Friday, June 4, 2010

Boarders, Language, and Culture

A fun history lesson

Noah Webster and the Bee, By JOHN A. MURRAY

[T]he author of America's first dictionary and the originator of uniform spelling in America would be proud. That's Noah Webster, to whom the [spelling]Bee owes its official dictionary, "Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary."

Webster was a champion of American independence who wanted to do away with the elitism of England's dictionaries, which ignored the speech of common folk. He had a loftier goal as well:

"A national language is a band of national union," he wrote, "…for if we do not respect ourselves…other nations will not respect us."

Webster's blueprint for American education received great support from leaders such as George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. In the 1780s, Webster, who had graduated from Yale, wrote a spelling book and a grammar book—both of which became standard classroom texts for over 160 years. (When Webster died in 1843, George and Charles Merriam bought the copyright to Webster's dictionary and became the publishers.)

As one of America's Founding Fathers, Webster accomplished many firsts in U.S. history. Not only was he the new country's first best-selling author, for the "Blue-backed Speller." . . . he also "penned pamphlets against slavery…wrote about politics, agriculture, and disease…created the laws for the country's free public education system…and helped form and pass the U.S. Constitution."

Webster's passion for educating and assimilating immigrants into America is evident as well, both through his school texts and his magnum opus—the American dictionary. "In our American republics, where government is in the hands of the people, knowledge should be universally diffused by means of public schools," he wrote.

What few people realize today, however, is the profound role that faith played in Webster's outlook. It was no secret at the time. Of the man known as "The Schoolmaster of our Republic," editors often wrote above his picture, "He taught millions to read, but not one to sin."

Starting in 1783 with the publishing of the "Blue-backed Speller," Webster packed an educational and scriptural punch—including a "moral catechism" at the book's end. By 1947, Webster's "Speller" had reinforced both the English language and a biblical worldview by selling more than 70 million copies.

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