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Noah Webster Essay

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Noah Webster

Noah Webster, familiar to most Americans as the writer of the first American dictionary, worked as a schoolteacher in the late eighteenth century. As he taught, he came to realize that there were some major problems with the way English was taught in the American schools. The United States of America had recently declared its independence from England, and was struggling to form its own identity. The schools were still using textbooks from England, and these books varied in consistency when it came to spelling, pronunciation and grammar (Short Summary Website). As a teacher, and as a patriot, Webster felt a need for an American textbook. He wanted consistency and he wanted it to reflect that there was an American
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Although it did not cover a great deal, it laid the foundation for his later dictionaries. It included distinctly American spellings of words and pronunciations. It also supported Webster's belief in democracy. By seeking to standardize the learning of language in American classrooms, he was putting into play a belief that the semantics of a language play a key role in a person's power to create a system of ideas, thus creating a more educated citizen able to participate in a democratic system (Noah Webster's American Dictionary Website).
This book was revolutionary not only because it sought to "Americanize" the classroom, but because of the tone of the book. Most previous grammars were prescriptive, meaning that they informed the student how the words should be spoken or spelled. The "Blue-Backed Speller," on the other hand, was a descriptive work, meaning that it merely showed how words were actually used and pronounced by real speakers of the language (Millward 245).
Although the blue-backed speller was a great success, it merely provided Webster with a paycheck that enabled him to compile what would be his greatest work: a complete dictionary of the English language that was tailored to the speakers of the United States. Webster wanted a dictionary that was not only easy to use, but wished it to follow the descriptive philosophy that he had begun with his speller. As a result, he streamlined the spellings of many words (Brett Website),
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