Blog Archives

The size of Lowth’s grammars

Lowth’s grammars were published in two, sometimes three different sizes, mostly quarto and octavo. Noel Osselton wrote to me about this as follows: "Is it true that 12mo schoolbooks (roughly 12 x 11 cm, or 26 x 11 cm when lying open) were favoured at that time because they fitted well into the available space remaining at the top of a pupil’s desk? What would have been the usual dimensions of a pupil’s desk at a well-founded school in the 1760’s?" This is a very interesting point indeed. Does anyone know where I can find more information about the size of school desks in the eitheenth century?

The Infant’s Grammar or a Pic-Nic Party of the Parts of Speech

If you enjoyed the quote from The Infant’s Grammar or a Pic-Nic Party of the Parts of Speech (1822), you can view all the pages from this grammar through this link:

Jane Austen and Lowth’s grammar-

In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, David Chrystal states that "Jane Austen would have arrived at School (Abbey School, in Reading) at a time when Lowth’s Grammar was well established and a second generation of ‘young ladies’ was having its tenets instilled into them" (2001:77). Does anybody know whether or not Jane Austen studied Lowth’s A Short Introduction to English Grammar (1762)?

Bibliographic research on the eighteenth-century grammatical tradition

María Rodríguez-Gil and Nuria Yáñez-Bouza  are currently carrying out bibliographic research on the eighteenth-century grammatical tradition and they would like to request your collaboration. They have prepared a brief questionnaire, where you will find more information about our study. They would be very grateful if you could take some time to complete it and would return it to them by email.  Download file

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.

Question about Alston

María Rodríguez-Gil and Nuria Yáñez-Bouza asked the following question: 

We are currently investigating Alston’s bibliographic studies on the 18thc and we thought you may be able to help us out.

We are interested in:

(a) Alston, R.C. (1963). A check-list of English grammars written in English 1582-1800.

and (b) Alston, R.C. (1967-70 + 1974). English linguistics 1500-1800 (a collection of facsimile reprints)

We have consulted the librarians at Manchester and at Leeds. At Manchester we no longer hold the Check-list, it seems to have gone missing, and only 160 facsimiles are held at the moment. From Leeds, unfortunately, we have had no reply at all.

It occurred to us that, since you’ve previously worked with Alston’s works, you may be able to answer our questions.

With regard to (a), the check-list: have you had the chance to consult this book before? If so, is it any different from Alston’s bibliography (1965)?

With regard to (b), do you happen to have, or to know of, a complete list of Alston’s facsimile reprints? If so, could you let us know how to access it?

All suggestions are welcome.

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!

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.

Lowth’s grammar in electronic form?

Just now, I received a query from Arthur Molitierno about whether there is an electronic version of Lowth’s grammar. I only know of the CD Rom called Landmarks in English Grammar: The Eighteenth Century, published by ULCL Survey of English Usage. But the CD-Rom unfortunately only contains scans which are not searchable electronically. There is, by the way, a review of the CD-Rom in HSL/SHL.

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!