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ERIC Number: ED563769
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 316
Abstractor: As Provided
ISBN: 978-1-3035-7283-8
Letters to a Dictionary: Competing Views of Language in the Reception of "Webster's Third New International Dictionary"
Bello, Anne Pence
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The publication of "Webster's Third New International Dictionary" in September 1961 set off a national controversy about dictionaries and language that ultimately included issues related to linguistics and English education. The negative reviews published in the press about the "Third" have shaped beliefs about the nature of the dictionary itself as well as assumptions about dictionary users' desire for authority. Additionally, the reviews influenced how scholars in English, linguistics, and the emerging field of composition studies viewed the public's understandings of language and attitudes toward structural linguistics. Drawing on archival evidence from the correspondence files of Merriam-Webster, Inc., as well articles published in the popular press and scholarly journals in the 1960s, this dissertation reexamines many of the claims made about the "Third." First, it reconsiders assumptions about the influence of structural linguistics on the dictionary, showing that the "Third" was primarily shaped by a research-oriented attitude toward language. Then, it traces how the claims about structural linguistics evolved in the press coverage of the "Third." It then examines how scholars publishing in journals like "College English" and "College Composition and Communication" responded to these claims about the dictionary. Finally, it analyzes letters sent from dictionary users around the country to complicate assumptions about dictionaries, language, and linguistics circulating in the published writing on the "Third." The letters sent to Merriam-Webster reveal that while the controversy surrounding the "Third" did influence how some individuals perceived the dictionary, many people had far more nuanced and complicated responses than anyone publishing about the dictionary at the time seems to have anticipated. In particular, the letters indicate that assumptions about public hostility to linguistics were unfounded and that many dictionary users did not conceive of lexicographic authority as absolute. Reexamining the response to the "Third" opens up new possibilities for studying public beliefs about language and English education, especially in relation to composition studies. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Tel: 800-521-0600; Web site:
Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A