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WORD-FORMATION IN DR. JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE Gabriele Stein 1984 is a red-letter-year for English lexicography. It marks the bicentenary of the death of Dr. Johnson, author of the monumental Dictionary of the English Language.1 Linguists, on the whole, have not yet given the Dictionary the attention it deserves.2 Most of them have concentrated on the definition of individual lexical items.3 Others have tried to evaluate Johnson's achievement as a lexicographer by comparing his work to earlier and later dictionaries.4 His recording of pronunciation has received some attention.5 Much less is known about his theory of language,6 his practice of making usage comments,7 and his etymologies." And such lexicographical issues as the grammar and word-formation in the Dictionary have not yet been discussed in a detailed study. The present study is an investigation into Dr. Johnson's theory of word-formation. It is based on The Plan of a Dictionary9 and the Dictionary itself, its preface10 and its word list. It is hoped that this paper will not only celebrate the author of the Dictionary and thus make a contribution to Johnsonian studies, but also that it might direct scholars' attention to two neglected areas of English historical linguistics: we do not yet have either a detailed history of English word-formation11 or a comprehensive history of English lexicography.12 For Johnson the study of word-formation furthers the understanding of language. This is the reason why he gave it considerable room in his dictionary. He outlines the function of the study of word-formation and his task as a lexicographer as follows in The Plan ofa Dictionary: 66 Gabriele Stein67 When the orthography and pronunciation are adjusted, the etymology or derivation is next to be considered, and the words are to be distinguished according to their different classes, whether simple, as day, light, or compound as day-light; whether primitive, as to act, or derivative, as action, actionable, active, activity. This will much facilitate the attainment of our language, which now stands in our dictionaries as a confused heap of words without dependence, and without relation (pp. 13-14). The rather programmatic statement in the Plan is then more fully developed in the Preface of the Dictionary. In the Preface word-formation is discussed with respect to other fields of language study, that is, it is assigned its place in a system of grammar.. For Johnson the grammar of a language is "the art of using words properly" and it consists of four parts: orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody. In this subdivision he follows the linguistic views commonly held at his time and he admits this very freely: In this division and order of the parts of grammar I follow the common grammarians, without enquiring whether a fitter distribution might not be found. Experience has long shown this method to be so distinct as to obviate confusion and so comprehensive as to prevent any inconvenient omissions. I likewise use the terms already received, and already understood.... Word-formation is a part of etymology. In the Preface the field of etymology is described as that field that ...teaches the deduction of one word from another, and the various modifications by which the sense of the same word is diversified; as horse, horses; I love, I loved. 68Word-Formation The chapter on etymology has seven subchapters: "Of the article," "Of nouns substantives," "Of adjectives," "Of pronouns," "Of the verb," "Of irregular verbs," and lastly " Of derivation." Word-formation is thus treated at the end of the chapter on etymology. It is well known that the preface to a dictionary is usually a very condensed and concise presentation of the author's or editor's views on, and procedures in, the dictionary. It is usually written after the word list has been defined. This will account for the fact that Johnson's outline of his theory of word-formation in the Preface is much less comprehensive than that which is revealed by a close study of the Dictionary itself. And this may also account for the fact that Johnson's definition of etymology is much more elaborate...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 66-112
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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