Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

Home ] Up ]


Just out:

18th-century English, Manfred Görlach  

(2001) Heidelberg: C. Winter


The eighteenth century has a special relevance for the development of modern English: the ruling tradition of neo-classical attitudes and prescriptive grammar laid the foundations for linguistic correctness on various levels; it established regularity in spelling and later in pronunciation, defined the standard lexis by excluding dialect, slang and lower sociolects, and fixed the rules for the languages of literature and good style, in a unique fusion of literary and linguistic judgments with developments in political and cultural history. The book gives a critical survey of the status of English in eighteenth-century Britain and a description on all individual levels (spelling, pronunciation, morphology, syntax, lexis, text types and styles). Forms and functions of the English language outside England (especially in Scotland, Ireland and the United States) are duly considered. More than a hundred texts from various genres are included; they serve as an illustration of the linguistic phenomena and as a basis for the analysis encouraged by 100 study questions.

Aim and scope:

The book is intended to provide an introduction to all levels of eighteenth-century English and attitudes towards it. It is meant as a work-book for students, comprising a careful introduction into linguistic methods and structures of the period language, exercises and topics for term papers, selected passages from major characteristic text types, bibliography and indexes.

Eighteenth-century English can justly be claimed to have laid the  foundation of the modern written standard language through the efforts of literati, grammarians and lexicographers. The widely available texts (e.g. in the English Linguistics reprint series) and existing scholarly discussion are in need to be summarized and made teachable. There is no similar book available; the closest equivalents are chapters in books devoted to the entire history of English.


The book has an introduction covering:  

  • speakers/readers (demography, education, publishing, social class distinctions, regional aspects)
  • standards/norms and attitudes
  • a discussion of language structure on the individual levels paying particular attention to 'deviances' from present-day English: spelling, pronunciation, inflexion, syntax and vocabulary (loanwords, word- formation and meaning). Particular attention will be paid to the correlation between text types (genres) and linguistic features. Details discussed in the introduction will be documented from the selected texts wherever this is possible.

Furthermore, the book includes ca. one hundred excerpts from various texts, each accompanied by a note pointing out its function and characteristic features. It is intended to cover the century more or less representatively, so that subperiods and genres are represented as evenly as possible; where a choice is possible, texts of specifically cultural interest will be preferred. The selection includes a fair number of literary passages. However, the main focus will be on texts from other genres, because

  • literary texts tend to be linguistically very complex (metaphors and allusions, intertextuality/literary traditions, experiments, formal determinants like rhyme and metre 'distoring' linguistic data)
  • texts of other types are closer to 'real' language; they have had greater impact on everyday twentieth-century English and (unlike forms of literary English) they have never been adequately described; moreover, they form the background of the literary culture, and including them makes the need to draw a dividing line between what is 'literary' and what is not less urgent

  The texts cover the following topics:  

  • Language (anonymous comment; reflexions of literati, extracts from grammars and dictionaries)
  • Religious/educational writing (texts from biblical translations, hymns, moralistic-educational treatises)
  • Political writing (tracts, propaganda, catechisms etc.)
  • Report/narrative (newspaper articles on various topics, broadsides on crime, dialect narrative)
  • Descriptive texts (on humanitarian topics, architecture, commerce, recreation)
  • Technical prose (science and law)  
  • Advice and directions (on dress, on conduct, on servants; cookery and medical recipes)
  • Letters and diaries (personal, business, diplomatic)
  • Small forms (notices, advertisements; proverbs, jokes dedications; obituaries and memoirs)
  • 'Spoken' texts (quotations from direct speech; addresses; depositions; dramatic dialogue)
  • Popular literature (occasional poems; ballads; children's rhymes; moral tales)
  • 'High' literature
  • Literary criticism.

Contact the author.