Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Critical Text Project or Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: An Interesting Comparison – Part IV

Continuing with more of our reader’s comments and our responses, and information about Royal Skousen’s Critical Text Project and Webster’s monumental dictionary. 
Left: Railroad Telegrapher began in 1848; Right: Western Union Operators, a service founded in 1851
    We should also keep in mind that Joseph Smith lived before the invention of the electric telegraph, which dates from the early 1850s, which has been described as the nineteenth-century equivalent of the internet; and the Western Union, which built its first transcontinental telegraph in 1861, gave the nation for the first time a vast medium where words could be transmitted in written form, and of course the typewriter, which was invented in the 1860s.
    All of this, of course led to a standardized set of rules for spelling, grammar and speech. In Joseph Smith’s day, or more important, in the days of the translation of the Book of Mormon, these rules did not exist and spelling, grammar and speech were often haphazard and, by today’s standards, often sounding poorly educated.
The first McGuffey reader covering the most simple grammar was not introduced until 1835, when it was used to teach children in school simple, phonetic reading and to compose their own speeches and essays. As late as 1865, it was written: “It is an error, very common to the district between Rotherham and Barnsley, to use wrong verbs, etc. Such expressions as the following are very common: — ‘I were  running,’ ‘We was running,’ ‘We’m running,’ meaning ‘We are running,’ …. The Teacher should point out to his pupils the erroneous expressions of their own locality, and endeavor to eradicate them” (William Pearson, The Self-Help Grammar of the English Language).
    Noah Webster, in 1828, the year before the Book of Mormon was translated, said, “It is not only important, but in a degree necessary, that the people of this country should have an American Dictionary of the English Language … No person in this country will be satisfied with the English definitions of the words congress, senate, and assembly … for although these are words used in England, yet they are applied in that country to express ideas which they do not express in this country.
   Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).”
Speaking of the deficiencies in the English dictionaries of the time, Richard Cheneivix Trench, and English archbishop and poet, wrote in 1850: “Dictionary, then, according to that idea of it which seems to me alone capable of being logically maintained, is an inventory of the language…It is no task of the maker of it to select the good words of a language. If he fancies that it is so, and begins to pick and choose, to leave this and to take that, he will at once go astray.”
    It wasn’t until after the Book of Moron was published that the English “progressive passive” was brought into the English Languagethe passive, one of the two grammatical voices in English, allows speakers to move an object of a sentence in the active voice into the subject position: New: “the ship is being built at Philadephia,” compared to the Old: “the ship is building at Philadelphia.” This form did not become dominant in English grammar in the U.S. until the end of the 19th century; however, this battle between popular estimations of correctness (and ‘good’ English) were nevertheless often at odds with evidence of actual usage, such as in the reluctant decline of the subjunctive after “if” or “unless,” such as “If I were” instead of “If I was” and “unless I be” instead of “unless I am.”
    Nor had numerous words been added to the lexicon by Joseph’s time, but thousands afterward, such as oxygen, protein, nuclear, vaccine, lens, refraction, electron, chromosome, chloroform, caffeine, centigrade, bacteria, chronometer, and claustrophobia, or biology, petrology, morphology, histology, paleaontology, ethnology, entomology, taxonomy, train, engine, reservoir, pulley, combustion, piston, hydraulic, condenser, electricity, telephone, telegraph, lithograph, camera, with old words being given new meanings: vacuum, cylinder, apparatus, pump, syphon, locomotive, factory, and combined words like railway, horsepower, typewriter, cityscape, airplane, etc.
    The point is, when language changed, so did the way it was spoken and words spelled. In the 1820s, without a standard rule for such, many “errors” were made in the writing of the Book of Mormon simply because whoever was writing it down had their own standard of speech, spelling and grammar.
Noah Webster (left), as early as 1789, predicted “a language in North America as different from the future language of England as the modern Dutch, Danish and Swedish are from the German or from one another.” Perhaps this is why we often joke, America and England are two countries separated by a common language.
    In addition, when Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery (school teacher), Emma Smith, Reuben Hale, and some of the Whitmers later, acting as scribes, you had different people writing with different standards of their own regarding grammar and spelling. Naturally, all these differences (called errors by critics) had to be corrected in later years because of the standardizing of grammar and its rules, and most were corrected by Joseph Smith between the first and later secondary printings. Are there still some that have been overlooked, no doubt, and other errors crept in from printer’s changes/corrections, and those of other leaders in the early days of the Churchsuch as James E. Talmadge, who wrote the book "Articles of Faith," edited the 1920 edition and made changes in format including introductory material, double columns, chapter summaries, and new footnotes (he also made minor editing changes in the 1905 and 1911 editions, all as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
    2. A large number of lexical meanings and nonstandard grammatical constructions dating from the 1500s and 1600s.
    While this has been used to downgrade the importance of Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary and word meaning by some, it merely reinforces the importance of it, since Webster used as his basis for the language he developed in his dictionary from hundreds of early and well-known authors, poets, writers, philosophers, etc., dating back to the earliest (I have yet found), the fourteenth century. An example of some of these whom Webster often quoted: 
Geoffreey Chaucer (1343-1400), John Hooker (1527-1601), Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Sir Walter Raleigh (1554), 1618-Martin Fotherby (1560-1620), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Gilbert Sheldon (1598-1677), King Charles I (1600-1649), John Milton (1608-1674), John Dryden (1631-1700), John Locke (1632-1704), Franics Atterbury (1663-1732), John Glanville (1664-1735), Joseph Addison (1672-1719), Alexander Pope 1688-1744), Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Lady Mary Wortley Mountagu (1689-1762), Samuel Pegge (1704-1796), (Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), John Newton (1725-1807), Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), John Keats (1795-1821), Philip James Bailey (1816-1902).
    In fact, about 90% of all his words have at least one and usually several sources of usage by someone considered of great writing skill of the past. All of this points out that the language, or at least the words and their meanings, used by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and hundreds of others over the centuries were the same as what was being used in New England in the 1820s, as verified by Webster’s choice to include those words, and Joseph’s meaning of them. Both men, by the way, grew up about 90 miles apart.
In addition, Webster was the first to separate words into syllables for easy pronunciation, created the first spelling book (left) and did more to promote proper grammar, spelling, syntax, and American English usage that any other man in United States history. By1806, he had already mastered ten languages, and from 1785 onward traveled throughout the colonies lecturing on the English language. In his lifetime he ultimately mastered more than 26 languages, and of him it is written “Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language was produced during the year when the American home, church and school were established upon a Biblical and a patriotic basis. Webster, descended on his mother’s side form Pilgrim Governor, William Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation, made important contributions to an American educational system, which kept the nation upon a Christian Constitutional course for many years.”
    Webster also wrote in his dictionary introduction, “This country must in some future time, be as distinguished by the superiority of her literary improvements, as she is already by the liberality of her civil and ecclesiastical constitutions. Europe is grown old in folly, corruption and tyranny—in that country laws are perverted, manners are licentious, literature is declining and human nature debased. For America in her infancy to adopt the present maxims of the old world, would be to stamp the wrinkles of decrepit age upon the bloom of youth and to plant the seeds of decay in a vigorous constitution.” And on the Christian religion, he added, “in my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.” 
(See the next post, “The Critical Text Project or Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: An Interesting Comparison-Part V,” for more of the reader’s comments and our responses, and information about Royal Skousen’s project and Webster’s monumental dictionary)

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