The familiar physiognomy of a word, the feeling that it has taken up its meaning into itself, that it is an actual likeness of its meaning - there could be human beings to whom all this was alien.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Now to express the rupture of my part First take my tongue, and afterward my heart.
- Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy
In his preface to A Table Alphabeticall (1604), Robert Cawdrey imagines the discomfort engendered by the English language in strangely familial terms: "Some men seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mothers' language, so that if some of their mothers were alive, they were not able to tell, or understand what they say."(1) Cawdrey's vision of the alienation of a native speaker from his own "mother" underlines a common nervousness about the seemingly unnatural and elusive status of the vernacular.(2) The influx of thousands of new words from Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian in the sixteenth century led to extensive debates about the presence of foreign and "barbaric" elements within the national vocabulary. While some early modern writers argued that enrichment was civilizing and others that it was vulgarizing, all recognized the essential "otherness" of the new terms that seemed to be invading the English language. "Farre feete words," writes Sir Philip Sidney, "[that] may seem Monsters . . . must seeme straungers to any poore English man."(3) And some people, writes Edward Phillips, "if they spy but a hard word, are as much amazed as if they had met with a Hobgoblin."(4) Whether representations of the expanding vernacular are fused with images of monsters, hobgoblins, or uncomprehending mothers, the range of responses to new words in early modern England dramatizes fears about linguistic, cultural, and national stability.(5)
The increasingly heterogeneous linguistic textures and forms of early modern English became a site for the articulation of anxieties about local and national forms of self-representation. Defenders of enrichment repeatedly depicted the expanding lexicon through images of family, nation, and state, arguing that alien terms, with habitual use, would soon seem to be related, "familiar," part of a naturalized racial and linguistic community. Richard Sherry, for example, notes how many strange and foreign words have been "made by continual vse, very familier to most men . . . as if they had bene of oure owne natiue bloode."(6) Similarly, in The Elementarie (1582), Richard Mulcaster encourages Englishmen to imagine foreign words "as the stranger denisons be to the lawes of our cuntrie."(7) He urges students to take pains to learn new words, linking linguistic borrowing to a kind of cultural imperialism: "[A foreign word] is a metaphor, a learned translation, remoued from where it is proper, into som such place where it is more properlie vsed . . . And when the foren word hath yeilded it self, & is receiued into fauor, it is no more foren, tho of foren race, the propertie being altered."(8) While strange words are just "metaphors," they are still imagined as words "of foren race" which need to be fundamentally "altered."(9)
The range of metaphors invoked in early modern discussions about the English language constantly registers a sense of anxiety about a national identity that is at once constituted and threatened by difference, a difference that in the minds of many signaled internal alienation and political chaos. The unprecedented number of foreign words entering English in the sixteenth century inspired Samuel Daniel to imagine foreign signifiers floating "without a Parliament, without any consent or allowance, establish[ing] themselves as Free-denizens in our language."(10) And in Logonomia Anglica (1619), Alexander Gill links lexical borrowing with cultural contamination, noting that the "purity of our tongue continues because . . . no dregs of …