by Courtney Campbell
Courtney Campbell worked on Johnson’s Dictionary Online while enrolled in LIN 4660 Linguistics and Literature at the University of Central Florida during the Spring 2021 semester.
When first registering for this course, I did not know what we would do besides learning about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. To my delightful surprise, I was a part of converting the 42,000-word Dictionary into an online format.
Truthfully, I had no idea who Samuel Johnson was. Throughout this course, I learned that Samuel Johnson meticulously crafted a two-volume dictionary to tame his native language. Johnson was the first person to publish the first English Dictionary. He thought it would only take three years initially. Before creating this Dictionary, he was a poet. He was a humble poet; he had all but two poems published anonymously.
Johnson’s Dictionary is worth being put online. It provides a more in-depth example of the English language that is not commonly heard today. He references Shakespeare and Homer’s The Odyssey, using their works as examples for the words listed in the Dictionary helps students understand each word’s meaning. During both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Johnson’s Dictionary was the most influential English Dictionary in the world. Many researchers currently use this Dictionary to understand the language of that time period. Before this website, they would have to search through both the first and fourth editions of the Dictionary. They would have to analyze 42,000 words from a heavy book. They were trying to figure out the Saxons and multiple languages the worlds derived from. The website will help researchers further understand, see words in a larger print, and make researching easier. Converting it into an online format will cut their research time down, allowing it to be more accessible.
My fellow classmates and I contributed to this project by analyzing etymologies and person biographies. During the first eight to nine weeks of the course, each student and other team members were assigned letters. We were fortunate enough to have others actively work on this project with us who were not a part of the class. My assigned letter was “P.” We would go into an online version of the Dictionary formulated for this course and another that looked as someone photocopied the original Dictionary. We would go through each word with our letters and compare the original to the online format. If there were differences, we would go into an XML site created for this assignment and make corrections to the etymologies. We would then have weekly discussions to reflect on our progress through our research and point out interesting words we came across. As we approached week ten, we changed gears into deciphering person biographies.
Much like our etymology research, we were assigned letters. I was given the letter “H” and came across multiple mentions of names like Henry and Hector. During our etymology research, we would tag places, people, and languages. Our person biographies were the person’s name tags we put into the online Dictionary. Our primary purpose was to figure out who was a real person and who was a fictional character. Other names I came across were Henrietta Maria and Heliodorus. Heliodorus was a name that stumped me during my research because it was referenced as a biblical character. However, as I furthered my research, it was also the name of a Greek author. This will help researchers as they advance their understanding of the language. In the references created in the original dictionary, people of that time understood who Johnson was referring to. The online format intended for this and future generations of scholars would not understand the differences between the Henry’s mentioned. We also had to distinguish whether the person was listed as an author or mentioned as part of the examples of the words.
The work we did benefited me by helping me create a more detailed schedule. It forced me to manage my time more efficiently. I was taking five courses this semester and had to learn not only how to live through a pandemic but making sure I set enough time to the side to do my research correctly. I gain further knowledge in the English language and words that are not used anymore. I came across a few medical terms I would quiz my friends on. Understood the difference between King Henry II and King Henry IV. I got an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes of creating a helpful website. I have friends who are studying computer programing and was able to share my experience with them. I was able to understand some terminology they referred to.
I would truly be honored to have my excerpts published on the Johnson’s Dictionary Blog. While I do not have a personal page to be linked to it, as a future English teacher, I would love to show my students the work I have done during my final semester of college. I always loved seeing the works of my teachers in multiple fields. I think showing them I was a part of converting an extensive dictionary to an online website will help them see that college just isn’t exams and essays. Creating web pages and participating in group assignments that will help prepare them for multiple career fields. I intend to reference Johnson’s Dictionary to help understand the writings of particular poets. I have noticed that many people do not understand the language styles of authors like Shakespeare or Frost. When describing this course to my peers, they were confused at first, but showing them what I was able to partake in may help clear things up.
This past course helped me understand that I was a procrastinator and helped me correct most of my behavior. While I tend to do very well under pressure, partaking in this course helped me create a better schedule to keep up with assignments while working. This was the first semester in a long time that I took on a full course load. Without this course, I would not have known who Samuel Johnson was or how impactful he was to the English language.