Noah Webster

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A Work in Progress by Vironica Simmons




1. Introduction



2. Beliefs and Works


3. Conclusion


The Original Speller: Noah Webster


" Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but it is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.” -Noah Webster



As an American lexicographer, textbook author, spelling reformer, political writer, and editor, Noah Webster, Jr, was born on October 16, 1978 in West Hartford Connecticut. (Noah Webster, Jr, n.d.) His father was a farmer and weaver. Noah had two brothers and two sisters. (Noah Webster from Wikipedia, n.d.) At the age of 16, Noah began attending Yale University. His time at Yale overlapped with the American Revolution, and he served in the Connecticut Militia in addition to his classes. He graduated from Yale in 1779. After graduation he taught school in Hartford, Litchfield, and Sharon. He also read widely, and studied law. He was admitted to the bar and received his master of arts degree in 1781.(Noah Webster, n.d.) He married Rebecca Greenleaf, and together they had eight children.(Noah Webster, Jr., n.d.) He continued to teach, setting up small, unsuccessful schools (Noah Webster, from Wikipedia n.d.) Unhappy with British-made textbooks that were available for teaching, Webster believed that American students should be learning from American books. So, Webster decided to write a book of his own.


Beliefs and Works


He published his first book between 1783-1785, called A Grammatical Institute of the English Language which included the American Spelling Book, also called the “Blue Backed Speller” because of its blue cover. (Noah Webster) It sold in general stores for fourteen cents a copy. This book helped to standardize American spelling. It was his first speller and he later enlarged it to include a grammar and a reader. (Noah Webster) The name of the book was later changed to The American Spelling Book in 1786, and again in 1829 to The Elementary Spelling Book. For the next one hundred years, this “Blue-Backed Speller” taught children how to read, spell and pronounce words. It sold nearly a million copies per year, and is considered to be the first dictionary created in the United States. Webster’s speller is also given credit for helping to create the popular contests that became known as spelling bees.(Noah Webster, from Wikipedia, n.d.)

The success of his speller and his beliefs about spelling launched Webster into the category of a simplified speller. He had a desire to remove irregularities from within the English writing system.(Ives, Ken, 1970) So, spelling began early, simply at school, through Noah Webster. He had a desire to teach Americans how to spell. It was believed that correct spelling was a sign of a good education. (Ives)According to Ken Ives’ Written Dialects written in 1969, Webster created a plan for reforming English spelling that centered on ten main classes of words. They are as follows:


1. “-our” to “or” colour-color

2. “-re” to “-er”

3. Dropping final “k” in words like “publick”

4. Changing “-ence to “encse”

5. Use sing “l” in inflected forms “traveled”

6. Use double “l” in words like fulfill

7. Use “-or” for “-er” where dong so in Latin

8. Change “-ise” to “-ize” wherever this can be traced back to Latin or Greek.

9. Drop final “-e”

10. Use sing “-f” at the ends of words like plantif


Of these ten classes listed, the United States Government Printing Office adopted almost all the words Webster listed in each categories numbered one through eight in 1864 and these forms--color, center, offense, traveled, organize, etc--have been the ones used in all U.S. Government documents since. (Bett, Steve, n.d.)

Webster wrote many works in his lifetime following the American Spelling Book. The speller had sold so many copies that it had afforded Webster the opportunity to spend the majority of his time writing. In 1785, he wrote the pamphlet Sketches of American Policy, that argued his support for practical copyright laws and for the Federalist movement. In 1789 he wrote a more popular work called Dissertations on the English Language. Five lectures were published together to persuade the newly formed nation to “seize the present moment and establish a national language as well as a national government” by standardizing American English. In 1806, Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language which included five thousand words never before included in dictionaries. However, besides his “Blue-Backed Speller”, Noah Webster is probably best known for his 1828 work called, An American Dictionary of the English Language. It included words never before included in English dictionaries, as well as unique Americanisms. The definitions were based on American and English usage, but the work clearly defines an American language, with a standard pronunciation. (Noah Webster, n.d.)




Noah Webster believed that spelling, grammar and usage should be based on the living, spoken language. It was this principal that was instrumental in establishing the dignity and vitality of American English.

Webster died in 1843 in New Haven Connecticut. The rights to the dictionary were purchased from his estate by George and Charles Merriam, whose firm developed the Merriam-Webster dictionary Series.



Bett, Steve (n.d.). Franklin and webster the alphabet reformer and the spelling reformer: a brief biography of two simplified spelling advocates and a brief introduction to Franklin’s fonetic script. Retrieved February 13, 2007, from www.foolswisdom.com/franklin.webster.htm


Ives, Ken (1970). Written Dialects: the history of spelling reform. Retrieved February 13, 2007 from http://www.foolswisdom.com/~sbett/history-SR.htm


Noah Webster (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2007, http://www.answers.com/topic/noah-webster


Noah Webster, Jr. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2007, from http://www.nndb.com/people/817/000049670/


Noah Webster from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_Webster


External Links


http://www.spellingsociety.org/ A great link to the spelling site that includes information about the simplified spelling society.


http://www.lexrex.com/bios/nwebster.htm A link to further your knowledge about Webster.


http://www.m-w.com/ This is the site current modern Webster dictionary.


http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson027.shtml A website that provides a lesson plan to celebrate Noah Webster's contributions.


http://noahwebsterhouse.org/biography.html This is a great website that provides a brief summary of Webster's life. It would be perfect for presenting a short lesson on his life.



Commentary by Maleesa Redish


I loved the use of the quote to draw interest in the topic, but the first sentence in the intro paragraph threw me off. It sounds like you are implying that Webster was born all of these things rather than that he was born and then became all of them. Maybe you could re-word that line. Alos, some of the sentences in that paragraph seem a bit abrupt, maybe you could string a few of the ones about his background together to give it a nice flow. Webster read widely, was admitted to the bar, and received his masters of arts degree in 1781. You have a great number of references, thats tells me that you really did your research. Nice job!


Commentary by Kim Freeman

I thought your paper was really interesting. You did a great research job! I was a little confused with the following sentences: So spelling began early,simply at school through Noah Webster. Of these ten..... (run on sentence) Also, when using a colon you should have a complete sentence then the colon. I suggest using the colon after your last sentence in that paragraph leaving out They are as follows. If I remeber correctly, you teach young children;however, I found a book for middle school called Noah Webster Master of Words.


Commentary by June Kent

Your paper was organized and interesting to read. The ten main classes of words was informative: example colour changed to color, and dropping the final "k" in words like "public".

It would be interesting to discover the price of a copy of Webster's "Blue Backed Speller".

End of commentary.

Commentary by Philicia Randolph

I really liked how you began your research by a quote from Webster. I also liked how you scanned the book into your document. It looks really good. You did a good job of presenting your research. I have included some pointers to help you improve the quality of your paper.

1. In the introduction section you write "After graduation." I think it would help if you said, "After his graduation. . ."

2. In the introduction you say that Webster taught in Hartford, Litchfield, & Sharon. I am from the Northeast, but not everyone will know that these are places in Connecticut.

3. Italicize titles of all of your books.

4. There were a couple of places where you put Webster's name in parentheses. However, I was not sure which work you were referring to.

5. Reduce the use of the passive voice. You wrote "The speller had sold so many copies that it had afforded. . ." I think it would be better if you said, "The speller sold so many copies it afforded. . ."

Well done Vironica!

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