Don’t Get Wor(l)d(l)y With Me!

For my creative assignment, I decided to work with Samuel Johnson’s “Preface” to The Dictionary of The English Language, with an emphasis for the way in which Johnson write the preface. Instead of channeling his work and writing a version of it that would applicable today (a new preface for the OED or something of that nature), I decided to do a parody of his work. With this thought in mind, I borrowed the tone of Samuel Johnson and reworked him into my character, Dr. Johnson, who is a linguist professor teaching in the 21st century. I decided to do this because I feel as though there are many people in academia who still practice the same sort of exclusionary methods of analyzing literature as Johnson did back in the romantic era. My second character is Mavis, Dr. Johnson’s child. Mavis represents the future generation of people to use the English language (which was Johnson’s target audience when making the Dictionary). In this play, Mavis questions his father’s ideas about the English language and its “proper” usage, bringing up many of the complaints and contradictions we have talked about in class while studying Johnson. I thought this would be a neat dynamic to focus on because Johnson’s preface really doesn’t have a rebuttal. It doesn’t leave any room for someone to respond or challenge his ideas. I thought it would be interesting to explore what the creation of Johnson’s Dictionary would have been like had it been more of a collaborative process. I chose to write this piece as a short play because not only is that my favorite medium to write in, but also because I thought it would be an interesting and creative way to talk about Johnson’s preface which comes across as so flat and one sided, given that plays are so vibrant and interactive.

DON’T GET WOR(L)D(L)Y WITH ME!

By Elle Lammouchi

Time: Present

Characters: Dr. Johnson – an English professor with an emphasis on linguistics

Mavis – Dr. Johnson’s 20th/21st century born child

Setting: Dr. Johnson’s office

At Rise: Dr. Johnson is banging on his laptop. Mavis is reclining in a chair, texting.

Dr. Johnson

God Damnit! The wi-fi is down again.

(shuts laptop)

Mavis

Hashtag, first world problems

Dr. Johnson

What… does… that… even… mean?!

Mavis

It means that you’re like totally privileged. Like, the only reason you can even think about this problem is because you’re not starving to death.

Dr. Johnson

I need a drink.

(starts rummaging for alcohol)

Mavis

First world problem number two….

Dr. Johnson

Why do I spend all this money to send you to an Ivy League school, to study English no less, for you to come home and talk with such lowly, savage, convoluted terms? It’s barbaric. You would think I didn’t bring you up to have a command over the English language.

Mavis

You totes need to calm down.

Dr. Johnson

DO NOT TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!

Mavis

Chillax, yo.

Dr. Johnson

I am not “chill.” In fact, quite the opposite, because my child, whom I have nurtured, formed and molded from the very beginning has thrust themselves headlong into the contemptible brambles of slang. Are you aware how uneducated you sound?

            (pause)

Mavis? MAVIS!

Mavis

             (texting)

 Huh? Oh, my bad, wa’sup?

Dr. Johnson

Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying?

Mavis

            (Mimics the voice over from the Dos Equis commercials)

I hang on your every word, even the prepositions… You are the most literate man in the world… I don’t always use the proper English, but when I do, I prefer Samuel Johnson’s.

Dr. Johnson

What? Why? Why are you using an accent? That’s not even a real accent. Why won’t you just speak proper English? Oh, and by the way, Johnson is outdated. You should be using the Oxford English Dictionary now.

Mavis

No, you’re the one that’s outdated. You’re behind the times.

Dr. Johnson

Don’t get worldly with me!

Mavis

Well, don’t get wordy with me! What’s it matter to you if I use slang with my mates? You think they don’t understand me? Honestly, they probably understand me better. I think you’re just jelly because you don’t know what’s hip and happening. You can’t just bury your nose in books and not look around you. The world is changing. It’s reviving and thriving and being destroyed, being restored all at once. You know, you just…

Dr. Johnson

Mavis, that’s quite enough…

Mavis

No, it’s not enough. It’s never going to be enough. You can’t contain and maintain a language so vibrant and alive. Don’t you see how making everyone speak the same is just another form microaggression? Acting like it’s better for everyone… Who’s it really better for? Why don’t you pop in your wayback machine and go ask Johnson over tea if his little exclusionary process made a safe space for the English language to flourish… Do you want to see what I was tweeting right now? While you were blabbin’ away? You want me to ping you on this post? I could tag you, you know.

Dr. Johnson

I don’t know.

Mavis

You’re right you don’t know and that’s exactly what I’m tweeting here, on social media, for all the world to read.

(reading)

Your voice matters. Speak your own words. #GetLit.

Dr. Johnson

Get lit… as in, literature?

Mavis

Yeah, as in why don’t you get fired up about that?

(exits, defiantly)

Dr. Johnson

            (sits at the desk, astonished, and downs the Bourbon, grimacing; picks up dictionary and sets it aside, opens laptop and begins speaking as typing)

Google: First World Problems.

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Standardizing? Weaponizing?

It seems apparent that in the time of Samuel Johnson, the dictionary, and the standardization thereof was a method to allow foreigners to enter English controlled or English ruled areas, and live among the English, with English customs and courtesies. Johnson’s view of English is very much innocent as well, remarking that “Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas” (3) Again, it becomes apparent, when reading Johnson’s words that his view of the English language, and truly all language, is nothing more than a way of sharing ideas. Sure, Johnson wants to codify the language and has classist issues with slang, but in essence, his dictionary is a way of distilling, or reducing the English language to something simple and clean and designed to unite people in pursuance of scientific discourse.

Contrast this, however, with Macauley’s words, roughly 80 years later. Macauley is planning on using Johnson’s standardized English as a weapon. No longer is English the “instrument of science” and “signs of ideas.” Now, Macauley wants to see languages used and abused. He wants to see native languages taught to the native peoples with the express intent of showing them the errors of their religion. Specifically, Macauley says “It is confined that a language is barren of useful knowledge. We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions.” Here it is shown that the native languages are of no value, and by extension and linked, the “Hindoo” language, as Macauley refers to it, contains a religion that is false. The linking of the language to the religion is quite the attack on non-English languages, when viewed through the European, Christian lens.

What’s more, Macauley goes so far to say that “when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.” This too is a massive attack, and a vicious one at that. The idea that all information in a language can be of less value, simply because the language chosen to convey that information is perceived to be of less value is an incredible assertion.

By Macauley’s time, English is more than a thing to be standardized, more than a way of sharing ideas. By Macauley’s time, English is a weapon. English has been weaponized, rather than standardized.

-Ross Koppel

A World of Words and the Roots of Global Erudition

 

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A genius requires a powerful language that has been enriched by scholars and thinkers alike, to convey his aptitude.

 

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

-Johnson

English education in India was spurred by an overwhelming eclectic inquisitiveness of its people. Like the Japanese in the 19th century, isolationists hitherto, who were in a sense enamored by the daunting naval fleet that  Commodore Perry possessed, and desired to advance themselves in a way that would be deemed most appropriate in relation to the ever so increasing globalization of the world. The life and immense lexicographical project that Samuel Johnson undertook, describes a time of incredible sociopolitical movement, and his work of compiling excerpts from what he considered as the most substantial to language, would inevitably be a key proponent in insinuating at a massive sociopolitical scale, the standardization of English in India.

Samuel Johnson devoted his existence to a language, and gave life to the words he defined. Looking across the entries of his dictionary —in addition to uncovering unique vocabulary of the time— you are able to glimpse upon some of the concerns of an era, as well as read of some of the historical context that was critically relevant to the period. Examining his definition of tory and whig, allows us to better understand through blatantly worded examples, the state of affairs in England. “Tory: One who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state, and the apostolical hierarchy of the church of England, opposed to a Whig. Whig: The name of a faction.” As a fervent tory, through his dictionary, we can constantly see as well as among Johnson’s other works, his devotion to the conservative order of the church and state. At the time, his focus was not on entirely to set forth to standardize a language for an entire world to better comprehend and advance technological achievements, but evidently in India, this would be the case.

Raja Rammohan Ray saw the potential of his people to propel themselves into ingenuity, and embraced the concept of standardizing a more practical and relevant language. Samuel Johnson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Rammohan Ray helped dig the grave of Sanscrit. Macaulay felt strongly about the obsolete presence of Sanscrit.” I believe that the present system tends not to accelerate the progress of truth but to delay the natural death of expiring errors. We are a Board for wasting the public money, for printing books which are of less value than the paper on which they are printed was while it was blank– for giving artificial encouragement to absurd history, absurd metaphysics, absurd physics, absurd theology– for raising up a breed of scholars who find their scholarship an incumbrance and blemish, who live on the public while they are receiving their education, and whose education is so utterly useless to them that, when they have received it, they must either starve or live on the public all the rest of their lives” (Macaulay). Roy also believed that it was necessary to switch and standardize English for the populous of India. “But as the improvement of the native population is the object of the Government, it will consequently promote a more liberal and enlightened system of instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry and anatomy with other useful sciences. ” Macaulay references the transformation of English from Greek, as an advancement, and that Sanskrit would benefit from similar means by adapting a similar evolution of language. “Had our ancestors acted as the Committee of Public Instruction has hitherto noted, had they neglected the language of Thucydides and Plato, and the language of Cicero and Tacitus, had they confined their attention to the old dialects of our own island, had they printed nothing and taught nothing at the universities but chronicles in Anglo-Saxon and romances in Norman French, –would England ever have been what she now is? What the Greek and Latin were to the contemporaries of More and Ascham, our tongue is to the people of India. The literature of England is now more valuable than that of classical antiquity.” (Macaulay).

Throughout my life, as a student of various subjects, and as a barista for the tech-company Yahoo, I have encountered numerous examples of sheer intellect of people who have come from India. Many of which, possess an insatiable hunger of knowledge, which is both inspiring and admirable at once. I now know through the writings of Macaulay and Roy, of the beginnings of such a prevailing display of intelligence. Without the introduction of English to the people of India, there ingenuity evidently be present, but perhaps not in a manner that would be proudly shared to us. Rammohan Roy that his people were incredibly capable and his last words to William Pitt entail a sense of desperation to standardize a more cohesive language, that was spurred forth by the efforts of Johnson and the powerful writers before him. “In representing this subject to your Lordship I conceive myself discharging a solemn duty which I owe to my countrymen and also to that enlightened Soverign and Legislature which have extended their benevolent cares to this distant land actuated by a desire to improve its inhabitants and I therefore humbly trust you will excuse the liberty I have taken in thus expressing my sentiments to your Lordship” (Roy). I conclude my blog post with an excerpt from Macaulay that explains and sums my beliefs and points sufficiently.

 We know that foreigners of all nations do learn our language sufficiently to have access to all the most abstruse knowledge which it contains sufficiently to relish even the more delicate graces of our most idiomatic writers. There are in this very town natives who are quite competent to discuss political or scientific questions with fluency and precision in the English language. Indeed it is unusual to find, even in the literary circles of the Continent, any foreigner who can express himself in English with so much facility and correctness as we find in many Hindoos. Nobody, I suppose, will contend that English is so difficult to a Hindoo as Greek to an Englishman. Yet an intelligent English youth, in a much smaller number of years than our unfortunate pupils pass at the Sanscrit College, becomes able to read, to enjoy, and even to imitate not unhappily the compositions of the best Greek authors. Less than half the time which enables an English youth to read Herodotus and Sophocles ought to enable a Hindoo to read Hume and Milton.

-Macaulay

 

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Spelling bees are a whole lot more entertaining, likely in part by Raja Rammohan Roy. You’ve allowed for the youth of an entire nation to rise intellectually to global prominence. Thanks Roy.

 

Sincerely,

Thomas Pham

 

Hierarchy in English

The way the English dictionary came about is really interesting. Reading the importance of the dictionary through Johnson, Macaulay, and Ray’s readings displays the history of the English words.

I really appreciated the video because it gave a short summary of the English language and how it has evolved overtime with discoveries of new words. When seeing the video it made me wonder whether the dictionary was truly created as a resource for spelling and definitions, or if it was created to establish English as a hierarchy among other languages and cultures. The way the English language was created was by taking words from other languages and making it their own. The English language is a great example of colonialism. They looked down upon other languages and made it to themselves to improve their language by turning some of their words to English, because after all anything English is automatically proven to be better, or so they thought.

Johnson mentions that many English words are derived from French and Latin, yet he deems English superior when it comes to other languages when it is not even its on language. He mentions in the preface that words in English are not made up, but are rather taken from other words and “improved” because”the former was thought inadequate” (6). Johnson believed the English language was better than every other language, yet ironically many words were derived from other languages.

-Natalia Alvarado

English literature’s relevance exemplified through Shakespeare

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary prescribes concrete definitions to the English words in order to annul any attachments that may eliminate their actually meanings.  At the time Johnson took serious measures to improve the English language and the veneration associated with literacy.  Even after his nine years of compilations of definitions, he still improved upon his work, and newer editions were published later in his lifetime.   In comparison the French Dictionnarre made use of forty scholars in the span of fifty-five years to publish their own edition.
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary served to educate people on the English language as a means to avoid the “pedantry” of older tradition learning, in order to evoke a flexibility with English terminology rather than an authoritative way of thinking.  Much of the dictionaries beforehand not only lacked organization, but also were not thoroughly researched for the difficult words they had written about.  Not only were his definitions less authoritative, they were witty, especially when he uses the term “oats” to define a grain given to horses, and in Scotland means to “support the people.”
The status of English transitioned in India, especially with the appropriation of English literature.  Macaulay argues in the Minute English language encourages an academia and intellectual thinking that creates “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, and in intellect.”  Even Roy was convinced English education aided in independence and a separation of their servile reputation due to colonialism.  The status of English language was accounted for as a serious education, like the era before Samuel’s dictionary, but the incorporation of literature such as
Shakespeare, who indeed writes eloquently, but also includes puns that make fun of the english language as well and manipulates it in a way to serve his jokes.  Like Macaulay and Ray claim, English literature, exemplified through Shakespeare, reveals how his literature and his interpretation of the English language has such a cultural relevance, contains a universal appeal and can be applicable to any ethnic individual.  Shakespeare’s universality, in this case pertaining to Indian culture, can be effective in infusing their values and relating the text to the conditions of India and the Indian people.  As I have learned from taking my Shakespeare course, I agree with Macaulay that learning English literature, i.e. Shakespeare in this sense, is best suited in learning it from the English language, since Shakespeare’s terminology can not be applicable the same way in any other language besides English.  Like Johnson, Shakespeare made fun of the English language and developed his own names and words in order to make sense with his rhyme scheme, etc.  Although Roy and Macaulay take western curriculum seriously, the English language still proves beneficial in their culture, since  they aim to represent academia in their culture and stress the impact it has made in the advancements of their education.
-Jessica Mijares

The English Language

The status of the English Language changed dramatically from Samuel Johnsons Dictionary (1755) to Macaulay’s and Ray’s call for English education in India. The value and English pride did not drastically change though. In Maculays minute he says “All parties seem to be agreed on one point, that the dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them.  It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them.”, demonstrating that he still prides English as being superior intellectually. In Samuel Johnsons Dictionary though, Johnson does not necessarily pride English in the classical way unlike Macualay. Johnson utilized his book to attempt to reform the English language but instead put his personality onto the pages and realized that the English Language is constantly evolving. As seen in the video, the English language is constantly adapting so there is no way the language several years later would be exactly the same. The pride of the English Language did evolve to an enormity that was felt everywhere someone of the English Language went. In Maculays call for India to be taught in English he clearly is stating how grand the language is but when Johnson wrote the Dictionary, he himself may have even made up some of his own words in the book poking fun at the erratic language. So the respect of the language is what actually changed besides the literal evolution of the language over the years.  The actual style of languge spoken was also dramatically changed as well. In Johnsons preface to his dictionary he uses words that are not common or used in Maculay’s piece such as when Johnson states “I have, notwithstanding the discouragement, attempted a dictionary of the English Language, which, while it was employed in cultivation of every species of Literature, has itself been hitherto neglected…” . The language of Johnson had a feel more of wanting to sound sophisticated and important when it actually was not as well as also being hard to understand due to the chosen spelling of some of the words such as ‘notwithstanding’ .

Rude much?

Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language is one of the most powerful dictionaries about the English language. What Johnson realized was that the English language is “copious without order”.  He wanted to fix the “improprieties and absurdities”. It seems as if he sees the English language as something that can be fixed and changed, but he realized that it cannot be done. Language is malleable. It has changed and will continue to change through time. Johnson clearly stated his dislike in the way the English language takes bits and pieces from other languages. He called it “weakly followed”. He wanted to ‘get rid of’ what other languages has brought into the English language. Even before Dictionary, there was a sense for standardization of the English language. The Royal Society had a committee that wanted to improve the English language. That was the start and end to their egocentric society.

In Macaulay’s and Ray’s call for English language in India, they stated that the way the Indian natives talked, “contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude”. In lecture, we discussed that Macaulay was not trying to get rid of the Sanscrit or Arabic language but rather trying to push the native people into learning in that language. Macaulay believed that Sanskrit and Arabic was useful in providing education and knowledge. Forcing them to learn in Sanscrit or Arabic leads to oppression. He has only read the translated versions of books and scripts. And based on what he read, he believed that it was of importance for them to learn those works. How was he able to put importance on things that were translated into English? It is not an exact translation and the depth that a certain language provides cannot be felt by another.

I feel as if he is contradicting himself. What he wanted to create was “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. By creating a system that pretty much want to wipe out Indian literature and education, it creates a sense of loss; the loss of native language and heritage.

-Naomi Van

Always Stealing Something

The english language is a language that was formed through the “borrowing” of many other languages such as the french and latin language. This made the english language very difficult to follow and understand with its quick development. For this reason Samuel Johnson created the “Dictionary of the English Language” in which he wanted to make the language proper and educated. Raja Rammohan Ray states in his”Letter to His Excellency the Right Hon’ble William Pit, Lord Amherst” that this proper english language should be shared with everyone, “The present Ruler of India, coming from a distance of many thousand miles to govern a people whose language, literature, manner, customs, and ideas are almost entirely new and strange to them, cannot easily becomes so intimately acquainted with their real circumstances, as the native of the country are themselves. We would, therefore, be guilty of a gross dereliction of duty to ourselves, and afford our Rulers just ground of complaint at our apathy, did we omit on occasions of importance like the present to supply them with such calculated to be beneficial to the country, and thus second by our local knowledge and experience their declared benevolent intentions for its improvement. ” This is a very interesting statement declared by Ray, it made me realize that the corruption and stealing never ends. The english language “borrowed” from other languages such as the Indian language yet they continue to feel as though they are superior and need to “help” other countries who do not posses their “knowledge”. In this statement Ray is stating that it would be wrong of them not to educate the Indian people of the english language. As we have seen in previous text this is the constant thought many english people possessed it is evident through history and literature. Not only have we seen this in the use of religion to justify their actions of colonialism, the English also seem to constantly find new ways to justify their actions towards other countries such as the stealing of other languages and making it their own.

-Alondra Morales Aguilar

The History of the English Language

For next Friday (3/3), students will write a blog post on the following question prompt:

How has the status of the English changed, if at all, from the time of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) to Macaulay’s and Ray’s call for English language education in India?  Please keep your post focused on ONE key idea supported by specific textual evidence from these author’s writings.  For a general history of English dictionary writing, see the informative yet funny video below.

Please categorize your post under “Standardizing English” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  The post is due by Friday (3/3) 1pm, but students have the option to revise it until 6pm that day.  And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.  Warning: blank or filler “placeholder” posts submitted after the deadline will not receive a grade!