I learned important dictionary concepts

by Kristal Torres

Kristal Torres wrote this reflection while enrolled in LIN 4660 Linguistics and Literature at the University of Central Florida during the Spring 2021 semester.

Samuel Johnson was an English writer, he wrote poems, plays, essays and much more. Most notably Johnson wrote “A Dictionary of the English Language” and while dictionaries had been written before, none were in comparison to Johnson’s. Etymologies were given along with definitions and quotations from the Elizabethan period up to the time period Johnson himself was in. This is of importance because Johnson’s dictionary gives stabilization to the rules governing the English language. It is mentioned in the proposal for the Johnson’s Dictionary project that “During the 18th and 19th centuries, Johnson’s Dictionary was the most influential English-language dictionary in the world. It was relied upon not just by noted literary authors, such as Hawthorne, Emerson, Dickens, and Austen, but also by the authors of America’s founding documents. Many researchers still use it to determine the meanings of words from this period; it is regularly cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

It is important that Johnson’s Dictionary be online because it is still widely used by scholars, teachers and many other kinds of professions seeking to find precise meanings of words. Without the online edition of Johnson’s Dictionary it becomes more difficult to use then it needs to be. The online edition creates a searchable 1755 and 1773 edition that is easy to use and study. It also serves to provide benefits to researchers, educators and the like for much time to come. Moreover, John Considine in his YouTube video “Lexicography and history” comments that the most important thing he receives out of completing his own lexicographical research is the knowledge of “how deeply language is connected with culture and how deeply peoples understanding of the language that they speak and write and read is connected with their sense of themselves as agents in their own culture.”

It is with pride I am able to say I had the privilege of contributing to Johnson’s online Dictionary. Through research and training from “XML Essential Training” videos and the help of Dr. Young I was able to learn dictionary basics and how to perform XML markups to ensure the words, their definitions and quotations matched exactly how they did in Johnson’s Dictionary. It also allowed me to ensure those who worked on the words previous to me did not forget to mark any persons, places or things and used correct Alphabet Characters. I am now capable of identifying and explaining the functions of different dictionary elements and how to edit XML among other objectives I along with my classmates set out to accomplish during this time in Dr. Young’s classroom.

This project taught me important concepts of the dictionary and what role they play in the dictionary. For instance, guidewords, located at the top of the dictionary pages allow the reader the knowledge of what words will be on the page. It was through this I learned too that during Johnson’s time, the letters I/J and U/V were considered to be the same letter. This is important to acknowledge because it then means the eighteenth-century alphabet differed from the alphabet as we know it today. Another interesting aspect of the dictionary is the abbreviations that follow a word, referred to as a part of speech. This abbreviation is “n.s.” (noun substantive), with the “s” symbol reflecting a long curvy “s” which at the time was a popular alternative shape for the letter “s”. This was done because 18th century readers enjoyed the look of the different “s” shaped letter depending on the writer. Likewise, I learned illustrative quotations and found that Johnson’s Dictionary was the first English dictionary to use quotations from well-known writers to demonstrate the meanings of a word. These illustrative quotations were deemed one of the most valuable aspects of the folio editions.

XML markups, an objective I was set out to learn and did accomplish is another takeaway from this great project. The purpose of XML as explained in the LinkedIn “XML Essential Training” course it to take information and apply structure and meaning to it. There are many advantages to XML to include the open format that allows others to read along, the ability to keep content separate from presentation and it is able to be used by today’s modern browser apps. There are six tags specifically that I fully learned as was able to apply throughout the course. The foreign language tag was used on non-English words in the dictionary’s entries and along with the foreign language tag needed to be an attribute tag this is the language that the word is in. The place name tag is used for places that can be located on Earth on a map as well as fictional places that are supposed to be on Earth such as Olympus, Eden. The <persName> tag is used for all names of individual peoples who can be identified. Finally, the note tag is used for anything requiring a footnote however, this tag was to be used sparingly. Learning XML allowed me to understand what should be included in an XML and how to fix XML’s as well. For example, there were instances when a <foreign> tag was missing, or a placeName tag needed to be added. Other times the mistake was something as simple as the definition either missing or adding a word that was not in the original Johnson Dictionary or a tag such as placeName that did not capitalize the ‘n’.