Blog Archives

Linguistic codification

Codification is, according to Milroy and Milroy (1985:27), one of the final stages in the standardisation process of language. For a detailed description of it, see Terttu’s and my chapter in A History of the English Language. Cambridge: CUP. 271-311, where we define it as "the laying down of rules for the language in grammars and dictionaries which would serve as handbooks for its speakers". This definition we made up for the purpose, as it is not to be found in the OED, nor is the concept defined in The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (Chalker & Weiner, 1994). Not unexpectedly, as OED lists the term in legal use only from the early nineteenth century onwards, the word does not occur in ECCO (in any of its related forms), while a search for it in the ODNB produced 93 hits, 78 of which were related to a legal context. So I’d be interested to hear if anyone could tell more about the history of the word which would link it to language and its standardisation.

Eighteenth-century numerals

Stephen Laker asked us the following question:

Do eighteenth-century and later grammars prescribe the order four-and-twenty or twenty-four in numerals. Until relatively recently many dialects of England used the older Dutch/German/Frisian type system? Indeed, according to the Linguistic Atlas of England (Map S 7) the older system seems to be found in most dialects, including those of south-east England and all of East Anglia.

Any suggestions will be most welcome!

New databases, new research questions

On Friday 3 November, the University of Leiden presented a symposium on Open Access. In order to show to what extent new databases call for new approaches to research, I presented the attached paper, which deals with OED, ODNB and ECCO. The paper was in Dutch; if anyone would like to read the version in English, I’d be happy to provide it. Download file

Anniversary of Lowth’s death

Coming Friday, 3 November, is the anniversary of Robert Lowth’s death in 1787. To commemorate this, we transcribed the obituray as it appeared in The Annual Register … for the year 1787 (London, 1789). Download file

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey as a linguistic corpus

One of the suggestions given after I delivered my paper on the history of multiple negation at the Perspectives on Prescriptivism syposium in Ragusa earlier this year was that I might find some useful spoken language data in this database. So I decided to spent some time searching the Old Bailey records. At first sight it looks like a wonderful resource, but I soon discovered a number of problems. To begin with, the database is not searchable for high-frequency words such as no or not. Neither proved less frequent, which allowed me to search for the kind of construction that I know is still regularly used in the eighteenth century. I thus found instances like: "but not so drunk neither" (1727) and "but the Money was not ready then neither" (1733). One instance was particularly useful, as the speaker identified himself as a servant (this was the kind of information I was actually looking for), and it is moreover also possible to identify the sex of the speaker. But other than that I found there was little I could do with the information found. There do seem to be increasing numbers of instances as the century progresses, but there is no way I can relate absolute numbers to amount of text. I would say therefore that the database is of limited use, other than to discover that a particular form or construction is indeed used in reported speech, by men as well as women and by people accused of having committed a crime (which does not of course assign them to any particular social class).

But I also found that parts of the text were scanned but not subsequently corrected, so that long <s> at times occurs as <f>, and nor as not. I have the impression that things got better the further I progressed into the eighteenth century, but it is worrying all the same.

I’d be interested in learning about other people’s experiences with this databse.

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Penny Post

According to Lynda Mugglestone, in her own chapter on nineteenth-century English (Lynda Mugglestone, ed., The Oxford History of English, just out), the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 led to a phenomenal increase of private letters. While in 1839, approximately 75 million letters were sent, ten years later this figure had risen to 347 million! Quite a few of those should be available for the historical sociolinguist to analyse: very promising indeed (Mugglestone 2006:276).

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,

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.

Correspondence between Papa and Charley

Googling the net for Conyers Middleton and John Dryden, I happened to find an edition of correspondence between a father and a son in eighteenth-century America. The links to Middleton and Dryden are minimal, but this is an interesting find. It is titled Dear Papa, Dear Charley. The Peregrinations of a Revolutionary Aristocrat, as Told by Charles Carroll of Carrollton and His Father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis, with Sundry Observations on Bastardy, Child-Rearing, Romance, Matrimony, Commerce, Tobacco, Slavery, and the Politics of Revolutionary America. The editors are Ronald Hoffman, Sally D. Mason, and Eleanor S. Darcy, and it has been published already in 2001 by the University of North Carolina Press; see this site for more information. A selection of letters and some information of the Carrolls can be found here.

To give an example of the edited letters, here is an extract of Elizabeth Carroll’s letter to her son in 1758. "You are always at heart my dear Charly & I am never tired asking yr Papa questions about you some times to tease, he answers me that you are a good for no thing Ugly little fellow, but when he Speaks his Real Sentiments of you there is not any thing can give me greater Comfort." 

This seems to be a good-quality edition even by the standards of picky linguists; e.g. ampersands and abbreviations have been retained (though superscripts, if there are any, probably haven’t), and changes in the layout, different hands, and even self-corrections are commented upon in footnotes. See, for example, the son’s letter of 1774: the footnote to the sentence ‘No persons[1] are admitted’ provides the information that ‘CCC [the writer] first wrote and then struck out "strangers."