Blog Archives

Robert Lowth in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Now that the DNB is available online, its electronic format allows us to perform searches that would previously have been unthinkable; the experience is similar to when the OED was first published on CD-Rom, in 1989. My full-text search for “Lowth” Read more »

Dodley’s Select Fables of Esop (1761)

On 23 February 1761, Robert Dodsley published his Select Fables of Esop. This was a collection of fables by Aesop as well as contemporary writers, and Dodsley even invited several of his friends to write fables for his collection. One of these friends was Robert Lowth. Tierney, the editor of Dodsley’s letters, even suggests that the idea for the work came from Lowth. Be that as it may, Lowth ordered a number of copies, one for his son Thomas Henry who (he claims) was awaiting the book impatiently, and a number of others to hand round to the children of friends. He specifically orders "one neatly bound, [to be sent] in my Name … To Mrs. Galand at the Boarding School at Newington Butts". 

So far, I have not come across any references to this boarding school or to Mrs Galand in my studies of Lowth and his language, and any information relating to this school would be very welcome.

neither … nor + plural verb

The following question reached me yesterday. It was forwarded to me by Joan Beal on behalf of her colleague Neil Roberts from the Department of English Literature at Sheffield:

"Can anyone enlighten me about this sentence, which I have just been shocked to find in Pride and Prejudice?

  • ‘Neither Jane nor Elizabeth were comfortable on this subject.’

This is a sentence that we would consider illiterate if written by a student. Is the rule about ‘neither’ being followed by a singular verb more recent than the early 19th century, or did Jane Austen nod?"

Comments welcome!

John Brightland

This entry was written by Dr. Astrid Buschmann-Göbels. 


I am currently working on John Brightland’s biography. Does anyone have information about his life etc. or any sources where to look these things up?


deadline PhD positions

Please note that the deadline for applications for the two vacant PhD positions in our project is a week from today. For more information, see our website or contact Ingrid Tieken.

English attitudes towards Scotland?

Does anyone have information about English attitudes towards Scotland during the eighteenth century? Samuel Johnson despised Scotland, and I wonder if that was a wide-spread attitude.

English grammars in the Netherlands

Congratulations from our project, Frans Wilhelm, on your interview in NRC Handelsblad on 4 February. It is clear that there is a lot of interest in the subject of your book (English in the Netherlands. A History of Foreign Language Teaching 1800-1920, 2005), and we hope you will be able to find the time to write an article for HSL/SHL on the influence of the English codifiers on Dutch nineteenth-century text books!

Dutch letters in the London National Archives

This Saturday (11 February 2006), an article by historian Roelof van Gelder appeared in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad on the presence of piles of Dutch letters from the Late Modern period in the National Archives in London. The letters are part of so-called "prize papers", papers which were confiscated when Dutch ships were pirated by the English navy during the wars between the two countries at the time. There are letters from children to fathers in the East or West Indies, from jilted lovers, from local administrators begging for financial support, and much, much more besides. What a treasure trove! The Royal Library in the The Hague is currently preparing a database of the letters, and summaries will soon be published on the website of the National Archives (Search Catalogue: HCA 30, 32, 49).

Roelof van Gelder rightly notes that the letters should contain important material for studying the language of the common man (women and children included!). In order to be of real use to the sociolinguistic historian, I hope that proper attention is paid to the transcription of the letters.

What I’d be interested to know is whether the collection includes English letters as well. These would be of particular interest to our project.

Preposition stranding

Could it be that, like double negation, preposition stranding is an icon of prescriptivism? Both occur in David Crystal’s Grammatical Top Ten (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 194), and there is also, intrestingly, a reference to preposition stranding in Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada (2003). On p. 330, the main character of the novel "quietly berated myself for ending a sentence with a preposition and took one last look around the magnificent room". I suppose the sentence is meant to have a humorous effect, but perhaps you have to like the book in order to appreciate this particular linguistic joke.

American grammarians

This entry was written by Victorina González Díaz

Dear All

I am currently doing some work on British vs. American grammarians from 1700-1900. I’ve been able to compile a rather large list of references on British grammarians and their ideology; however, my bibliography on American grammarians is rather limited (the most useful references I’ve found are Butters’ and Finegan’s chapters in CHEL 7 and some articles on Noah Webster).

I’d therefore be very grateful if anybody could point me to some relevant work on the topic. Thanks in advance for your help!