English Examined: Two Centuries of Comment on the Mother-Tongue

English Examined: Two Centuries of Comment on the Mother-Tongue

English Examined: Two Centuries of Comment on the Mother-Tongue

English Examined: Two Centuries of Comment on the Mother-Tongue


This collection of comments on English from about 1600 to soon after 1800 is the outcome of some twenty-five years' experience of trying to make undergraduates aware that a study of their mother tongue is both relevant and interesting.

There are two main difficulties. One is to bring home to the students who are in no way philologists (and they are the majority) a sense of the inter-relations between both language and literature, and language and life; the other is to prevent their knowledge from being merely second-hand, drawn from books on the history of the language but not from their own first-hand investigation.

In view of the breadth and weight of honours courses in English, it would be over-optimistic to expect students to hunt out material in the stack-room of the library, or even in its locked cases, and this is a difficulty which I feel a collection of extracts in handy form may go a long way to meet.

The Critique of Pure English (Society of Pure English Tract No. LXV) is invaluable so far as it goes: but it is largely restricted to vocabulary; it represents the eighteenth century by two passages only: and it suffers from the insuperable defect of being out of print. It is of course available for reference in libraries, so I have tried to avoid overlapping with it.

To avoid quoting at length from easily accessible books, I have left out some of the most important names in English linguistic criticism, or represented them barely: but I have added in Appendix I lists of key passages to indicate the topics dealt with and the books where they may be most conveniently found. In Appendix II, I have sorted out passages of directly linguistic comment from Spingarn Critical Essays of the 17th Century, and Durham's similar book for the eighteenth.

I have tried to represent the views of speakers and writers of English during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and a few from the early nineteenth century on as many aspects of the language as possible --its historical relations, its development, its pronunciation, its vocabulary, its forms, its grammar, its standards and aberrations; that perpetual bone of contention, its spelling, its diffusion overseas: its past and its future. And I have called for comment from all sorts and conditions of . . .

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