Noah Webster Dissertations On The English Language 1789 George

Lists compiled by former Amherst College Librarian Willis Bridegam.  See also the Noah Webster 250th Birthday Exhibition.

Books published by Noah Webster during his lifetime

1.  A grammatical institute of the English language : comprising an easy, concise, and systematic method of education, designed for the use of English schools in America, in three parts : part II, containing a plain and comprehensive grammar, grounded on the true principles and idioms of the language / by Noah Webster, jun.
    Hartford : Printed and sold by Hudson and Goodwin, [1787]

2.  The American magazine.
    New York : Printed by Samuel Loudon, 1787-1788.
   12 v. :  plates, plan ;  23 cm.

3.  Dissertations on the English language: : with notes, historical and critical. : To which is added, by way of appendix, an essay on a reformed mode of spelling, with Dr. Franklin's arguments on that subject. / By Noah Webster, Jun. Esquire ..
    Printed at Boston : for the author, by Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789.
   xv, [2], 18-410 p. ;  20 cm. (8vo)

4.  An American selection of lessons in reading and speaking : calculated to improve the minds and refine the taste of youth : and also to instruct them in geography, history, and politics of the United States : to which are prefixed, rules in elocution, and directions for expressing the principal passions of the mind : being the third part of A grammatical institute of the English language / by Noah Webster.
    Boston : Printed by Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews, 1793, c1791.
   240 p. :  ill. ;  17 cm.

5.  Effects of slavery on morals and industry.
    Hartford, Conn. : Printed by Hudson and Goodwin, 1793.
   56 p.  20 cm.

6.  The prompter ; or, A commentary on common sayings and subjects : which are full of common sense, the best sense in the world ..
    Boston : Thomas and Andrews, 1793.
   96 p. ;  16 cm.

7.  A collection of papers on the subject of bilious fevers, prevalent in the United States for a few years past / compiled by Noah Webster, Jun. ...
    New-York : Printed by Hopkins, Webb, and Co. ..., 1796.
   X, ix, [1], 246 p. ;  22 cm

8.  A collection of papers on the subject of bilious fevers, prevalent in the United States for a few years past / compiled by Noah Webster, Jun. ...
    New-York : Printed by Hopkins, Webb, and Co. ..., 1796.
   x, ix, [1], 246 p. ;  22 cm.

9.  The little reader's assistant : containing I. a number of stories, mostly taken from the history of America, and adorned with cuts : II. Rudiments of English grammar : III. a Federal catechism, being a short and easy explanation of the Constitution of the United States : IV. general principles of government and commerce : V. The farmer's catechizm, [sic] containing plain rules of husbandry : all adapted to the capacities of children / by Noah Webster, jun.
    Printed at Northampton, (Massachusetts) : By William Butler, 1798.
   128 p. :  ill. ;  13 cm. 

 10.  A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases; with the principal phenomena of the physical world, which precede and accompany them, and observations deduced from the facts stated ... By Noah Webster ..
    Hartford : Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1799.
   2 v.  22 cm.

11.  Elements of useful knowledge, vol. I : containing a historical and geographical account of the United States : for the use of schools / by Noah Webster.
    Hartford : Hudson & Goodwin, 1802.
   206 p. ;  17 cm.

12.  Federal Party (Conn.)
 An address to the freemen of Connecticut.
    Hartford : Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1803.
   7 p. ;  22 cm.

13.  A philosophical and practical grammar of the English language / by Noah Webster.
    New Haven : Printed by Oliver Steele & Co. for Brisban & Brannan, 1807.
   250 p. ;  18 cm.

14.  The American spelling book : containing the rudiments of the English language for the use of schools in the United States / by Noah Webster.
    Boston : Printed for John West and Co., 1808.
   168 p. :  ill. ;  16 cm.

15.  The peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, explained and defended.
    [S.l. : s.n.], 1809.
   23 p. ;  21 cm.

16.  History of animals : being the fourth volume of Elements of useful knowledge : for the use of schools and young persons of both sexes / by Noah Webster.
    New-Haven [Conn.] : Published and sold by Howe & DeForest, and Walter & Steele, 1812
   247 p. ;  18 cm. (12mo)

17.  An oration, pronounced before the Knox and Warren branches of the Washington Benevolent Society, at Amherst, on the celebration of the anniversary of the Declaration of independence, July 4, 1814. By Noah Webster, esq.
    Northampton : Printed by William Butler, 1814.
   32 p.  21 cm.

18.  An oration, pronounced before the Knox and Warren branches of the Washington Benevolent Society, at Amherst, on the celebration of the anniversary of the Declaration of independence, July 4, 1814. By Noah Webster, esq.
    Northampton : Printed by William Butler, 1814.
   32 p.  21 cm.

 19.  Letters to a young gentleman commencing his education : to which is subjoined a brief history of the United States / by Noah Webster.
    New Haven : Sold by Howe & Spalding, S. Converse, printer, 1823.
   335 p. ;  25 cm.

20.  History of the United States : to which is prefixed a brief historical account of our [English] ancestors, from the dispersion at Babel, to their migration to America, and of the conquest of South America, by the Spaniards / by Noah Webster. --
    New Haven, Conn. : Durrie & Peck ;   Louisville, Ky. : Wilcox, Dickerman, 1832.
   viii, 9-324 p. :  ill. ;  16 cm.

21.  The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, in the common version. With amendments of the language, by Noah Webster.
    New Haven : Durrie & Peck. Sold by H. Howe, 1833.
   xvi, 907 p.  23 cm.

22.  A manual of useful studies: for the instruction of young persons of both sexes, in families and schools. By Noah Webster, LL. D.
    New Haven : S. Babcock, 1839.
   viii, [9]-248 p.  incl. front., illus., plates.  19 1/2 cm.

23.  A collection of papers on political, literary, and moral subjects / by Noah Webster.
    New York : Webster & Clark, 1843.
   373 p. ;  24 cm.

24.  The pictorial elementary spelling book : being an improvement on The American spelling book / by Noah Webster ; with about one hundred and sixty original illustrations designed and engraved by W.P. Morgan and A. Anderson.
    New York : Published by George F. Cooledge & Brother, [1844]
   168 p., [1] leaf of plates :  ill. ;  20 cm.

Books given by Noah Webster to the Amherst College Library

Adair, James, ca. 1709-1783.  The history of the American Indians; particularly those nations adjoining to the Missisippi [!] East and West Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia…  London: E. and C. Dilly, 1775.

Appianus, of Alexandria.  Historia Romana, Latin and Greek.  [Genevae]: Excudebat Henricus Stephanus, Anno M. D. XCII [1592]

Barton, Benjamin Smith, 1766-1815.  Elements of botany, or, Outlines of the natural history of vegetables: illustrated by thirty plates.  Philadelphia: Printed for the author, 1803.
Berkeley, George, 1685-1753.  Alciphron, or The minute philosopher.  4th ed. New Haven, From Sidney’s Press, for Increase Cooke & Co., 1803

Clarke, Francis L. and William Dunlap, 1766-1839.  The life of the most noble Arthur, Marquis and Earl of Wellington…New York: Printed and published by Van Winkle and Wiley, 1814.

Connecticut.  Acts and laws of the State of Connecticut, in America.  Hartford: Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1805.

Derham, William1657-1735.  Physico-theology: or, A demonstration of the being and attributes of God, from His works of creation…  A new edition; with additional notes.  London: A. Strahan, 1798.

Douglass, William, ca. 1700-1752.  A summary, historical and political, of the first planting, progressive improvements, and present state of the British settlements in North-America.  2 vols.  Boston, New-England, Printed: London, re-printed for: R. Baldwin, 1755. 

Ellicott, Andrew, 1754-1820.  The Journal of Andrew Ellicott.  Philadelphia: Printed by Budd & Bartram, for Thomas Dobson, 1803

Everett, Edward, 1794-1865.  Orations and speeches on various occasions.  1st ed.  Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1836.

Faber, George Stanley, 1773-1854.  A dissertation on the mysteries of the Cabiri: or, The great gods of Phenicia, Samothrace, Egypt, Troas, Greece, Italy, and Crete: being an attempt to deduce the several orgies of Isis, Ceres, Mithras, Bacchus, Rhea, Adonis, and Hecate, from a union of the rites commemorative of the deluge with the adoration of the hosts of heaven.  2 vols.  Oxford: At the University press for the author, and sold by F. and C. Rivington, 1803.

Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.  Political, miscellaneous, and philosophical pieces…  London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1779.

Gillies, John, 1747-1836.  The history of ancient Greece… 4th ed.  London:  Printed by A. Strahan for T. Cadell, Jun., and W. Davies, 1801.

Horsley, Samuel, 1733-1806.  Sermons.  New York:  Printed and sold by T. and J. Swords, 1811.

Junius, Franciscus. 1589-1677.  Etymologicum Anglicanum…  Oxonii: e theatro Sheldoniano, 1743.

Massillon, Jean-Baptiste, 1663-1742.  Sermons.  Complete in two volumes.  Brooklyn:  Printed by T. Kirk, for John Conrad, and Co. Booksellers, Chestnut-Street, Philadelphia, 1803.

Münscher, Wilhelm, 1766-1814.  Elements of dogmatic history; translated…by James Murdock.  New Haven: A. H. Maltby, 1830. 

Pausanias.  The description of Greece.  Tr. From the Greek, with notes, in which much of the mythology of the Greeks is unfolded from a theory which has been for many ages unknown.  3 vols.  London: Printed for R. Faulder, 1794.

Pausanias.  Pausaniae Graeciae description accurate…  Lipsiae: Apud Thomam Fritsch, 1796.

Pennant, Thomas, 1726-1798.  Arctic zoology.  2 vols. in 3.  London: R. Faulder, 1792.
Vetus Testamentum Graecum.  Londini: Excudebar Rogerus Daniel Prostat autern venale, 1653.

Robertson, William, 1721-1793.  An historical discquisition concerning the knowledge which the ancients had of India; and the progress of trade with that country prior to the discovery of the passage to it by the Cape of Good Hope…  Philadelphia: Printed by William Young, bookseller, 1792.

Skinner, Stephen, 1623-1667.  Etymologicon linguae anglicanae…  Londoni: typis T. Roycroft, & prostant venales apud H. Brome, 1671.

Smith, William, 1728-1793.  The history of the province of New-York, from the first discovery to the year M.DCC.XXXII…  London, Printed for Thomas Wilcox, 1757.

Stone, William L. (William Leete), 1792-1844.  Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams.  New York: O. Halsted, 1832.

The relationship between the pronunciation of English and its system of spelling (or orthography) is inconsistent at best. Cough and through or great and meat appear as though they should rhyme, but (alas!) do not. Other words are spelled identically, but are pronounced differently according to their meaning, for example, “bow and arrow” vs. “Congratulations! Take a bow.

Within the American context, Noah Webster is perhaps the figure best known for tackling spelling reform. At the end of his Dissertations on the English Language (1789), he includes an essay addressing this topic. In it, he appeals to national pride (in both the positive and negative senses of that phrase) and asks his readers a rather leading question:

…ought the Americans to retain these faults [in English spelling] which produce innumerable inconveniencies in the acquisition and use of the language, or ought they at once to reform these abuses, and introduce order and regularity into the orthography of the AMERICAN TONGUE?

The revolutionary sentiment of America’s recent War of Independence, it seems, animated Webster’s thinking on orthography as well.

Laying out a revolution in an appendix: Noah Webster’s essay on spelling reform in his Dissertations on the English Language: with Notes, Historical and Critical, to Which Is Added, by Way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on That Subject. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514. Click image to enlarge.

Webster’s  essay continues by proposing a series of relatively radical alterations. He advocates for 1) the omission of all superfluous or silent letters (changing bread to bred, give to giv, built to bilt, and so on),  2) the replacement of characters with vague or indeterminate sounds by characters with more clearly-defined ones (changing laugh to laf and key to kee), and 3) making a “trifling” alteration to a character in order to help differentiate between sounds (such as adding a “small stroke” across “th” to distinguish between the sounds in “thorn” and “mother”).

Machine vs. Masheen: a passage outlining the second of Noah Webster’s three proposed reforms to American orthography from page 395 of his Dissertations on the English Language […]. Boston: Isaiah Thomas and Company, 1789. Call #: C1514

Although Webster did not ultimately adopt all of these proposals in his subsequent (and immensely popular) grammars and dictionaries, he did aid in establishing several changes that are still with us today. Americans now write of the defense of honor, but for the British, or even our Canadian neighbors (to them, neighbours!), it remains the defence of honour.  This national differentiation through orthography was something that Webster considered to be a point in favor of his proposed changes. Webster also argued that his reforms would “facilitate the learning of the language” for both children and non-native speakers alike. They would make it, he asserted in a memorable phrase, “as difficult to spell wrong, as it is now to spell right” (emphasis Webster’s).

Leap ahead 60 years and the Fonetic Advocat(Phonetic Advocate) adopts an even more radical approach to spelling reform than that of Noah Webster. Published in “Sinsinati” (Cincinnati) in the mid-nineteenth century, the periodical announces in the phonetic spelling of its banner that it is “devoted to education by means of the spelling reform to literature, science and art.”

Sound it out?  The front page of the Fonetic Advocat. Vol. II, No. 20 (May 15, 1850). Call #: MS P286C:1.
Click image to enlarge.

Its publisher, E. Longley, was the director of the American Phonetic Society. Longley championed the use of the English Phonotypic Alphabet, which had recently been developed in England by Isaac Pitman and Alexander John Ellis.  This phonetic alphabet predates and differs from the International Phonetic Alphabet now used by linguists to specify the sounds of spoken language.  Try your hand at reading Longley’s front-page proclamation. If you get stuck, click here to consult the phonetic alphabet chart included on the periodical’s next page.

The issue of the Fonetic Advocat shown above bears an interesting provenance. It once passed through the hands of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, yet another figure interested in spelling reform. Shaw was so concerned with the subject that he left a bequest to explore the establishment of an alternate phonetic alphabet. Interestingly, Shaw’s manuscript notation at the bottom the front page does not address the issue of phonetic spelling itself, but rather the typeface used for it. He writes, “This type, if ‘justified’ by [William] Morris, and the mutton quads [large spacing type] between the sentences taken out, would make a page of medieval beauty, far superior to any modern psalter.”

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian
(Adapted from the Summer 2017 exhibition Histories of the English Language).


Tags: Dissertations on the English Language, Elias Longley, Elspeth Healey, Fonetic Advocat, George Bernard Shaw, Histories of the English Lanugage, Noah Webster, Orthography, Phonetic Spelling, spelling
Posted in Exhibitions, Special Collections |
No Comments Yet »


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *