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Past and Present in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language


Reddick, Allen (2010). Past and Present in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. International Journal of Lexicography, 23(2):207-222.

Abstract

Johnson’s method of incorporating illustrative quotations from previous authors into his Dictionary creates a ‘space of pastness,’ in which some decontextualized authors can be used by Johnson to argue or represent views in the present. The illustrations quoted in the Dictionary are de-historicized; indeed the Dictionary itself is not concerned with a history of language or diachronic development. Yet one must be cautious in assessing and using evidence from the quotations. In the case of John Milton, Johnson adjusts and re-places Milton’s ideological symbolic value, quoting him in rhetorically, usually self-reflexive ways, and reads him, in part, through the eyes and works of Alexander Pope. Finally, it has been shown that in the Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson thematizes the elusiveness of the present and its tragic overtones of regret, failure, and death. The Preface is preoccupied with time and time’s passing.

Johnson’s method of incorporating illustrative quotations from previous authors into his Dictionary creates a ‘space of pastness,’ in which some decontextualized authors can be used by Johnson to argue or represent views in the present. The illustrations quoted in the Dictionary are de-historicized; indeed the Dictionary itself is not concerned with a history of language or diachronic development. Yet one must be cautious in assessing and using evidence from the quotations. In the case of John Milton, Johnson adjusts and re-places Milton’s ideological symbolic value, quoting him in rhetorically, usually self-reflexive ways, and reads him, in part, through the eyes and works of Alexander Pope. Finally, it has been shown that in the Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson thematizes the elusiveness of the present and its tragic overtones of regret, failure, and death. The Preface is preoccupied with time and time’s passing.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:08 Mar 2011 10:04
Last Modified:11 May 2016 07:12
Publisher:Oxford University Press
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/ijl/ecq005

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