw himself to anything that awaited him in the course of attaining his objective. This gave him the motivation to continue with his intentions though he faced constant evolution of the language.

Indeed, despite the fact that Johnson’s original arrangement of the English dictionary was filled with authoritarian sentiments, demonstrating that he was resolute to set English in the right path once and for all, through the procedure of penning down the mighty book, he became much more up dated in his understanding of the language. Whereas it was, with no doubt, that his personal vision was to see his associate Englishmen write and speak in the approved manner, the lessons obtained from his personal dictionary educated him on the variation that existed between stagnation and stability. In addition, his dictionary imparted a deeper sense of understanding about the living, fluid significance of his indigenous language.

The author acknowledged so much in the ‘preface’ to the English Dictionary when he in scripted,”Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design will require that I should fix our language.” He goes on to say that he should, “...put a stop to those alterations, which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition” (Woolf 2005). With this in mind, he confessed that he had flattered for a while. However, he starts to get frightened that he had “…indulged in expectations which neither reason nor experience could justify.” This does not imply that he had given up and fallen in tandem with what, in the contemporary manner of speaking, would be referred to as, “explanatory school”. Johnson remained exceptionally old-fashioned in his perception of language as he put forward in his preface that, “Much less ought our written language to comply with the corruptions of oral utterance, or copy that which every variation of time or place makes different from itself” (Woolf 2005).

Having examined a bit of lexicographical account, Johnson’s evolving intentions for his work concerning the Dictionary, his execution techniques, innovative utilization of quotations, working affiliation with his team of amanuenses, his supposition of  etymology as well as the clarification of several misconceptions, it brings out the urge to question the significance of his contributions to the English language.  Putting in mind the manner in which the author wrote the Dictionary and the changes imparted in the English language, it is clear that Johnson’s contribution was a very essential transformation part of the English language. Samuel Johnson’s ‘preface’ to the English Dictionary has remained an authoritative piece of work in the literal field for a very long period of time since its publication.

The Dictionary set the precedent by which successive dictionaries would be written and moderated. The essence of Johnson’s Dictionary is very conspicuous. To the amateur, intermittent and much-quoted comic descriptions found throughout this piece of work, alongside the extra unconventional characterizations provided, this may display the Dictionary as well as the author as inconsequential. However, through deep analysis of this piece of work, the bona fide merit of such a phenomenal accomplishment and admiration for Johnson, as an intellectual giant, is attained.

The hasty turnover in terminology and the continual amendments in the connotation of words, often openly reveal social changes in the human world. Johnson’s Dictionary seem to confirm this through its assertion that, “As any custom is disused, the words that expressed it must perish with it; as any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice” (Woolf 2005). In conjunction with vocabulary alterations, there exist other minimal changes that are continually in evolution. These changes mainly affect the language’s syntax and sound. Through his work, Johnson has managed to put forward that the English language fluctuates and transforms as time goes by within an individuals lifetime.

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