Allen Reddick, professor of English at the University of Zurich, will give a convocation address, “Attempting Much: Samuel Johnson, Lexicography, and the Uses of Failure” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10 in the Vahlkamp Theatre. The convocation is sponsored by the Mellon Working Group on Linguistics in support of Centre’s new linguistics minor.
Reddick will also speak at 4:10 on Wednesday, April 11 in the Grissom Reading Room of the Grace Doherty Library about a fourth edition of Johnson’s famed “Dictionary of the English Language”—the only edition he revised heavily, and which retains most of his final revisions—in Centre’s collection.
“I’m looking forward so much to Allen Reddick’s talk,” says Professor of English and Chair of the Humanities Division Mark Rasmussen. “He’s a lively-minded scholar who knows more about Johnson’s dictionary than anyone else on this planet. And I can’t imagine a richer approach than viewing Johnson’s labors on the dictionary in the light of the author’s un-illusioned yet always somehow bracing wisdom about life.”
At the convocation, Reddick will focus particularly on the process Johnson took to create the first edition of his “Dictionary” in 1755.
“I’ll center on the ways in which the problems Johnson faced in constructing the work—he took nine years instead of the predicted three—parallel the changes in approach to the task,” Reddick says. “In turn, the procedural problems led to a change in the entire approach to lexicography in English, towards a more empirical rather than a proscriptive approach to language use.”
Reddick, who will also visit English and linguistics classes while on campus, became interested in Johnson and his work while getting his master’s degree at Cambridge University, and his research has continued.
“Once at Columbia for my Ph.D., I became interested in Johnson’s misquoting in his ‘Dictionary,’ and that led to a fascination with the process of compiling the work,” Reddick says. “I was fortunate to be the first to decipher Johnson’s working papers for the revised fourth edition of 1773, in which were contained fragments from the composition of the first edition. With this material, I could begin to tell the story of the ‘Dictionary’s’ making.”
All in all, Reddick aims to give students a better understanding of how impressive the Johnson’s efforts to create his “Dictionary” were.
“I hope that students will come away with a sense of the complexity of the composition of Johnson’s ‘Dictionary,’ of the challenges posed in the compilation of any dictionary and of the richness of Johnson’s ‘Dictionary,’ particularly in its relation to literary texts,” Reddick says. “I also hope it will encourage them to think of the many types of complexities with which a dictionary is involved.”
Rasmussen urges the entire Centre community to attend.
“This lecture will be the distillation of a great scholar’s thought on a great topic,” Rasmussen says. “I encourage anyone with an interest in Johnson, dictionaries, language or life to come to the convocation.”