Monthly Archives: September 2006

Leiden University Library acquires well over 150,000 e-books

The purchase of the database Eighteenth Century Collection Online (ECCO) will provide the academic world with revolutionarily innovative research opportunities. This collection will allow researchers to compete with colleagues from well-established universities like Cambridge, Manchester and Toronto. The availability of ECCO at the University of Leiden is moreover not only unique for the Netherlands itself, but for the Benelux as a whole. 

What is ECCO?
ECCO is the largest and most comprehensive historical database of its kind. For the first time in one easily accessible comprehensive resource, this archive makes available online more than 150,000 printed books, including reprints, published in the eighteenth century within the United Kingdom. In collaboration with the NWO-financed VICI-project The Codifiers and the English Language (project leader Professor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade), the Leiden University Library has recently purchased ECCO. The availability of this collection will radically change the manner in which research has been conducted so far: while previously scholars had to visit the British Library for their research, the arrival of ECCO enables them to get answers to their questions directly and at all times. But most importantly, ECCO provides research opportunities which were previously unthinkable.

ECCO offers full-text searching of nearly 26 million scanned pages. The search term “Lowth,” for instance, author of one of the eighteenth century’s most important English grammars, will display information about which grammars – and other works – could have been influenced by him; the term “subjunctive”, a construction which was disappearing at the time, will produce a results list that consists of books – along with its pages – where this grammatical term was still discussed. Due to ECCO it will no longer be necessary to go through several books in order to get answers to important questions like these. Eighteenth Century Collections Online is presented in seven subject areas (History and Geography, Social Sciences and Fine Arts, Medicine, Science and Technology, Literature and Language, Religion and Philosophy, Law and General Reference) and can therefore function as an enormous text-corpus.

ECCO’s intended users
ECCO is not exclusively meant for researchers of English, nor even just for scholars as such. Although the database consists primarily of English texts, it also lists works in French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Welsh and even Dutch. The collection is furthermore of interest to scholars who focus on the history of their particular field of research, as in Medicine, Fine Arts, Pedagogy and Musicology. Thus, the database contains the first western grammar of Chinese in English. ECCO will allow users to access, search and retrieve works as they appeared in their original printed editions. Students can, for example, find out how many times the novel Tristram Shandy was printed during its author Laurence Sterne’s lifetime. They can also study the ways in which Henry Fielding corrected the language of his sister Sarah in order to make her first novel, The Adventures of David Simple, worthy of the name of Fielding. Although it is well known that he did so, it has not been possible to analyse the full range and extent of his changes. ECCO allows students and teachers not only to make use of secondary resources but also of the originals, thus enabling them to study the eighteenth century in fresh, new ways.

Some case studies
Last semester, during the trial period in which the University of Leiden could access ECCO, a student of English wrote her bachelor thesis on the disappearance of the relative pronoun wherewith in eighteenth-century English. The database will also allow a PhD-student of the Faculty of Creative and Performing Arts, who is conducting research on the menuet in the eighteenth century, to study original printed editions directly without first having to travel to English archives. In December last year the first workshop of the VICI-project, entitled Grammars, Grammarians and Grammar Writers, was organised. The contributions of the Leiden participants were of an outstanding quality and will hopefully result in groundbreaking publications, but this all would have been impossible without the temporary access to ECCO preceding the workshop.

ECCO and the Leiden University Library
The purchase of ECCO is a very important step for the University Library. Its collection of books, especially e-books, will not only be significantly expanded, but the library can now also explore its service with respect to the research and teaching opportunities that accompany comprehensive corpora like ECCO.

Within the next few months, the University Library will incorporate the bibliographical records of these 150,000 e-books into their catalogue, and this will enable users to search the Eighteenth Century Collection Online by title and author. The digital infrastructure of the university library will allow students and staff to access this wealth of material worldwide. Researchers and students from other universities will be able to work with this text-corpus from within the University Library of Leiden itself. 

For further information, please contact:
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade, VICI-project The Codifiers and the English Language, English Department/Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), The Faculty of Arts, University Leiden,

Kurt De Belder, Head of Leiden University Library , tel. (0)71 527 2831,

Susan Burney Letters Project

I recently came across the Susan Burney Letters Project website.This project by Nottingham University sets out to make the 330 letters and letter-journals of Susan Burney, Fanny Burney’s younger sister, widely available for the first time. According to the project’s website, Susan’s letters and letter-journals ‘provide a uniquely informed account of English musical culture, a chronicle of some of the period’s major political events and valuable insights into the social status and occupations of an educated woman.’ 

Summary Dick Smakman presentation

“You can’t speak standard language and be sloppy at the same time” was Dick Smakman’s final conclusion when presenting his paper calledStandard Dutch in the Netherlands. What it is and what it sounds like”. Earlier this year, on 12 June, Smakman successfully defended his doctoral dissertation at the University of Utrecht, titled: Standard Dutch in the Netherlands. A Sociolinguistic and Phonetic Description and the Codifiers Project had invited him to speak about the topic of his thesis during their 5th Monthly Lunch Meeting on 15 September 2006.

The abstract for the presentation read as follows:
“Standard Dutch in the Netherlands has been subject to lively scholarly debate since its rise in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lay beliefs have received relatively little attention in this ongoing discussion. I’ve looked into contemporary lay beliefs on the standard language and compared them with (contemporary and past) expert opinions hereon. My research consisted of two consecutive parts: a sociolinguistic and a phonetic part. The sociolinguistic part tried to answer the simple question: ‘What is Standard Dutch according to Dutch laymen and experts?’ To put the Dutch data in an international context, I’ve also collected language beliefs and descriptions in countries with new and old standard languages, for instance, New-Zealand and Japan. All in all, the results paint a modern-day picture of the standard language phenomenon, and this picture I will present in the paper. The sociolinguistic part of my research yielded seven prototypical speakers of Standard Dutch, and I’ve described selected phonemes in the speech of these speakers, through transcriptions and acoustic measurements. This phonetic description has created sociolinguistic insights into the standard language phenomenon, and I will briefly touch on these as well.”

During the presentation Smakman dealt with various questions, such as: What is Standard Dutch? What is a standard language? What does pronunciation tell us about standardness? The answers had to come from “experts” (linguists in this and the last century, teachers in previous centuries) as well as, interestingly, laymen, to which end he had conducted an elaborate questionnaire. Smakman approached these questions from various perspectives:

1) Intrinsic: language characteristics.
Two lay characteristics that were distinguished were “general” (of all people) and “cultured” (typical to the elite). Standard languages are both inclusive and exclusive (excluding people). Only old standard languages – languages which have a long established standard such as English or Dutch – have an exclusive function, though inclusivism is the most universal of the two.

2) Speaker: speaker characteristics.
The most predominant users of the standard language in the Netherlands are primarily considered to be newsreaders. Geographically speaking, usually only the western part of the country is mentioned. Almost everybody claims to be able to speak standard Dutch though whether they actually do so is another matter.

3) International: comparison to five other countries.
It appeared that the use of a standard as a lingua franca was the only “universal” characteristic. Non-regionality scored comparatively high in the Netherlands. However, non-regionality was found NOT to be a universal feature, not even for old standard languages.

4) Perceptual: listener agreement.
It was found that young western women scored higher for Standard Dutch; moreover, regional origin and level of education of listeners did not affect evaluations significantly.

5) Phonetic: pronunciation of Standard Dutch.
The survey showed that generally when disagreement for one phoneme disappears, a new realisation of another one will surface. For instance, (r) realisations have grown more, while (g) realisations have been halved.

Lyda Fens-de Zeeuw

Practice letter transcription online

For anyone interested in learning more about paleography and letter transcription, or perhaps for recreational use, the National Archives has an online paleography tutorial. The letters are all English and mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. There are ten letters to transcribe and the difficulty level increases with every letter. It was a very interesting tutorial for me, but it seemed that the ‘correct’ way to transcribe certain features such as full stops was not always consistent. Still, it is a useful exercise and especially the notes on the letters in each exercise provide enlightening information for those who have no experience in reading old letters. I have to admit that in the end I gave up after letter four and counted myself lucky that my research focuses on eighteenth century letters where the lettering has far less variation.

The URL for this tutorial is:

Learning Latin in eighteenth-century schools

In my search for the question of which grammar book Lowth might have learnt Latin from as a boy, I wrote to Winchester College Library. Lowth had been admitted to St. Mary College of Winchester (where he lived) in 1722, i.e. when he was about twelve. This college, according to his biographer Brian Hepworth, was "a boarding school devoted to training boys … for service to church and state" (1978:19). I had hoped to discover that Lowth would have used Lily’s grammar there, but Geoffrey Day,  Fellows’ Librarian at Winchester College, informed me that there is only one copy of this grammar in the library at the moment, which suggested to him that the grammar wasn’t used much. They do have many different editions of  book called Scholae Wintoniensis Phrases Latinae. The Latine Phrases of Winchester School (1654; 3rd, 1661; 4th, 1664; 5th, 1667; 6th, 1669; 7th, 1670; 8th, 1673; 9th, 1676; 10th, 1682; 11th, 1685).

Possibly, then, this suggests that Lily’s grammar was used at a more elementary level of teaching, at home perhaps? And that a book like the Phrases Latinae was used by more advanced students.