The first dictionary of American English?

Posted on 23rd February 2016 by simonbeattie

I’ve just realised that it’s been over month since I last posted.  Where has the time gone?  Things have been busy.  First, a trip to Stuttgart (read about what things used to be like at a German book fair), then Pasadena, for the California Book Fair.  Next week will see me in Edinburgh, and before we know it, it will be the New York Book Fair.  What to take to fairs has been the subject of earlier posts, and I wondered about the following for New York:


This is the second edition, revised and enlarged, of an important early (and rare) English–German dictionary.  First published in Leipzig in 1706, it went on to become something of a standard throughout the century, with further editions in 1763 and 1791.

The compiler was Christian Ludwig (also Lodowick, 1660–1728), a doctor by training who emigrated to America in about 1684, where he practised in Rhode Island and Boston, before returning to Germany at the end of the century.  ‘By 1706 his reputation as a scholar and teacher of English became firmly established with the publication of A Dictionary English, German and French.  Ten years later appeared his equally important Teutsch-Englisches Lexicon, Leipzig, 1716.  These dictionaries were none of the inadequate little word lists that their predecessors had been, but large scholarly quartos … which offered much more than the bare translations of single words.  The same superiority is to be noticed in his compendious English grammar of the following year: Gründliche Anleitung zur Englischen Sprache …  Thus for the first time in 1717 there existed adequate grammatical and lexicographical material as a basis for that fruitful intellectual and literary exchange between England and Germany which had such a decisive effect upon German classical and then upon English Romantic literature’ (Jantz, pp. 20–1).

The first dictionary to be published in America was in 1788 (William Perry’s Royal Standard English Dictionary; two printings: Boston and Worcester, Mass.), and the first dictionary compiled by an American came out even later, in 1797/8 (Samuel Johnson Jr’s School Dictionary, published in New Haven).  Does that make Ludwig’s the first dictionary of American English?

On Ludwig, see Harold Jantz, ‘Christian Lodowick of Newport and Leipzig’, Rhode Island History, Oct. 1944, Vol. III, No. 4, pp. 105–117, and Jan. 1945, Vol. IV, No. 1, pp. 13–26.

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