A word, or 2,543, Robert

23rd February 2007 at 00:00
The original English dictionary has been published for the first time in more than 350 years.

The first monolingual dictionary of English language was compiled and published by Robert Cawdrey in 1604, almost 150 years before Samuel Johnson's better known tome.

Entitled A Table Alphabeticall and listing 2,543 words, it was not intended to be exhaustive. Instead, it sought to unlock the mystery of Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French words that were being absorbed into English at a rapid rate. The only surviving copy of the first edition remains in Oxford University's Bodleian Library, which is publishing Cawdrey's dictionary as part of a policy to make its huge collection more accessible to the public.

The new edition includes a 5,000-word introduction by John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, setting it in its historical, social and literary context, and exploring the unusual career of its little-known author.

Cawdrey's work was published eight years ahead of the first Italian dictionary and 35 years before the first French dictionary, foreshadowing the phenomenal growth of English and its eventual emergence as a global lingua franca.

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