Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Authority in Lowth's and Priestley's Prefaces to Their English Grammars

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Authority in Lowth's and Priestley's Prefaces to Their English Grammars

Article excerpt

The eighteenth century was a crucial period in the process of codification of the English language and in the history of English grammar writing (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008b). The need for grammars to provide linguistic guidance to the upper social classes, and to those who aspired to belong to them, led to an important increase in the output of English grammars. Since most of the grammar writers were clearly in competition with one another for a share of the market, they turned the prefaces to their grammars into highly persuasive instruments that tried to justify the need for that specific grammar. Priestley's and Lowth's grammars epitomized, respectively, the two main trends of grammatical tradition, namely descriptivism and prescriptivism. Taking a critical discourse analysis approach, this paper aims to examine how both writers claimed their authority through the presentation of the different individuals involved in the text, specifically, the author and any potential readers. We will examine how individuals are depicted both as a centre of structure and action through Martin's (1992) identification systems and Halliday's (2004 [1985]) transitivity structures. Such an approach fits in with Wicker's (2006: 79) assessment of prefaces as textual networks of authority in which it is essential to interrogate how the readers who support and influence the texts are represented and addressed.

1. Introduction

The eighteenth century was a crucial period in the history of English grammar writing. The growing interest in vernaculars and the awareness about the correct use of the language as a feature of social distinction led to a significant increase in the output of grammars (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008a). The concern of grammarians about fixing the English language met the growing demand of people looking for linguistic stability and a systematic presentation of the language. English grammatical tradition has received growing attention in recent years (e.g. Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008b; Hickey 2010a), but despite the vast possibilities of study this period offers, other directions of research remain rather unexplored. Norms of linguistic correctness in the eighteenth century were ultimately created by a discourse community of grammarians whose joint enterprise produced a shared commitment to the discursive practices (Watts 2008: 45; Straaijer 2011: 233). The focus on the codification of the written language produced the standardisation of a highly institutionalised elitist social discourse, although not always consciously accepted by the members of that community. That community of grammarians also left their social and linguistic imprint on the different written material they produced. The potential they offer to examine how writers depicted themselves and intended readership must be highlighted from a discourse analysis point of view.

This study aims to carry out a discourse analysis on the discourse patterns used by grammarians in the presentation of their works. To this end, we will analyse the prefaces of two of the most significant English grammars of the eighteenth century, namely, Robert Lowth's (1762)A Short Introduction to English Grammar and Joseph Priestley's (1761) The Rudiments of English Grammar. (2) Priestley's grammar has usually been ranked on the same level as Lowth's in the popular press, being often regarded as the only counterpart to Lowth's work (Straaijer 2011:130). Lowth and Priestley represent the two opposing traditions of prescriptivism and descriptivism, respectively, within the practices of eighteenth-century grammarians. Eighteenth-century English grammars were predominantly prescriptive, whereas descriptive grammars were rare. Prescriptivism exemplified the doctrine of correctness; descriptivism embodied the doctrine of usage. The former tried to lay down grammatical rules to which usage must conform; the latter focused on usage and custom. (3)

In the eighteenth century the endeavour to dominate the editorial market led to a gradual increase in grammatical productivity which was especially noticeable during the second half of the century (Tieken-Boon van Ostade 2008c). …

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.