Annotated Bibliography on Eighteenth Century English Grammars: The Creation of Culture

Beach, Adam R. "The Creation of a Classical Language in the Eighteenth Century: Standardizing English, Cultural Imperialism, and the Future of the Literary Canon." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43.2 (2001): 117-141. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. PDF file.

Beach theorizes that just as the British expansionism of the eighteenth century increased the populace grammarians decided that English should become the third classical language, behind that of the two previous great empires of Greece and Rome. In 1747 Johnson had proposed his dictionary to systemize English, and Sheridan, among others, embarked on elocution projects to help rid the Scots, Welsh, and Irish of their own languages and accents in order to create national unity (118). The creation of a third classical language is intimately tied to British imperialism, but it is that imperialism that partially inspired grammarians, particularly elocutionists like Sheridan, to standardize the English language to make teaching it to the colonized easier.

Cajka, Karen. "Ann Fisher: Reforming Education for 'the Mere English Scholar." European Romantic Review 22.5 (2011): 581-600. Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 3 Oct. 2013. PDF File.

In 1745 Fisher published her New Grammar. She uses a grammar based solely on vernacular English (583). Cajka discusses Fisher’s career and grammar books, demonstrating Fisher’s view that a knowledge of proper English grammar was necessary for a good reputation and social position and for earning a living (585). Fisher reformed the teaching of English by writing about the need for instructors to be of high moral character so as to positively influence students and for teachers to be more interested in teaching than in merely displaying their classical learning (587). Radically, Fisher stated that women’s lack of education and not their “inherent mental deficiency” is what keeps them from choosing reading material more difficult than popular romances (589).

Percy, Carol. "Disciplining Women?: Grammar, Gender, and Leisure in the Works of Ellenor Fenn (1743–1813)." Historiographia Linguistica 33.1/2 (2006): 109-137. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. PDF File.

Ellenor Fenn (1743-1813) was the author, beginning in 1784/1785 of a “long list of numerous titles written” for the teaching of children (109). Her pedagogical approach is that of “controlled incremental progress” (qtd. in Percy 110) in an easily acquired and rational system (120) through which a mother teaches basic English grammar through toys, the use of older children (particularly the daughters), and eventually graded children’s texts (110) to create an idealized vision of domestic order for a rising middle class that “expressed anxiety about discipline” (111). Percy notes that Fenn was not the first to recommend mothers teach their children, citing several male authors who did the same (111). What made Fenn unique is that she provided both the method and resources for mothers to actually accomplish the task (111). Percy further discusses Fenn’s audience of the “leisured mother” (113) whose duty was to ensure the family’s social status (115) and the creation of self-discipline in her son’s so that are prepared for school and do not become profligate (118).

Percy, Carol. "Robert Lowth and the Critics: Literary Contexts for the “Critical Notes” in His Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762)." Historiographia Linguistica 39.1 (2012): 9-26. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. PDF File.

Robert Lowth’s Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) is known for its innovation of using footnotes to demonstrate grammatical errors of nonliving writers (9). By using nonliving writers, Lowth builds on a tradition of criticism of bad examples of grammar that existed first in Fisher’s New Grammar (1750) but previously in the study of biblical criticism (10) and when author’s of the previous age used footnotes to criticize living authors, such as the contemporary Shakespearean critic Warburton’s criticism of Bentley’s classical works (15). By using dead author’s for critical review, Lowth avoids footnote wars such as those Pope had parodied when writing The Dunciad (17). Percy sets Lowth’s Critical Notes within the context of the times: The eighteenth century was a time of increased historical criticism (15) in which self-learned men could apply a scholarly approach to both biblical and secular literature (21). Indeed, the creation of the book review gave prestige to Lowth’s grammar and helped integrate the public into conflicts “between reviewers and authors or other reviewers” (18). In addition, the critique of the age’s best writers also helped the socially mobile understand that if “polite company” and “reading great authors” could not help the “culturally literate write correctly,” the sole solution was to purchase Lowth’s grammar (21).

Rodriguez-Gil, Maria E. "Deconstructing Female Conventions: Ann Fisher (1719–1778)." Historiographia Linguistica 33.1/2 (2006): 11-38. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Jan. 2016. PDF File.

Ann Fisher (1719-1798) refused to follow the trend of writing a prescriptive grammar and belonged to a small group of approximately twenty-five anti-Latinate grammarians (17). Her work was the product of her unconventional lifestyle (25). She married at the rather late age of 32 (and had nine daughters) (note in Rodriguez-Gil 30) and with her husband, Thomas Slack, ran a printing press and book shop, printed a newspaper (the Newcastle Chronicle) (31), hosted and promoted a literary salon (27), taught a ladies school for at least five years with hours that allowed working women the chance to improve their English (28), and created a series of books to aid both males and females in learning to speak and write English correctly (30). In addition to the anti-Latinate grammar of her texts, Fisher introduced new pedagogical models for teaching English by noting English’s lack of inflectional endings (15) and creating a grammar “based on the observation of her own language” (16). Furthermore, Fisher introduced the teaching of English through bad examples (18) and the classification of English through vernacular (instead of Latinate) terms (19). Finally, unlike Lowth’s, Priestley’s, and Ussher's grammars, Fisher’s grammar concerns itself with pedagogy through the creation of bad examples of English for students to correct and the use of vernacular terms to describe grammatical categories (20), e.g., “name” for “noun” (18).

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid. "James Merrick (1720–1769): Poet, Scholar, Linguist." Historiographia Linguistica 33.1/2 (2006): 39-56. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. PDF File.

Tieken-Boon analyzes the eighteen extant letters (41) between Lowth and Merrick to determine the extent to which Lowth was a modern linguist. Her conclusion is that Lowth, while referring to custom instead of propriety, is a prescriptivist grammarian and that changes between his first and subsequent editions of his Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762) were the result of correspondence between Merrick and Lowth upon Lowth’s request that his printer send Merrick a presentation copy (40). According to Tieken-Boon, Merrick was able to discuss grammatical matters more abstractly and with more weight on customary usage than Lowth, making Merrick a more modern (and descriptivist) linguist (51) and Lowth a prescriptivist who felt “Duty bound to abide by these Principles” of “repell[ing] the invasions of [the] enemy [permissiveness in grammatical form] to the utmost of [his] power” (qtd in Tieken-Boon 48). Despite his correspondence with Merrick and given Lowth’s insistence on saving the English language from its enemy, Custom, and on ensuring that Propriety prevails (41), Tieken-Boon makes clear that Lowth’s grammar owed much of its changes in subsequent editions to his correspondence with Merrick.

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid. "The Usage Guide: Its Birth and Popularity." English Today 26.2 (2010): 14-44. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. PDF File.

Tieken-Boon discusses the codification of English and the fact that it is still in its final stage of standardization, which began in the eighteenth century with the codification in grammars and dictionaries (21). Even Lowth was aware of a grammar different from what he wrote by stating that he used irony when informing students that the preposition should not be used at the end of a sentence and that “This is an idiom which our language is strongly inclined to” (qtd. in Tieken-Boon 21, emphasis added). Tieken-Boon discusses this other grammar, the usage guide, of which Baker’s 1770 Reflections on the English Language… is the first (16). Tieken-Boon connects Baker’s work to Simon’s 1980 Paradigms Lost (16) and Truss’ 2003 Eats, Shoots and Leaves (19) as a separate and ongoing discourse community from the grammarian tradition. Baker, Simon, and Truss each confide to the reader that they are not experts but nonetheless condemn grammatical mistakes (19) and the barbarism that ensues from grammatical permissiveness (18) while being entertaining in the process (21). The point, for Tieken-Boon, is that prescriptivist grammarians (or normative linguists) saw a market for preserving a standard described by grammarians (22). While prescriptivists often receive a negative reaction, they are simply a different discourse community within a single discipline “each with their [sic] respective interests, goals [sic] and beliefs” (22).

Wilton, David. "Rethinking the Prescriptivist–Descriptivist Dyad: Motives and Methods in Two Eighteenth-Century Grammars." English Today 30.3 (2014): 38-47. E-Journals. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Wilton uses a qualitative method to distinguish Lowth’s and Priestly’s eighteenth century grammars in terms more refined that prescriptive and descriptive, as those terms are not precise dyads (38) and lead to unnecessary language wars. Instead, Wilton divides grammarians’ writing into methodology (normative / non-normative) and motivation (aspirational / observational) and compares Lowth’s and Priestly’s grammars for double negation, subjunctive-only use of wert, and preposition stranding (39). Wilton concludes that the combination of motivation and methodology in the terms prescriptive and descriptive creates problems (46) for classifying grammars as many grammars are both prescriptive and descriptive and that the traditional dyad creates debate instead of creating better methodologies for determining the standards of “good” English (46).

Yáñez-Bouza, Nuria. "Grammar Writing and Provincial Grammar Printing in the Eighteenth-Century British Isles." Transactions of the Philological Society 110.1 (2012): 34-63. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.

Yáñez-Bouza examines book printing records of the eighteenth century to examine the printing by country, county, and city / town as well as the geographical and chronological distribution of grammars printed to investigate the growth in grammar writing and printing which corresponded to an increase in potential customers. English grammars played a pivotal role in standardizing English. She then used the new Eighteenth Century English Grammars (ECEG) database, which she created with Maria E. Rodriguez-Gil (36) to create an interdisciplinary investigation into the printing of books and the book trade in Britain in the eighteenth century. She entwines the history of the book trade with the history of grammar writing to show the channels used in the publishing business to disseminate English grammars during the codification of English (58). The availability of authors’ biographical details aided in this study (60) and would not have been so easily available if not for the ECEG.

Yáñez-Bouza, Nuria. "Senses of ‘Grammar’ in the Eighteenth-Century English Tradition." English Studies 96.8 (2015): 913-943. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Jan. 2016.

Yáñez-Bouza uses the Eighteenth-Century English Grammars (ECEG) database to expand on Michael’s 1970 work to determine what the term grammar meant for those in the eighteenth century. She begins with a brief early history of grammars, with the first English grammar in 1586 and 1685 as the first prescriptive grammar and the last written in Latin (914). She then explains the difference between the first and second halves of the eighteenth century in terms of grammar production (914), with five times more new grammars in the second half of the century. Grammars were both a development and a product of a fully literate print culture in which politeness, meaning correctness, involved knowing how to speak and write according to the norm in order for one to participate in a particular social group, to acquire new skills, or to move upward socially and economically (915). The commodification of grammars (915) coincided with the “revolution in the book trade” (941).

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