Multilingual Subjects: On Standard English,Its Speakers, and Others in the Long Eighteenth Century

Multilingual Subjects: On Standard English,Its Speakers, and Others in the Long Eighteenth Century

Multilingual Subjects: On Standard English,Its Speakers, and Others in the Long Eighteenth Century

Multilingual Subjects: On Standard English,Its Speakers, and Others in the Long Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

In the eighteenth century, the British Empire pursued its commercial ambitions across the globe, greatly expanding its colonial presence and, with it, the reach of the English language. During this era, a standard form of English was taught in the British provinces just as it was increasingly exported from the British Isles to colonial outposts in North America, the Caribbean, South Asia, Oceania, and West Africa. Under these conditions, a monolingual politics of Standard English came to obscure other forms of multilingual and dialect writing, forms of writing that were made to appear as inferior, provincial, or foreign oddities.

Daniel DeWispelare's Multilingual Subjects at once documents how different varieties of English became sidelined as "dialects" and asserts the importance of both multilingualism and dialect writing to eighteenth-century anglophone culture. By looking at the lives of a variety of multilingual and nonstandard speakers and writers who have rarely been discussed together--individuals ranging from slaves and indentured servants to translators, rural dialect speakers, and others--DeWispelare suggests that these language practices were tremendously valuable to the development of anglophone literary aesthetics even as Standard English became dominant throughout the ever-expanding English-speaking world.

Offering a prehistory of globalization, especially in relation to language practices and politics, Multilingual Subjects foregrounds the linguistic multiplicities of the past and examines the way these have been circumscribed through standardized forms of literacy. In the process, DeWispelare seeks to make sense of a present in which linguistic normativity plays an important role in determining both what forms of writing are aesthetically valued and what types of speakers and writers are viewed as full-fledged bearers of political rights.

Excerpt

By subsequent opportunities of observation, I found that my host’s diction
had nothing peculiar. Those Highlanders that can speak English, commonly
speak it well, with few of the words, and little of the tone by which a
Scotchman is distinguished. Their language seems to have been learned in the
army or the navy, or by some communication with those who could give them
good examples of accent and pronunciation. By their Lowland neighbours
they would not willingly be taught; for they have long considered them as a
mean and degenerate race. These prejudices are wearing fast away, but so
much of them still remains, that when I asked a very learned minister in the
islands, which they considered as their most savage clans: “Those, said he, that
live next the Lowlands
.”

This passage from Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) registers a charge surrounding the two dimensions of eighteenth-century linguistic multiplicity that this book explores at length: (1) heteroglossic diversity among disparate versions of the English language and (2) polyglossic interaction between these varied forms of English and other languages encountered on the global stage of travel, commerce, and empire. in this passage, as elsewhere, Johnson tarries in the multiplicities of orality, allowing his reflections to generate descriptive detail about the relationships among various groups within Britain. Each group is marked with a particular linguistic character relative to the others. To every group . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.