The Dictionary Allows Us To Preserve What Is Best About Our Language?

Submitted By ceruleanskys
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‘The dictionary allows us to preserve what is best about our language and to keep out what pollutes it.’ Discuss.

As humanity grows and evolves so does the language that we use. This creates constant change in it which can be seen in the recent addition of ‘Selfie’ to the Oxford English Dictionary. However there is considerable debate about whether or not things such as dictionaries are necessary and what their purpose should be. Some parties argue that dictionaries are important for elements of language such as standardized spelling, some argue that dictionaries are important to preserve our language and protect it from invasion from other languages and so on. This debate is not modern either and dates back to as long as there have been dictionaries.

A possible purpose of the dictionary is to ‘keep out what pollutes’ our language and to help preserve it. This is the argument that our language should only have small, natural changes instead of large overhauls as it has had in the past. George Puttenham was an English writer and Precsriptivist who held this view. He called all changes besides small, natural ones ‘corruptions’. However he gave no definition of what a small, natural change is and therefore the line between these changes and a corruption of language is blurred. Furthermore English itself is a language derived of many others as through history the country has been under the influence of many other languages. Following the 1066 Battle of Hastings Old English became influenced by Norman French and then later by Church Latin and then Classical Greek and Latin and even Hindi during Queen Victoria’s reign and the empire. These different influences have given us many different elements to our language and if it’s very foundations are based in other languages then it would be irrational to accuse them of polluting it.

But it could still be argued that a dictionary preserves what is best about our language. This would be seen in it’s preservation of historical words and so on – but is a weak argument as many attempts at a creating a dictionary are now obsolete as the language within them is no longer used. This includes the famous Dr Johnson’s dictionary from 1750. Although some words are still in circulation many are obsolete and therefore his dictionary did not preserve much of the language.

Another view that is held is that