On April 14, 1828, Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language. He was a man who'd grown up in America at a time when Americans from different states could barely understand each other, because they spoke with such different accents and even different languages. Americans in Vermont spoke French, New Yorkers spoke Dutch, and the settlers in Pennsylvania spoke German. All these different languages were influencing American English, and there were no standards of spelling or meaning.

Webster knew from European history that linguistic differences could deeply divide a nation, so he decided that in order to pull the young United States together, there needed to be a common language, and he would devote his life to capturing that language.

He spent 20 years working on his dictionary, which contained 70,000 words, and he did all the research and the handwriting of the book by himself. He is believed to be the last lexicographer to complete a dictionary without any assistance.

Instead of using quotations from literature to show words in context, he wrote his own sentences as examples. For the verb "to love" he wrote, "The Christian loves his Bible." For the word "inestimable" he wrote, "The privileges of American citizens, civil and religious, are inestimable." For the word "indulgence," he wrote, "How many children are ruined by indulgence!"

Webster's dictionary had the result he intended. His standardized spelling and pronunciation guides helped ensure that Americans who speak English speak more or less the same English. America has the fewest dialects of any major country in history.

-- The Writer’s Almanac