The New England Yeoman: Noah Webster and the Defining of American English (1758-1843)


  • Luisanna Fodde



Writing and reflecting on the works of a late eighteenth-century lexicographer today may seem a little unusual and perhaps outdated. Why should linguists and cultural analysts be interested in such a scholar, when so many changes have recently occurred in the English language with the advent of the Internet, digital communication and social media that require our attention? What is the sense nowadays of concentrating our attention on language phenomena and discussions occurred 200 years ago? Shouldn’t we worry about the future development of the English language instead of looking back at its origin?

Such rhetorical questions will certainly arouse the offended reaction of most historical linguists. Indeed, the above assertions are of course intended to be a very simple and overt provocative introduction. I am often asked these types of questions in class, and I find that answering to them gives me the opportunity to introduce my favorite topic, i.e. the development of the English language in the United States. And indeed the answer partly lies, at least with regards to the topic of the present article, in the fascinating analysis of the so-called “war of words,” that harsh debate which occurred after the Declaration of American Independence in some British journals and magazines, such as The Critical Review, the European Magazine and London Review, the Gentleman’s Review and the Scots Magazine, to name just a few.






Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture